Plale and the Planet

Just as different foods can have differing impacts on human health, they also have differing impacts on the environment. Shifting towards a “planetary health diet” can nurture both people and planet.

Human diets inextricably link health and environmental sustainability, and have the potential to nurture both. [1] Increased food production over the past 50 years has helped improve life expectancy and reduce hunger, infant and child mortality rates, and global poverty. However, such benefits are now being offset by shifts towards unhealthy diets.

Globally, as nations have urbanized and citizen incomes have increased, traditional diets (typically higher in quality plant-based foods), have transitioned to a “Western-style dietary pattern,” characterized by high consumption of calories, highly processed foods (refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats), and high amounts of animal products. [2,3] Along with the negative human health impacts associated with this nutrition transition, this dietary pattern is also unsustainable. Current food production is already driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and drastic changes in land and water use.

Different food, different impact

Along with varying impacts on human health, different foods also have differing impacts on the environment. As shown in the figure below, the production of animal-based foods tends to have higher greenhouse gas emissions (orange bars) than producing plant-based foods—and dairy and red meat (especially beef) stand out for their disproportionate impact. Beyond emissions, it’s also important to note that food production places an enormous demand upon our natural resources, as agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation, species extinction, and freshwater depletion and contamination (in this figure, these impacts are represented by land use [green bars] and freshwater consumption [blue bars]).

(Source: World Resources Institute. [4] Details about the data used to produce this figure available here.)Foodprint calculatorWant to know the environmental impact of your diet? Take this quick five minute survey to find your carbon, nitrogen, and water footprints!

Transitioning towards healthy diets from sustainable food systems—especially with our global population slated to reach 10 billion by 2050—poses an unprecedented challenge. However, research by an international working group of scientists shows this “Great Food Transformation” could be achievable through a combination of dramatic reductions in food losses and waste, major improvements in food production practices, and substantial dietary shifts toward mostly plant-based dietary patterns. [1]

Defining a “Planetary Health Diet”

In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission developed the world’s first scientific targets for healthy and sustainable food systems, including a “planetary health diet” with defined daily consumption ranges for each food group. This dietary pattern—characterized by a variety of high-quality plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars, and unhealthy fats—is designed to be flexible to accommodate local and individual situations, traditions, and dietary preferences.Scientific targets for a planetary health diet

Created to meet nutritional requirements and promote health, all while staying within “planetary boundaries,” the Commission found that global adoption of this planetary health diet would provide major health benefits. Modeling studies show that between 10.9 to 11.6 million early deaths could be averted each year—a 19% to 23.6% reduction from current adult mortality rates. [1]

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24

 “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25

 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

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