The Planetary diet

Edgar Castrejon By Unsplash

By Hannah Penwright

The planetary diet might just sound like the next new diet some expert claims is the diet to solve all our problems, but this one does actually seem worth listening to. And perhaps, for once, even following.

The planetary diet has been created by a group of international scientists to allow us to understand what they think we should be eating to help improve our health and the environment. The main changes we should make to our diets, as highlighted in the report, include swapping our main sources of protein from meat and dairy to plant-based options, such as nuts and lentils. The scientists also claim that we need to reduce our consumption of starchy vegetables such as potatoes and aim to increase our intake of fruit.  These aren’t exactly new ideas, but this doesn’t make them any less important. The report “Food in the Anthropocene”, that outlines the diet, shows how much of a positive impact the diet can have on an individual’s and the planet’s well-being, making for a pretty convincing case. If the diet is implemented, it will:

  1. Make us healthier – Following the guidelines will lower our chances of getting a range of life-threatening illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer.
  2. Reduce mortality rates – The report claims that changing our diets will prevent around 10.8-11.6 million deaths a year, which is a reduction of 19-23.6%!
  3. Allow the ever-growing population to continue to be fed – By 2050, it is estimated that the global population will reach approximately 10 billion. Following the planetary diet will allow enough food for this amount of people, while at the same time helping the environment in multiple ways, for example using no additional land, preventing the extinction of species and reducing water use.
Charlotte Karlsen By Unsplash

One argument made against the diet is that it doesn’t consider the cultural heritage of foods. Indeed, every country has dishes that are part of their national identity – from the humble British fish and chips to Greek souvlaki – and it doesn’t take long to work out that most of them don’t fit in with the planetary diet. However, this isn’t a reason to ignore the diet completely. The daily allowances of foods such as red meat (14g) may seem small, but there’s nothing stopping you to save up your allowances for a week or two and having a big, juicy beef burger at the end of it; you’ll have reduced your daily intake of meat significantly, but still get to enjoy the food you love. There’s no reason why countries can’t make alterations to their traditional foods too, if they want to enjoy them daily. Simple swaps like lentils for mince or sweet potato instead of normal potatoes mean meals like spaghetti bolognese or roast dinner can still be enjoyed, but with healthier, environmentally friendlier twists.

Although producing food isn’t the only cause of climate change, around a quarter of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the food industry. Therefore, what we decide to put on our plates really does matter. Implementing this diet across the globe as the scientists see as a necessity is a mammoth task, but not impossible. Significant changes need to be made all around us, such as changing the way food is advertised, decreasing food waste and inputting less money into the meat industry.

The planetary diet is of course not the only way to have an healthy and sustainable diet – we’re all aware of the many benefits to mind, body and planet when we decide to walk instead of driving or going to explore instead of shopping. We also know what we need to do to change ourselves and the planet for the better, so why waiting?

I know, for me at least, reading about how human behaviour has destroyed parts of the environment is heartbreaking and as much as I want to help, how can one person’s actions make a difference to such a colossal problem? The planetary diet isn’t going to make all our issues magically disappear, but the scientists behind the diet do say it can both improve health and lessen further damage to our planet.

So, if you want to help the environment and yourself, perhaps the planetary diet is for you.