Transformation of the global food system is urgently needed as more than 3 billion people are malnourished (including people who are undernourished and overnourished), and food production is exceeding planetary boundaries — driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution due to over-application of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, and unsustainable changes in water and land use.
The findings are from the EAT-Lancet Commission which provides the first scientific targets for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system that operates within planetary boundaries for food. The report promotes diets consisting of a variety of plant-based foods, with low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars, and with unsaturated rather than saturated fats.
Human diets inextricably link health and environmental sustainability, and have the potential to nurture both. However, current diets are pushing the Earth beyond its planetary boundaries, while causing ill health. This puts both people and the planet at risk. Providing healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge as the population continues to grow — projected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 — and get wealthier (with the expectation of higher consumption of animal-based foods).
To meet this challenge, dietary changes must be combined with improved food production and reduced food waste. The authors stress that unprecedented global collaboration and commitment will be needed, alongside immediate changes such as refocussing agriculture to produce varied nutrient-rich crops, and increased governance of land and ocean use.
“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” says one of the commission authors Professor Tim Lang, City, University of London, UK. “We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances. While this is unchartered policy territory and these problems are not easily fixed, this goal is within reach and there are opportunities to adapt international, local and business policies. The scientific targets we have devised for a healthy, sustainable diet are an important foundation which will underpin and drive this change.”
The daily dietary pattern of a planetary health diet consists of approximately 35% of calories as whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants — but including approximately 14g of red meat per day — and 500g per day of vegetables and fruits.
- Moving to this new dietary pattern will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by about 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must double.
- Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill-health worldwide and following the diet could avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year.
- A shift towards the planetary health diet would ensure the global food system The diet can exists within planetary boundariess for food production such as those for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and freshwater use, as well as nutrient cycles.