Radical changes to diets needed to save planet and lives

Global consumption of sugar and red meat needs to fall by 50%, whilst that of nuts, fruits’ vegetables and legumes needs to double, according to a report by the EAT-Lancet Commission.

The commission is a three-year project bringing together 37 experts from 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance.

The authors argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. To stay within planetary boundaries, a combination of major dietary change, improved food production through enhanced agriculture and technology changes, and reduced food waste during production and at the point of consumption are needed; and no single measure is enough to stay within all of the limits, the authors said.

“The world’s diets must change dramatically,” said co-lead commissioner Dr Walter Willett from Harvard University, USA. “The food group intake ranges that we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, and individual dietary preferences – including numerous omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets.”

Based on the best available evidence, the experts have proposed a dietary pattern that meets nutritional requirements, promotes health, and allows the world to stay within planetary boundaries.

The authors estimate that widespread adoption of their diet would improve intakes of most nutrients, as well as avert about 10·8 to 11·6 million deaths per year. The diet would also cut greenhouse gas emissions to levels compatible with the Paris Agreement on climate change, while also reducing biodiversity loss and phosphorus use, and limiting agriculture’s demand for land, water and nitrogen.

The Commission proposed five strategies to adjust what people eat and how it is produced. These include: policies to encourage people to choose healthy diets and buy from sustainable sources; refocusing agriculture from producing high volumes of crops to producing varied nutrient-rich crops; sustainable intensification of agriculture; effective governance of land and ocean use; and halving of food waste.

The Commission’s report is available here.

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