Vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, flexitarian – it can be hard to keep up with the growing number of diets and what they all actually mean. The latest diet trend is the planetarian diet and, as you might have guessed, it’s all about the environment. Following a planetarian diet means eating foods that are lighter on the planet – so the carbon footprint of the production methods will be as low as possible. It’s all about eating sustainably in an attempt to reduce global, environmental problems – and we like the sound of it.
The Planetary Health Diet was announced by the EAT-Lancet Commission, an international organisation tasked with defining targets for sustainable food production, and they hope this diet could have a hugely positive impact. ‘Today, global food production is the single largest driver of environmental degradation, climate instability and the transgression of planetary boundaries,’ it explains on their website. ‘At the same time, global population health is increasingly pressured by several forms of malnutrition. ‘Unhealthy diets are now the leading risk factor for global burdens of disease with growing rates of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers.’ The planetary diet is all about making conscious choices based on sustainability and the environment.
The diet is symbolically represented by half a plate of fruits, vegetables and nuts. The other half consists of primarily whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables. For red meat fans, you’re looking at a burger a week or a large steak a month. A couple of portions of chicken and the same of fish a week, but plants are where the rest of your protein will need to come from, nuts and a good helping of legumes every day.
You are allowed to eat modest amounts of meat, but the guidance states that the diet should be more focussed on fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and plant proteins. The commission states that it’s important to reduce your overall consumption of meat because the production contributes to the growing social and economic costs of poor public health, climate disaster relief and environmental degradation. ‘Allocating increasingly scarce, high value agricultural lands or converting high carbon or high biodiversity ecosystems to agricultural land to produce foods is problematic,’ they explain on the site. ‘This guarantees the continued degradation of public health and a collective failure to meet both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.’
Many of us are concerned about the state of the planet and want to do our bit to counter the effects of our personal carbon footprint. But how does the planetarian diet work in the real world? The best thing about the planetarian diet is that in practicality it is actually much less restrictive than a vegetarian or vegan diet, and it can be adapted to meat dietary needs or cultural preferences. It doesn’t cut out any food groups entirely, and it focuses on whole, unprocessed produce – which will have significant and long-lasting health benefits. And, although it is about making the planet healthier, it also concerned with human health as well – which is why it allows a modest amount of meat.
It’s not about deprivation, it is all things in moderation and healthy plant-based eating. And for those thinking that going 100% vegan or veggie is the way forward, they note that if they, “were just minimising greenhouse gases we’d say everyone be vegan”, yet “it was unclear whether a vegan diet was the healthiest option”.
My advice for taking up a planetarian diet would be – consume dairy as a source of calcium, iodine and vitamin B12, or fortified plant-based milks. Find seasonal and local fruit and veg, and increase its overall consumption. Something local but not in season can still be environmentally taxing and so knowing what’s in season is important! And increase your wholegrain carb intake, because this increases your fibre consumption and lowers your carbon footprint. So whatever your reason is for taking up a new diet in 2019, one that looks like one of the best ways of saving the planet has to be a pretty decent option. Save the planet, one well-rounded meal at a time.
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