The Planet-Based Diet

At this time of year many of us set new resolutions and they often include ones around diet and health.  It may be that we just want to lose a bit of extra weight gained over the festive period, or perhaps our doctor has advised us to cut back on certain types of foods and take more exercise, but some scientists have linked the way we produce and consume food to being one of the biggest drivers of the planet’s deteriorating health.  Indeed some organizations, such as the WWF, have issued some guidelines on how each of us can change our diets to make the world a better place.

The Impact Of What We Eat

What lies behind the claim that our diets are harming the planet?  Well, according to scientists, people in developed countries typically consume more meat and other animal-source foods than are required for nutrition alone.  The demand this creates gives rise to situations such as overfishing in the oceans and Amazon farmers cutting down forests and burning trees to make room for cattle ranches. It seems that meat and dairy production causes more environmental harm than vegetable and cereal growing and the United Nations has said that tackling meat consumption is one of the world’s more ‘urgent problems’.  You have to grow a lot of crops to feed animals and a lot of forests are cut down to do that and large amounts of water are also required.  Beef comes out worse than pork and chicken as it requires more land and therefore creates more greenhouse gas production per serving than chicken or pork, for example.  Cows also emit a large amount of methane, the next abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.

Sustainable Diets

The Lancet has published the findings last year of research aimed at devising a diet plan to feed 10 million people by 2050.  The aim was to illustrate the ways that food production and consumption link the earth’s natural systems and human health and that this does not have to boil down to a choice between health and the environment.

Diet is only one aspect, with improvements in productivity and reductions in waste also playing key roles.  An example of the link between diet and natural systems is water, which is central to food production, but without proper management it can become contaminated through unsustainable agricultural practices and negatively impact the environment, as we have seen in the case of the Mar Menor.  With regards to diet, the recommendations were to eat largely plant-based meals with small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy and sugar.

Professor Tim Benton of the University of Leeds commented “Eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit has the potential to make us and the planet healthier.”

However, all the various organizations involved in the research are keen to emphasize that they do not want to tell people what to eat, but rather enable people to make choices.

The WWF advice is that you don’t have to go vegan, but just eat a higher proportion of plant-based foods relative to animal-source foods; eat fresh ingredients where possible and eat sustainable foods like local or organic foods and eat a varied and balanced diet to be able to help the planet.

Richard Horten, editor in chief of the Lancet said “… if we can eat in a way that works for the planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored.”

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