The Planetary Diet: Good for You and the Planet

You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet, but have you ever heard of the “Planetary Diet”? Designed to provide healthy nutrition to the ten billion people who will inhabit the Earth by 2050, while also limiting environmental impact, this diet unveiled in 2019 has since been the subject of numerous scientific studies. The latest study suggests that it could significantly reduce the risk of premature death with a lesser impact on the planet.

Back in 2019, a group of experts formed by the British medical journal The Lancet and the EAT Foundation recommended adopting a diet that is both healthy and sustainable. This led to a comprehensive study presenting the details and benefits of the “Planetary Health Diet” – based on “increased consumption of healthy foods and decreased consumption of unhealthy foods, which would bring major health benefits and also increase the likelihood of achieving sustainable development goals.” This diet aims to address the need to provide a growing global population with healthy food while defining sustainable food systems that minimize damage to our planet.

The scientific community is now closely examining the benefits of this specific diet for both health and the environment. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States suggest that it could not only reduce the risk of premature death but also limit the impact of diet on the planet. According to Walter Willett, the lead author of these studies, “Climate change is putting our planet on a path to ecological disaster, and our food system plays a major role. Changing our diet can help slow down the process of climate change. And what is healthiest for the planet is also healthiest for humans.”

The methodology of these studies involved analyzing health data from over 206,000 men and women from three prospective cohorts: the Nurses’ Health Study I and II, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The participants’ ‘Planetary Health Diet Index’ (PHDI) – a kind of dietary score – was calculated every 4 years over a period of 34 years, based on their responses to questionnaires about their diet, which was broken down into 15 food groups (whole grains, vegetables, poultry, etc.). Importantly, the participants did not have cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases at the beginning of the study.

The research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that participants whose diets were closest to the ‘Planetary Health Diet’ had a lower risk of death from all major causes. Researchers observed up to a 30% lower risk among the top 10% of adults who adhered most closely to the diet, compared to the bottom 10%. Additionally, the environmental impact was also reduced with this diet, up to -29% for greenhouse gas emissions, -21% for fertilizer requirements, and -51% for agricultural land use for those who followed it most faithfully.

The results highlight the interconnectedness of human health and planetary health. Eating healthily promotes environmental sustainability, which in turn is essential for the health and well-being of every person on Earth. Walter Willett concludes that “Healthy eating promotes environmental sustainability, which is essential for the health and well-being of every person on Earth.”

Studies from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have consistently shown the benefits of this diet. Just a year ago, a team of researchers demonstrated that consuming healthy and environmentally friendly foods was associated with a reduction in deaths from cancer or cardiovascular disease by about 15%. The benefits were even greater for neurodegenerative and respiratory diseases, with a decrease in the risk of death estimated at 20% and 50% respectively.

The ‘Planetary Health Diet’ is based on increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, while reducing the consumption of red meat and sugar. By following this diet, you can not only improve your health but also contribute to a healthier planet for future generations.