The first science-based diet has been devised and it requires huge cuts in red meat-eating in Western countries and radical changes across the world.

The “planetary health diet” was created by an international commission seeking to draw up guidelines that provide nutritious food to the world’s fast-growing population. At the same time, the diet addresses the major role of farming – especially livestock – in driving climate change, the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of rivers and oceans.

Globally, the diet requires red meat and sugar consumption to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts must double. But in specific places the changes are stark. North Americans need to eat 84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils. For Europeans, eating 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds meets the guidelines.

The diet is a “win-win”, according to the scientists, as it would save at least 11 million people a year from deaths caused by unhealthy food, while preventing the collapse of the natural world that humanity depends upon. With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, a continuation of today’s unsustainable diets would inevitably mean even greater health problems and severe global warming.

Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill health worldwide, with 800 million people currently hungry, 2 billion malnourished and further 2 billion people overweight or obese. The world’s science academies recently concluded that the food system is broken. Industrial agriculture is also devastating the environment, as forests are razed and billions of cattle emit climate-warming methane.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” Farm yields in poorer nations must be improved to create a sustainable, healthy world, the report found.

The planetary health diet is largely plant-based and allows an average of 2,500 calories a day. It allows one beef burger and two servings of fish a week, but most protein comes from pulses and nuts. A glass of milk a day, or some cheese or butter, fits within the guidelines, as does an egg or two a week. Half of each plate of food under the diet is vegetables and fruit, and a third is wholegrain cereals.

The planetary health diet resembles those already known to be healthy, such as the Mediterranean or Okinawa diets, the researchers said.

“The planetary health diet is based on really hard epidemiological evidence, where researchers followed large cohorts of people for decades,” said Marco Springmann at Oxford University and part of the commission. “It so happens that if you put all that evidence together you get a diet that looks similar to some of the healthiest diets that exist in the real world.”

Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at the Lancet, said in an editorial that global changes as set out by the planetary health diet were essential: “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

Original source: www.theguardian.com