Eating healthy and climate-friendly: what is the planetary diet?

Updated 11/11/2022 10:41 AM

  • Scientists have created a menu that is said to be healthy and ecological.
  • The so-called “Planetary Health Diet” (German: Planetary Diet) wants to reconcile both.
  • But what exactly is it and how can we implement the researchers’ nutritional recommendations into our daily lives?

More about health

An international team of scientists from the EAT Lancet Commission coined the term planetary diet. According to the researchers, food systems have the potential to benefit human health and promote environmental sustainability. However, they are currently threatening both.

Researchers from the EAT-Lancet Commission currently see the greatest challenge in supplying the growing world population with healthy food from sustainable food systems. Because although global food production in terms of calories keeps pace with population growth, more than 820 million people do not have enough to eat.

Many others also eat inferior food. The resulting micronutrient deficiencies lead to significant increases in diet-related obesity and diet-related diseases such as stroke and diabetes.

What does the menu of the future contain?

The commission determined what measures are necessary to feed the estimated ten billion people healthily by 2050 without exploiting the Earth, using a model menu that the scientists called the “Planetary Health Diet”. This is based on a daily energy intake of 2,500 kilocalories.

The largest share is made up of foods of plant origin, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated fats. However, small amounts of fish, seafood, milk and poultry are also included in the menu. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, dairy products, eggs, red meat, sugar and saturated fat, on the other hand, should very rarely end up on the plate. The “Planetary Health Diet” also leaves room for individual and cultural preferences, as there is a range in amounts for most foods.

Specific recommendations from nutritionists

How the planetary diet can be introduced in Germany, explains Dr. Malte Rubach, nutritionist and author (“Life cycle assessment on the plate – How we can protect the climate with our food”, S. Hirzel Verlag):

“The planetary diet should be implemented as far as possible with regionally available food. Since we can grow very few legumes and nuts in Germany, but we produce enough milk and meat, we can use the range of the planetary diet here. Otherwise, it would be sufficient to supply the entire population with protein is not possible, however, this means about half as much meat as is currently on the plate, but also slightly less highly processed grain products and cheese. Overall, slightly more nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables would be recommended.”

So if Germans increased their consumption of fruit and vegetables, legumes and nuts while reducing their consumption of meat and dairy products, it would be beneficial for the health of people and the planet. Another important factor is our drinks. Here’s an expert’s recommendation:

“Beverages are neglected in many assessments of the sustainability of our diet, as only solid foods are often taken into account. Overall, they are the second biggest cause of greenhouse gases and land use in the German diet, after meat. Water straight from the tap has the smallest impact, but it makes up for it only a quarter of what we drink each day. So drinking more tap water and less bottled drinks would be a simple measure to eat more sustainably.”

Criticism of the implementation of the “Planetary Health Diet”

By the way, the “Planetary Health Diet” is not entirely uncontroversial. For example, the daily caloric intake of 2500 calories is criticized: this would be too little for hard workers and too much for people with mainly sedentary jobs. In many countries, people also have significantly fewer calories per day.

According to the recommendations of scientists, people in Germany would have to eat 27 kilograms of legumes and 18 kilograms of nuts annually. Currently, it is only a few kilograms each. The same applies to other foods in other countries, so the recommendations of scientists can only serve as a guide and need to be adapted to regional agricultural conditions and food cultures.

Used sources:

  • Thelancet.com: Food in the Anthropocene: EAT–Lancet Commission on Healthy Eating from Sustainable Food Systems
  • Bzfe.de: Planetary Health Diet
  • Ecological balance on the plate – how we can protect the climate with our food, Hirzel 2020, Dr. Malte Rubach, nutritionist and author

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