Opinion: The planetary health diet for 10 billion people

By Jeremy Williams

A couple of weeks ago there was a spate of articles on food and flexitarianism, in response to a new study from The Lancet and EAT. (Here’s the BBC report) The study pulls together the planetary boundaries and human nutrition, and describes what a healthy and sustainable diet might look like for 10 billion people.

Rather than prescribe vegetarianism, the study allows for a little meat and dairy, and suggests that half the food we eat (by volume) should be fruit and vegetables.

Globally, that would involve a doubling of fruit and vegetable consumption. At the same time, meat eating would more than halve, with sugar consumption shrinking by a similar amount. Not all meat is created equal, and the report leaves more room for chicken and fish than it does for red meat. Eggs are a good source of protein and included as an optional food. Most food cultures could make more room for nuts, seeds and legumes.

How close are we right now to this ideal diet? Here’s a colourful graphic showing where we exceed or fall short of the optimum line for health.

Interestingly, the two foods in most dramatic overshoot do so for different reasons. Meat is over-consumed in rich countries, and eating less would improve health and environmental outcomes. Starchy vegetables, such as plantain, cassava or potatoes, are over-consumed in poorer countries. They are filling but low in nutrients, and eating a broader range of vegetables would be better. Cassava is often considered ‘poor people’s food’ though, so it’s not always a matter of choice.

The global picture hides very contrasting diets then, and it’s worth downloading the report summary and seeing the regional graphs. Some places can expand their consumption of meat, dairy and eggs, while others need to eat much less.

What do you think? If you have hesitated at the idea of giving up certain foods altogether, can you imagine eating like a one-planet flexitarian?

First published at Make Wealth History.

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