Could This Diet Save the Planet and Help You Lose Weight?

Kevin Gray
by Kevin Gray
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Could This Diet Save the Planet and Help You Lose Weight?

If eating more plant-based foods for better health wasn’t motivating enough, maybe eating for a better planet will do the trick. There’s a new diet in town. Dubbed the “planetary health diet,” it’s a broad eating plan put forth by a group of 37 scientists hailing from 16 countries. According to the experts behind the research, which was published in the Lancet, following the diet could have a significant impact — to the tune of reducing premature deaths by about 11 million per year and reducing harm to the planet.

To break down the rationale: The world’s population is estimated to hit 10 billion people by 2050. Given our current eating and food production habits, that will take a major toll on the environment, increasing greenhouse gases and negatively affecting climate stability and biodiversity.

According to the study: “Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and today’s children will inherit a planet that has been severely degraded and where much of the population will increasingly suffer from malnutrition and preventable disease.”

Basically, our planet is in trouble, and eating better may be our way out of this mess.

HOW IT WORKS

Think of it more like a broad philosophy and less like a traditional diet. The planetary health diet hopes to change the way we consider food. Much of this change involves reducing our reliance on meat — particularly red meat. Livestock is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and raising livestock requires an abundance of land and water.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts,” writes Dr. Walter Willett, lead author of the paper and a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%.” He goes on to note that a diet that prioritizes plant-based foods over animal sources can benefit both our health and the environment.

Such an overhaul requires a shift in food production on the global level. But to begin at home, it would help to put down that steak and pick up a vegetarian curry instead.

GETTING STARTED

Shifting your diet can and should be a gradual process. “One has to be realistic and sustainable with eating goals,” says Leslie Bonci, the registered dietitian behind Active Eating Advice. That means not making a wholesale transformation overnight, as doing so is unlikely to result in lasting change. “To significantly increase produce [consumption] and decrease red meat, one needs to start with the familiar,” she adds.

Bonci provides a couple tips for gradually reducing meat intake. These are familiar foods that make the transition to a plant-focused diet easier:

  • Make your burger patties half meat, half mushroom or include mashed black beans.
  • Use legume-based pastas, such as those made from lentils and chickpeas.
  • Put more vegetables on your plate; while also providing some protein they can be topped with a meat substitute.

DIETARY TARGETS

To follow the planetary health diet, you should organize your plate so at least half is full of vegetables and fruits. The other half should consist mostly of whole grains and dairy, followed by plant proteins like legumes, unsaturated plant oils and modest amounts of animal protein, if desired.

Specific daily targets include 300 grams of vegetables, 250 grams of dairy, 200 grams of fruit and 50 grams of nuts. Combined with other foods, the suggested diet tallies up to 2,500 calories per day, which is more than many people need. So, it’s certainly not a diet that advocates calorie restriction. However, if you’re looking to lose weight, you can modify the plan accordingly.

To meet these goals, Bonci says it’s important to include produce at all meals. Fruits and vegetables are an easy addition to smoothies at breakfast, while salads or vegetable wraps make for a healthy lunch. Snacks like veggies and hummus or nuts can keep you on track throughout the day. For dinner, Bonci likes stir-fries, which offer opportunities to put more plants on your plate.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“At the end of the day, we all need to take responsibility for the health of the planet by buying only what we need, wasting less, throwing away less and sharing the excess,” says Bonci. She notes that increasing our produce intake can make us healthier, all while benefiting the planet — which is a seriously helpful side effect.

About the Author

Kevin Gray
Kevin Gray

Kevin is a Dallas-based writer who spends the majority of his weekends on a bike. His less healthy pursuits can be found at Bevvy and Cocktail Enthusiast.

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7 responses to “Could This Diet Save the Planet and Help You Lose Weight?”

  1. Avatar Runmomrun says:

    While the diet sounds good, the part about
    the threat to the environment is unfounded. Ill soon finish reading a second book on climate. The amount of disinformation being discussed in the media is astonishing. Try The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and Climate Change: the facts. At the very least people will learn that the average person is not informed enough to make conclusive statements about this issue. But by all means increase veggie intake.

  2. Avatar Tracy Jamieson says:

    I would prefer if MyFitnessPal keeps political articles off of your site. The climate change propaganda is just that. While I agree the world would be a better place if we didn’t eat animals, many humans need to

    • Avatar MamaDre says:

      I totally agree Tracy!!

    • Avatar Kendra Staub says:

      Everyone wants to “leave politics out of everything”, but just know that statement comes from a place of privilege. Politics controls literally everything you do in one way or another; the air you breathe, the water you drink, the roads you use, the cost of food. You can’t ignore politics and leave others to suffer the consequences of your apathy. Over 99% of scientists believe climate change is real and that it is propelled by human activities. There are mounds of quality evidence to support that claim. Most scientist that disagree are being paid by fossil fuel companies or other industries that benefit from environmental destruction. I can’t force you to believe anything but I think it’s important to think about the impacts of your lifestyle and what kind of world is being left for future generations.

  3. Avatar Becky says:

    The only politics here is claiming that climate science is political.

  4. Avatar Brandy says:

    Due to nut and increasing food allergies I find I’m eating more meat lately.

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