Save the planet with a healthy diet? It may sound strange, but changing the way we eat can improve our health and the prognosis of the planet we call home.
A report by the EAT-Lancet Commission says we need to act fast. The group of 37 scientists from 16 countries studied the issue of global pollution for three years. Its January 2019 report says “without action … 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.” It goes on to say that current farming methods won’t be able to sustain the global population past 2050.
The report encourages providing a healthy diet for the expanding global population, which could reach 10 billion by 2050. That diet, called the “planetary health diet,” would have us change from a meat-based diet to one that features more plant-based foods.
Meat and dairy production, in particular, contribute heavily to environmental destruction. Raising animals to feed humans requires a lot of resources, including water and land. According to the World Wildlife Fund, livestock production creates 14.5 percent of global emissions. Producing feed and fertilizers creates greenhouse gases. Cows also produce methane, adding to the greenhouse effect.
Red meat as a food staple is also a bad choice for our individual health. Diets high in red meat, saturated fat, and sugar can lead to increased rates of heart disease and cancer. These are two of the biggest killers, globally. The EAT-Lancet Commission says a change in diet could prevent millions of premature deaths.
So how can we make changes to help our health and the health of the planet? You can start by focusing on what you put on your plate. To follow the planetary health diet, cut your meat and sugar consumption by half, and double the number of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. And while we do our best to conserve water and follow local lawn watering restrictions, you don’t want to limit the amount of water you drink. This isn’t revolutionary dietary advice, but the commission says if enough people follow it, lives would be saved and food producers would have to switch to more sustainable methods.
Food waste is another area needing attention. The USDA says Americans waste 30% to 40% of our food supply. This waste has a huge environmental cost. Think about the lost resources that went into production, transportation, and distribution! The societal costs are also astounding when you consider how that food could have benefited those who don’t have enough to eat. Food waste happens at every step of the food supply chain. As consumers, we can do our part by learning how long the food we buy will last, and by reducing the amount of food we throw away.
While we may not be able to make the massive changes needed at the governmental or commercial levels, we can make changes in our homes by changing the way we eat. Get the whole family involved by committing to a healthier diet, and to saving the planet one meal at a time.