In the present day, our diets are often not as health or environment-conscious as they could be. In its current state, the food production industry has been causing havoc upon our ecosystem through carbon and methane emissions, deforestation, food waste, and plastic packaging. Furthermore, artificial processes are gradually reducing the nutritional value of our food. So how do we plan our meals in a health-conscious way while also considering planetary impact, individual needs and preferences, affordability and accessibility?
Considering all of these factors, researchers from the Eat-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems in 2019 devised the Planetary Health Diet (or PHD) to encourage a shift towards a healthy-yet-flexible, environmentally friendly-yet-achievable approach to food. The PHD promotes a significant increase in our fruit, vegetable and nut intake and a more considered approach to the consumption of animal products. This plan has been devised to be easily adaptable for a range of dietary restrictions. For example, both vegan and non-vegan diets can follow the PHD, as long as the overall amount of recommended protein is sourced. As the diet is designed to be flexible, you can easily incorporate other food intolerances, religious requirements, or even simple preferences.
This mindful approach to animal products and movement towards unprocessed products will also positively impact the environment. The PHD’s promotion of fruits and vegetables allows food waste to be far less of a concern as produce is easily compostable, thus giving back to the environment. An increase in demand for this seasonal produce has the potential to create jobs while also notably reducing emissions and harm upon the landscape. Nuts, legumes, wheat and grains, which are also essential aspects of this diet, are similarly low-risk to grow compared to emissions caused by other forms of food. By encouraging a healthier diet with reasonable inclusion of farm-grown produce, the PHD also aims to boost the involvement of local suppliers, as relying solely on international imports can cause both environmental and economic issues.
Affordability is a significant decider in how healthy or unhealthy eating patterns are formed. While more nutritional choices often carry a stigma of being more expensive and therefore inaccessible, the scientists behind the Planetary Health Diet have found that following the guidelines while choosing the most natural options (rather than those only labelled as healthy to justify a higher price) can actually cost less than a typical Australian diet. As more people turn towards fruit and vegetable-focused meals, researchers predict that this diet will become even more affordable in response to the increase in consumer demand.
Changing your approach to meals can sometimes be challenging. Most dieticians encourage a gradual shift over time to allow your body to adjust and ensure you can healthily and more permanently adopt the diet. Consider building your familiarity with fruits and vegetables first – searching for recipes, finding your likes and dislikes, experimenting with combinations – and incorporating this into your current diet. Once you’re comfortable with this produce-focused approach, you can begin to match your new diet’s other guidelines, such as being more mindful about animal product consumption. If you’re looking to try the Planetary Health Diet or another healthy and environmentally friendly diet, taking small steps is likely the best option to lay the foundation for success in the long run.
Changing your approach to food is an excellent way to ensure your health – and the health of the earth – for the future. If you would like to learn more about the Planetary Health diet, visit https://eatforum.org/learn-and-discover/the-planetary-health-diet/.