Could you live with this diet?

The diet to save lives, the planet and feed us all?

By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent, BBC News

  • 17 January 2019

A diet has been developed that promises to save lives, feed 10 billion people and all without causing catastrophic damage to the planet.

Scientists have been trying to figure out how we are going to feed billions more people in the decades to come.

Their answer - "the planetary health diet" - does not completely banish meat and dairy.

But it requires an enormous shift in what we pile on to our plates and turning to foods that we barely eat.

What changes am I going to have to make?

If you eat meat every day then this is the first biggie. For red meat you're looking at a burger a week or a large steak a month and that's your lot.

You can still have a couple of portions of fish and the same of chicken a week, but plants are where the rest of your protein will need to come from. The researchers are recommending nuts and a good helping of legumes (that's beans, chickpeas and lentils) every day instead.

There's also a major push on all fruit and veg, which should make up half of every plate of food we eat.

Although there's a cull on "starchy vegetables" such as the humble potato or cassava which is widely eaten in Africa.

So what is the diet in detail?

If you served it all up this is what you would be allowed each day:

Nuts - 50g a day

  1. Beans, chickpeas, lentils and other legumes - 75g a day
  2. Fish - 28g a day
  3. Eggs - 13g a day (so one and a bit a week)
  4. Meat - 14g a day of red meat and 29g a day of chicken
  5. Carbs - whole grains like bread and rice 232g a day and 50g a day of starchy vegetables
  6. Dairy - 250g - the equivalent of one glass of milk
  7. Vegetables -(300g) and fruit (200g)

The diet has room for 31g of sugar and about 50g worth of oils like olive oil.

Will it taste awful?

Prof Walter Willet, one of the researchers who is based at Harvard, said no and that after a childhood on a farm eating three portions of red meat a day he was now pretty much in line with the planetary health diet.

"There's tremendous variety there," he said. "You can take those foods and put them together in thousands of different ways. We're not talking about a deprivation diet here, it is healthy eating that is flexible and enjoyable."

Is this for real, or just a fantasy?

This plan requires changes to diets in pretty much every corner of the world.

Europe and North America need to cut back massively on red meat, East Asia needs to cut back on fish, Africa on starchy vegetables.

"Humanity has never attempted to change the food system at this scale and this speed," said Line Gordon, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, at Stockholm University.

"Whether it's a fantasy or not, a fantasy doesn't have to be bad... it's time to dream of a good world," she says.

Taxes on red meat are one of the many options the researchers say may be necessary to persuade us to switch diets.

Who came up with this?

A group of 37 scientists from around the world were brought together as part of the EAT-Lancet commission.

They're a mix of experts from farming to climate change to nutrition. They took two years to come up with their findings which have been published in the Lancet.

Why do we need a diet for 10 billion people?

The world population reached seven billion in 2011 and it's now around 7.7 billion. That figure is expected to reach 10 billion around 2050 and will keep on climbing.

Will it save lives?

The researchers say the diet will prevent about 11 million people dying each year.

That number is largely down to cutting diseases related to unhealthy diets such as heart attacks, strokes and some cancers. These are now the biggest killers in developed countries.

How bad is farming for the planet?

The use of land for growing food and forestry accounts for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's about the same as from electricity and heating, and substantially more than from all the trains, planes and automobiles on the planet.

When you look more closely at the food sector's environmental impact, you can see that meat and dairy are the major factors. Worldwide, livestock accounts for between 14.5 and 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

When it comes to other warming gases, agriculture is one of the leading contributors to both methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Agriculture is also a significant source of air pollution with ammonia from farms a major cause of fine particulate matter, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says is a threat to health worldwide.

Similarly when it comes to water, agriculture and food productions are one of the biggest threats, consuming 70% of global freshwater sources for irrigation.

So will this diet save the planet?

The researchers' aim was to feed more people while:

  • minimising greenhouse gas emissions
  • preventing any species going extinct
  • having no expansion of farmland, and
  • preserving water

However, just changing diets is nowhere near enough.

To make the numbers add up, also requires a halving of food waste and an increase in the amount of food produced on current farmland.

Why isn't meat being banned?

"If we were just minimising greenhouse gases we'd say everyone be vegan," said Prof Willet.

However, it was unclear whether a vegan diet was the healthiest option, he said.


Views: 89

Replies to This Discussion

Stop making babies ! ! ! !

As UKers say, FULL STOP !

I never started...

Ditto. I was lucky and met/married a woman who also didn’t start.

Bert, only the asexual Catholic hierarchy say that.

About 90% of Catholics ignore them.

Fuck the Roman Catholic Church!

I agree with Tom. Overpopulation is the real problem here.

I also dislike the make-the-little guy-starve approach that ignores corporate greed and fossil fuel industry subsidies, pointing a blame finger at everybody else. We should subsist on beans and rice while driving gas guzzlers and paying taxes to build new fossil fuel infrastructure?

true, those problems have to be attacked first or at the same time. And a diet won't help at all if it leads to more children. But I think this plan will at least remind people of the restrictions on this planet. As with the carbon footprint, people should know what is what - do I use too much or is it reasonable? It's not a bad diet. When I started checking I found that I've lived on this programme for some years, but I skip the meat.

Hear, hear! Overpopulation also ties in with the unworkable axiom that a thriving economy must be founded on constant growth.

It's been said before that one of the great public health triumphs of the 20th century was effective contraception -- the ability to reasonably reliably unlink having (female-male) sex with making babies. Religions that insist on baby-making are part of the problem. (Especially ideologies like Quiverfull that see all those babies as a means of taking control of society.)

Speaking of which...

The areas in orange are where other people don't have to follow your religion. [US map, with Alaska and Hawaii included, all colored orange, on a very light, muted US flag background] LET'S KEEP IT THAT WAY! (Jews for a Secular Democracy)

(image source)

But back to our topic, and speaking of subsidizing fossil fuel infrastructure, I drive a car (though a fuel-efficient one), and quit AAA some years ago over their lobbying against projects helping public transit, bicycling, or anything except more cars, cars, cars.

Henry Giroux said what I meant to say, with greater articulation.

The corporate-dominated circuits of culture depoliticize people by defining them as both consumers and as isolated individuals for whom all the problems they face are both self-induced and only subject to change through the register of individual responsibility. [emphasis mine]

What an effective way for corporations to externalize all the damage they do, to foist it on actual people, made powerless!

That ties in with opponents of the New Deal in the 1930s hiring pastors to promote "individual responsibility" and "individual salvation", and also creating the myth of America as a nation "founded on Christian principles".

Reposting again: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse:

What can you do then? Wait till everything collapses? I agree with your view but what are our options? Make some more babies? Drive a car? Or just put on the tv and forget about everything?

Hear! Hear! The wealthy will eat all the meat they want, use all the water they want, 

consume all the power they want, transport all the food from all over the globe they want, 

have all the babies they want, drive all the gas-guzzlers they want, and what have I forgotten? 

In the meantime, living life as if the planet matters makes sense to me. So does care about people having enough food, shelter, health care, education and a decent quality of life. We don't have to live in a win/lose world, with planning and critical choices life can be a win/win for all. Pollyanna, you say? Maybe!




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