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The Health Benefits of ‘Planetary Health Diet’

by | 15 June 2024

A recent Harvard University study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, indicates that following an eco-friendly diet can substantially lower the risk of premature death. This “planetary health diet,” first proposed in The Lancet five years ago, is linked to a reduced risk of major diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.

The planetary health diet advocates for a plant-based approach, emphasizing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which should make up half of one’s daily food intake. Protein sources include nuts, beans, and lentils, with limited consumption of eggs, fish, meat, and sugar.

Researchers tracked over 200,000 healthy adults in the U.S. for 34 years, evaluating their diets against the planetary health diet’s 15 food groups, which include vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and poultry. Over the study period, 54,536 participants died, including over 14,600 from cancer and more than 13,700 from cardiovascular diseases.

Findings revealed that those who adhered most closely to the diet had nearly a third lower risk of premature death compared to those who followed it the least. Specifically, they had a 14% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, a 10% lower risk of cancer death, and a 47% lower risk of dying from respiratory diseases.

The study also highlighted environmental benefits, showing that the planetary health diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29% and lower fertilizer usage by 21% compared to standard diets.

In the UK, data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows a trend towards decreased meat consumption and increased rice and pasta intake. Red meat consumption has significantly declined since the 1970s, while poultry and fish sales have doubled.

These findings reflect broader concerns about the environmental impact of food production, which accounts for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock farming is linked to deforestation, biodiversity loss, water pollution, and significant methane emissions from cattle.

The NHS advises that while red meat can be part of a balanced diet, providing essential protein, vitamins, and minerals, it should be limited to 90 grams per day to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.


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