New research says humans must halve meat and sugar consumption while doubling healthy whole foods to save the planet and 11 million lives a year.
A “Planetary Health” is ideal for both human health and the health of the planet, says new research commissioned by the journal The Lancet.
The findings, presented earlier this week by researchers from the University of London and 37 specialists in 16 countries, say that by doubling consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, while reducing meat and sugar by half, more than 11 million early deaths per year could be prevented and greenhouse gases drastically reduced.
A shift to the proposed planet-friendly diet would also reduce the pressure on natural resources including land and water used for livestock production, which would also help preserve the planet’s biodiversity, reduce pollution, and reroute critical resources including medically important antibiotics fed to livestock instead of humans.
“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” Tim Lang, a professor at Britain’s University of London who co-led the research, said in a statement.
According to Lang, it will be impossible to feed the planet’s increasing population — expected to be 10 billion by 2050 — with our current dietary habits. “We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before.”
The ambitious shift to a plant-centered diet could see drastic reductions in rates of obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. According to the researchers, poor diets cause more deaths and disease worldwide than unsafe sex, alcohol, and drug and tobacco use combined.
The “Planetary Health” diet proposes individuals reduce red meat and sugar by half while doubling plant-based foods. But for some regions, it could be even more; the researchers point to North America where red meat consumption is nearly 6.5 times current recommendations. In contrast, it’s half the recommended amount in South Asia.
“More than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and disease,” said Walter Willett of Harvard University.
“If we can’t quite make it, it’s better to try and get as close as we can.”
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