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Good for You, Good for the Planet

When we think about global, national and personal changes that can be made in order to decrease or at least slow climate change and hopefully preserve our planet in good health for the coming generations we tend to focus on renewable energy, cars, factories and other obviously industrialised concepts.

How many of us think about what we eat each day as having a substantial impact on the state of the environment?

Healthier diet means a healthier planet

Recent interest in this topic lead to the EAT Lancet Planetary Health Commission releasing a report which draws together evidence that shows that we can make major dietary shifts and still maintain nutritional adequacy - in fact the EAT Planetary Health diet offers reduced risk of chronic disease over the lifetime when compared with the typical Western diet consumed by many Australians, North Americans and Europeans. Moreover it offers a better way to feed the whole human population equitably rather than having whole nations suffering from overeating and obesity whilst others starve.

The Lancet EAT Planetary Diet Plate

We know that a diet rich in a wide variety of plant foods including wholegrains, legumes, colourful and leafy green vegetables and fruits reduces risk of many modern day chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and obesity related conditions.

More recent research has started to uncover the links between such a diet and better mental health and reduced risk of dementia. This effect is strengthened when a healthy diet is teamed with moving regularly, avoiding tobacco, drinking alcohol very moderately or not at all and staying socially connected.

Healthier diets make economic sense

We also know that economically it makes sense to transform food systems to protect the planet: A diet based on minimally processed plant foods and less meat would make a massive difference to the incidence of type II diabetes alone. The global ill health costs of diabetes, let alone other diet related diseases, is of the same magnitude as the total value of farming to the global economy.

The impacts of animal farming

Producing animals for us to eat uses a massive amount of land. 50% of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture and 77% of that agricultural land is for growing animals. Additionally, 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are for agriculture and 78% of the world's oceanic and freshwater pollution comes from agricultural causes.

Yet, plant foods account for 82% of the world's calories. So, 77% of agricultural land is only providing 18% of the world's energy.

We are losing biodiversity at an astonishing rate. 94% of global mammal biomass (excluding humans) is livestock and 71% of global bird biomass is poultry.

For more on how animal protein affects the environment compared to plant protein, read my blog post: Animal Versus Plant Proteins and their Environmental Impact, you might be surprised!

Food creates 26% of greenhouse gas emissions

Add to these incredible statistics other unhealthy practices such as overuse of pesticide and herbicides, plastic packaging pollution, food wastage and overfishing and it is clear that we do need to address not only global food production techniques but also our desire for certain food products and our own willingness to make significant changes to our everyday eating habits.

Countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Brazil, Sweden and Qatar already consider environmental impacts of food in their national dietary guidelines. Other countries must follow suit. But even more so, individuals like you and I must be willing to change.

What Can I Do?

Start to make changes to the way you eat, shop and think about food. Don't be overwhelmed, every small change you make is a move in the right direction.

  • Eat a diverse diet based on mostly minimally processed plant foods

  • Only use moderate amounts of dairy foods

  • Eat meat sparingly and don't waste parts of it

  • Drink tap water (not plastic bottled water!)

  • No ultra processed foods

  • Eat in season

  • Don't overeat

  • Avoid whole aisles of the supermarket!

  • Reject plastic packaging

  • Base meals on vegetables, wholegrains and legumes

  • Use farmers markets and local suppliers, or grow your own!


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