My Take on the EAT-Lancet Report on Sustainable, Healthy Diets

Sharon Palmer

You might have heard headlines about the landmark report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. This commission brought together more than 30 world scientists to come up with a scientific consensus on how we can define a healthy, sustainable diet, as well as recommendations for improving planetary health. The planetary health diet focuses on whole plant foods, and modest amounts of animal foods, with a note that vegetarian and vegan diets are two healthy options.

As a dietitian with an emphasis on plant-based nutrition, and with a MS in Sustainable Food Systems, I welcome this EAT-Lancet report and believe that it has many appropriate recommendations. It is true that our food system/diet has the most significant impact on both planetary and human health. And studies have consistently pointed out that Western style diets—rich in animal foods and highly processed foods—have been linked with health risks, as well as a high environmental burden. This EAT-Lancet report captures those factors in order to create global recommendations that must be taken on in order to address the growing burden of our current food and diet systems on human and planetary health. This is of even more concern as developing nations start eating more like the U.S., which has some of the worst eating patterns in the developed world. In order to address human health and environmental health, major shifts need to occur in diet and production. This report doesn’t say that you must give up animal foods all together, but it recommends a significant reduction and shift to foods like beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains.

I have advocated this type of diet for many years. By shifting to a more plant-based diet, you can significantly reduce GHGEs, land usage, methane production, and water usage related to your foodprint. I also appreciate how the report addresses biodiversity and conservation, as we simply can’t let food production take up our entire planet as our population expands—we need to leave something to support our beautiful, rich planet, with its diverse flora and fauna, and unique ecosystems. This report comes at a very crucial time, as the population rises, and more land will be required to meet the growing demand if we continue to eat the way we do now.

Of course, food waste is part of this equation, which is pointed out in the report. We must significantly cut food waste in order to reduce the impact of growing food which will never be consumed. I believe this is a very impactful, bold movement, and I hope that it will be embraced by people, organizations, and governments. We see more and more studies that show a rise in interest in plant-based eating—surveys have shown that 70% of people are trying to eat a more plant-based diet, and 59% are concerned about sustainability when they make food choices. This report addresses some of the major issues related to food sustainability, which also happen to impact human health. When these issues come into alignment, you have great potential to make positive change.

Read the report summary here.

Image: Mandarin, Kale and Quinoa Bowl, Sharon Palmer, RDN

For more research studies on plant-based diets and health, read these blogs:

High Fiber, Lower Mortality
Eat More Plants, Weigh Less
Vegetarian and Mediterranean Diets Are Both Heart Healthy

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