New Delhi: Feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 a healthy and sustainable diet will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production, and reducing food waste, states the EAT-Lancet Commission in its report released on Thursday.
The commission has also provided the first scientific targets for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system that operates within planetary boundaries for food. The report promotes diets consisting of a variety of plant-based foods, with low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars, and with unsaturated rather than saturated fats.
“First scientific targets for a healthy diet that places healthy food consumption within the boundaries of our planet will require significant change, but are within reach.
“The daily dietary pattern of a planetary health diet consists of approximately 35% of calories as whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants – but including approximately 14g of red meat per day – and 500g per day of vegetables and fruits," the report said.
“Moving to this new dietary pattern will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by about 50%, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes must double.
“Unhealthy diets are the leading cause of ill-health worldwide and following the diet could avoid approximately 11 million premature deaths per year," it said.
The report has highlighted that a shift towards the planetary health diet would ensure the global food system would be sustainable.The diet can exist within planetary boundaries for food production, such as those for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and freshwater use, as well as nutrient cycles.
“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," said one of the commission authors Professor Tim Lang of the University of London.
The commission is a 3-year project that brings together 37 experts from 16 countries with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, food systems, economics and political governance.
The authors argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. Based on the best available evidence, the Commission proposes a dietary pattern that meets nutritional requirements, promotes health, and allows the world to stay within planetary boundaries.
“The world’s diets must change dramatically. More than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contributes to premature death and disease," said co-lead commissioner Walter Willett of Harvard University. “To be healthy, diets must have an appropriate calorie intake and consist of a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods, and added sugars. The food group intake ranges that we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, and individual dietary preferences – including numerous omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diets."
The authors estimate that widespread adoption of such a diet would improve intakes of most nutrients – increasing intake of healthy mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and reducing consumption of unhealthy saturated fats. It would also increase essential micronutrient intake (such as iron, zinc, folate, and vitamin A, as well as calcium in low-income countries), except for vitamin B12 where supplementation or fortification might be necessary in some circumstances.
The scientists have also modelled the potential effects of global adoption of the diet on deaths from diet-related diseases. Three models each showed major health benefits, suggesting that adopting the new diet globally could avert between 10.9 million and 11.6 million premature deaths per year – reducing adult deaths by 19-23.6%.