Changing Our Diet While We Change the Planet

It’s not about getting thin anymore!

A new study by the highly respected Lancet publication on health research, as reported by VOX, has published a study pointing to a way of eating that angers some but may, along with other strategies ie: clean energy solutions, just be able to save the planet and feed everyone on it.  The report looks at how the Anthropocene, the period of earth’s history when man has dominated the climate and the environment, has affected our food systems. 

‘What’s needed, according to the peer-reviewed report, titled “Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems,” is a new philosophy for how to eat on planet Earth. Though there are huge variations around the world in what and how much we consume, we are all in this existential crisis together.’

The report points to what many have believed for decades now. The Eat-Lancet report advises a change in diet to be plant-based.  This will be particularly difficult for Western Europeans and North Americans all of whom eat meat-based diets.

‘Which brings us to what seems to be the most controversial aspect of this report: its specific dietary advice for ensuring that everyone’s nutritional needs are met without exceeding “planetary boundaries.” To survive as a species, it says, everyone — including you! —is advised to eat mostly vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts, and limit red meat consumption to just one serving per week.

‘The EAT–Lancet Commission’s Planetary Health Plate. EAT–Lancet Commission

This “planetary health diet,” as the authors call it, is a provocative recommendation, especially for those in countries (like the United States) where many people eat multiple servings of meat a day. It would require a radical revamping of our food culture — prioritizing sustainability and collective survival over food hedonism and tradition.’

Of course, there’s always the opposing team raising its hands in protest.  Not eat meat…What!… protein.  This is just not right.   Yes, we know.  There are thousands if not millions of people around the world who live long and healthy lives on plant-based diets getting their protein from legumes such as soy and red kidney beans and multiple other sources.  Practically everything we eat has some amino acid in it that can be used to build proteins.  

According to the ‘Library of Congress – Cambell, T. Colin 1934- The China Study: (available on Amazon) is ‘the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss, and long-term health.’

Although T. Colin Campbell believes we should remove all forms of animal products from our diets the Eat-Lancet report is not suggesting this.  Getting rid of all forms of animal products would be extreme.  I for one would be unhappy. 

And to be clear – No one, I hope, is advocating we eat processed flours and simple sugars to replace animal-based products.

Making most of our diet ‘plant based’ not only helps the planet but increases our intake of phytonutrients. Increasing our intake of phytonutrients increases our health on so many levels. 

On the other side of the argument the nay-sayers are not only worried about lack of protein but about getting too many carbs through a plant-based diet even though the carbs being consumed would be from whole grains and fiber-filled fruits and vegetables which are not given to spiking insulin levels.  We need more evidence, more studies, more information they say.  

‘Others also quibble with the report’s nutritional recommendations — including doctors and dietitians who advocate for low-carb patterns of eating, especially in an era when we are drowning in sugar and refined carbs.

In a piece for Psychology Today, Georgia Ede, a psychiatrist and nutrition consultant, writes that “animal foods are essential to optimal human health” and describes the various ways she thinks the EAT-Lancet Commission authors fail to provide adequate scientific evidence for the nutritional value of a plant-based diet. “For those of us with insulin resistance (aka ‘pre-diabetes’) whose insulin levels tend to run too high, the Commission’s high-carbohydrate diet — based on up to 60 percent of calories from whole grains, in addition to fruits and starchy vegetables — is potentially dangerous,” Ede notes.’

In fact, there is a plethora of research on plant-based diets both through population studies, meta-analysis, cross-sectional and others that lean heavily towards lowering blood cholesterol and high blood sugar through a whole plant-based diet.

But, it’s not just about the health of our bodies, is it? 

‘The report acknowledges that animal agriculture can be beneficial to ecosystems in some contexts. But “plant-based foods cause fewer adverse environmental effects” than animal products by every metric. “We estimated that changes in food production practices could reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 by 10 percent, whereas increased consumption of plant-based diets could reduce emissions by 80 percent,” it says. So we could help limit the climate and pollution mess by scaling back meat and dairy and scaling up grains, legumes, and nuts.’

I’m going to leave you now and go and make my dinner.  I’ll have lots of veggies and a small amount of meat or maybe a little fish.  Oh yes, and a handful of microgreens from the windowsill.

Let them argue over what I’m supposed to eat.  I’ve moved on!