Some people diet to lose weight, others do it to get healthy, and some change their eating habits to help preserve the planet. Now there’s a diet that experts believe can accomplish all three goals at the same time: the planetary health diet.
Created by a group of 37 scientists as part of the EAT-Lancet Commission, the diet is designed to prevent 11 million deaths each year by cutting the risk of lethal chronic diseases. It’s also supposed to feed 10 billion people (the estimated population of Earth by 2050) and not cause any environmental damage.
“A large body of work has emerged on the environmental impacts of various diets, with most studies concluding that a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits,” the report states.
The scientists who created it say the planetary health diet is a “flexitarian” diet, which means it’s largely plant-based but can also include small amounts of fish, meat, and dairy. Meat and dairy use the most natural resources and take the biggest toll on the planet, but the new diet doesn’t completely eliminate either food group, which is good news for red meat fans.
As for what else is in the plan: The main protein sources are nuts and legumes. Whole-grain carbs, fruit, and vegetables are also in it, with oil and sugar allowed in small quantities.
“There’s tremendous variety there,” Walter Willett, MD, lead author of the paper that explains the new plan and a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the BBC. “You can take those foods and put them together in thousands of different ways. We’re not talking about a deprivation diet here, it is healthy eating that is flexible and enjoyable.”
If you already get most of your protein from plants, the planetary health diet may not call for any big shifts in your daily menu. Carnivores, however, will need to make some real changes—like cutting back to one burger per week. Depending on how much red meat a person already eats, the diet could lead to weight loss, since red meat can be high in calories and fat.
So what do our favorite nutritionists think of this diet? “It’s healthy because it’s rich in produce, whole grains, and other plant-based foods and healthy oils, like olive oil. It limits meat and dairy, and that’s a good thing, as most Americans eat too much red meat, which is not sustainable,” Julie Upton, RD, tells Health.
Cynthia Sass, MS, RD, agrees. “In fact, you could even go more plant-based, and still meet your nutrient needs,” she tells Health. The planetary health diet could be compared to the Mediterranean diet, Upton says, which has many research-backed health benefits, like increased heart health and better brain functioning.
Sounds like you can’t go wrong with this eating plan. I mean, saving lives, improving your own health, and the planet? It basically turns you into a superhero.