Eating for Two: A Diet to Benefit Both Your Health and the Planet
Eating a diet abundant in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, has been scientifically proven to offer many health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Moreover, adopting this dietary approach can also help minimise food production's negative impact on the environment. Ultimately, choosing what to eat is a personal choice, but incorporating more plant-based foods can be a sustainable path to a healthier lifestyle.
The EAT-Lancet Commission report is a landmark scientific report published in 2019 by the EAT Stockholm Food Forum (1) in
The Lancet medical journal, titled: The EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet (2). The report provides a scientific framework for a healthy and sustainable “Planetary Health Diet” that can help address the global challenges of malnutrition, obesity (over-nutrition), and environmental degradation. It recommends a dietary pattern based on whole grains and plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and unsaturated oils. It also suggests limits on animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars, and highly processed foods, as shown in Table 1. With a goal of fostering a thriving and sustainable food future, the Commission endeavours to provide valuable insights that will guide informed policies, cutting-edge research, and effective industry actions with consideration of a whole systems food approach.
Table 1 - Scientific targets for a planetary health diet, with possible ranges, for an intake of 2,500 kcal/day.
Rice, wheat, corn and other
|Tubers or starchy vegetables|
Potatoes and cassava
Whole milk or equivalents
Beef, lamb and pork
Chicken and other poultry
(Source: https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summ…, 2019, p.10)
However, the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet has faced criticism (3). Some critics argue that the suggested diet may not prevent noncommunicable diseases (4), while others dispute the inadequate nutritional value of the diet food proportions (5), shown in Table 1 and Figure 1. As a result, the Commission was not endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which dropped its sponsorship for the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health in Geneva, Switzerland. This announcement came after a press release published in the British Medical Journal by Gian Lorenzo Cornado (Italy’s ambassador and permanent representative of Italy to the International Organisations Geneva), who questioned the scientific validity of the suggested Planetary Health Diet (6). The commentary stated that the diet could mean the “destruction of millenary health traditional diets which are a full part of the cultural heritage and social harmony in many countries” and referred to the “total elimination of the freedom of choice” for the consumers.
Figure 1 - A planetary health plate
(Source: https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summ…, 2019, p.9)
The high(er) cost of the recommended diet has also been a point of contention. A global study (7) estimated the affordability of the Planetary Health Diet and found that, whilst the diet may cost a small fraction of the average income in high-income countries, the cost of the diet would exceed household per capita income for at least 1.58 billion people globally.
In response to the aforementioned criticisms, the EAT Forum has recently commissioned the EAT-Lancet 2.0 (8). The updated version aims to include “several new elements such as a greater focus on diversity and the adaptation of regional and local diets, strengthened diversity in the composition of the Commission and a new focus on food justice and social food system goals. The report will be released in 2024 and will evaluate multiple transitional pathways to a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food future, using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) modelling framework. A global consultation will also be conducted to promote local endorsement and adoption of the recommendations.
Despite its shortcomings, the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet remains a widely recognised and respected guide for promoting sustainable and healthy dietary habits. The Diet is the first to recognise the importance of sustainable agricultural practices as a whole food system approach to help mitigate the negative impact of food production on planetary and human health. Many matters arise when considering the issue of affordability and inclusivity of this diet, particularly during the current cost-of-living crisis in the UK. Some of these concern the suitability of the recommended diet for diverse at-risk groups and the position of policy to make sustainable food affordable and accessible. Despite the changing circumstances of the world, we live in, the report's primary message remains the same - that it is necessary for humanity to reduce their consumption of animal products, increase their intake of plant-based foods, and prioritize sustainable agriculture in our food choices.
- EATforum [Internet]. EATforum.
- Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, Springmann M, Lang T, Vermeulen S, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet. 2019 Feb 2;393(10170):447–92.
- Verkerk R. EAT-Lancet – is there such a thing as ‘one- size-fits-all’ sustainability? Journal of holistic healthcare [Internet] (PDF). 2019;16(3).
- Zagmutt FJ, Pouzou JG, Costard S. The EAT-Lancet Commission’s Dietary Composition May Not Prevent Noncommunicable Disease Mortality. J Nutr. 2020 May 1;150(5):985–8.
- Hatcombe Z. The EAT-Lancet diet is nutritionally deficient [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Feb 20].
- Torjesen I. WHO pulls support from initiative promoting global move to plant based foods. BMJ. 2019 Apr 9;365:l1700.
- Hirvonen K, Bai Y, Headey D, Masters WA. Affordability of the EAT-Lancet reference diet: a global analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2020 Jan;8(1):e59–66.
- About EAT-Lancet 2.0 [Internet]. EAT. [cited 2023 Feb 20].