Carolina Morton Delgado

What is a planetary health diet?

4 min Read
Wooden table with tomatoes, celery, chillis and lentils.

Carolina Morton Delgado is a qualified Mexican nutritionist and holds a Master's in Global Health from the University of Aberdeen. Carolina loves talking (and learning) about the benefits of plant-based diets and non-diet approaches. You can learn more via her Instagram @nutrientfeed.

Our food choices impact both our health and the environment. In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission introduced the planetary health diet - a flexitarian diet which can benefit both people and the planet. So if you’re looking to lower the carbon footprint of your diet but can’t bear the thought of never eating cheese again, keep reading!

What is the EAT-Lancet commission?

In 2019, 37 scientists from 16 countries and multiple scientific disciplines formed the EAT-Lancet Commission. Their aim was to set strategies for healthy diets and sustainable food production, in order to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050. 

This blog will focus on the Commission’s healthy diet strategy, but I would definitely recommend reading the Commission’s summary report if you want to learn more.

Why do we need a planetary health diet?

Current mainstream methods of food production promote climate change, diversity loss, unsustainable use of land and water, and pollution. The Commission’s report identified that we can transform our food system through a combination of reduced food loss and waste, and improvements in food production practices. 

Every year, the UK wastes approximately 9.5 million tonnes of food

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What is the planetary health diet?

As a result of the Commission’s work, a global food guide for adults was developed. The planetary health diet serves as a framework to simultaneously lessen global malnutrition and reduce the environmental impact of eating habits.

A breakdown of the planetary health diet. (EAT)

The planetary health diet is flexible and promotes a plant-based dietary pattern wherein whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes are the main foods consumed. It also includes meat and dairy, but in smaller proportions. 

The planetary health diet is purposefully not rigid, which means it can be adapted to different dietary needs, personal preferences and cultural traditions.

How do I follow the planetary health diet?

  • Diversify your plate. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. The planet has 30,000 known edible plants, so don’t be shy and try including a variety of fruit and veg.
  • Embrace plants as your main source of protein. Fill the other half of your plate with plant proteins like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and nuts. Pair them with whole grains for a satisfying meal.
  • Cook your meals with unsaturated plant oils. Unsaturated oils and spreads are part of a healthy diet as they reduce the risk of heart disease and help us maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
  • Eat modest amounts of meat. Meat and other animal products are good sources of protein, vitamin B12 and iron. But eating large amounts of meat has a negative impact on both our health and our planet. Aim to consume no more than 98 grams of red meat (pork, beef or lamb), 203 grams of poultry and 196 grams of fish per week.

In practice, this could look like getting most of your protein intake from plant sources, eating fish or poultry a couple of times a week, and red meat once a week.

The planetary health diet in your day-to-day

It can be hard to picture yourself not eating animal protein with every meal. Relax! Give the following food swaps a go and see how you find them. Remember that the planetary health diet allows you to be flexible, so none of these swaps are compulsory - they’re just a few examples to help you get started.

Here are some options for beginners:

  • Include legumes, seeds and nuts in your staples. If you love cooking curry, try adding chickpeas next time. If porridge is your go-to breakfast, add some chia seeds and mixed nuts to it. Red kidney beans go really well in spag-bol and chillis. 
  • Replace animal-based foods instead of eliminating them. Trade your cow’s milk for a milk alternative and your meat for some pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils). Why not give vegan ice cream a try? 
  • Look for new recipes. The best way to increase the variety of your diet is by trying new recipes. Look for those which are vegetarian or vegan, and those that can teach you how to cook fish or poultry in a different way.
  • Try some meat-free products. Here in the UK, we’re lucky that most supermarkets have at least a few meat-free options. Make the most of them! If you’re finding it difficult to prepare meals without meat being the centerpiece, check out this blog on plant-based lunch ideas.

Doing all these changes at once can be overwhelming, so please remember to start slow and check in with yourself along the way. This is a marathon, not a sprint!

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For those who are ready to level up their flexitarianism:

  • Try eating legumes in every meal. You can eat legumes anywhere you’d typically eat meat. Try a bean burrito for breakfast, wholemeal pita bread with falafels for lunch, or a tofu stir-fry.
  • Make vegetables tasty. There are many ways to include vegetables in your diet. Think outside of your regular Caesar salad and try preparing salsas, pesto, spreads, and sauces. Don’t be afraid of cooking your veggies with a bit of oil, salt and pepper.
  • Include nuts and seeds in most meals. They’re rich in omega-3 and other healthy fats. They can also be great if you’re after something crunchy. 
  • Work with a plant-based nutritionist. The previous tips will hopefully help you get going in the right direction, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember that eating a variety of foods is key so you will need to learn how to prepare more than four meals. A registered nutritionist or dietitian can help you come up with a plan that works for your needs and lifestyle. 

Lastly, remember that it’s OK to start with what’s easiest for you and go as slow as you need to. I recommend finding other people who are changing their diet for their health and the planet’s - you can support each other and share useful tips.


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