Can we eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, asks the EAT-Lancet commission that has brought together 37 experts from 16 countries to develop, for the first time, global scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.To be published on Thursday, the EAT- Lancet Commission report calls for a dietary shift that recommends reduction of global consumption of red meat by 50 per cent and overall increase in consumption of legumes, nuts, fruit, and vegetables, with the changes needed varying according to region.
The report says global targets will need to be applied locally, For instance, residents of countries in North America eat almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat, while residents of South Asian countries, like India, eat only half the recommended amount. All countries are eating more starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava) than recommended, with intakes ranging between 1.5 times above the recommendation in South Asia and by 7.5 times in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To be published online on Thursday, Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets for Sustainable Food Systems also links nutritional targets with environmental sustainability. Feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet requires a transformation of eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.
According to the commission, the new daily dietary pattern of a planetary health diet consists of approximately 35 per cent of calories as whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants, but also includes approximately 14 grams of red meat per day and 500 grams per day of vegetables and fruits.
Dr K Srinath Reddy, one of the members of the EAT-Lancet Commission, told The Indian Express that in India, there was a need to increase the diversity of food grains. “We can include millets and also ensure that there is no imbalance in the consumption of fruits and vegetables. For this, we need to deal with post-harvest losses, increase local production of fruits and vegetables and encourage community gardens,” he said.
“For Indians, it is not mainly an issue of reduction in meat production,” he pointed out, adding that these recommendations were mainly for Western countries. “We need to improve the quality of our vegetarian diets”.
The Commission’s definition of a healthy reference diet was calculated through analysis of food groups, with appropriate ranges proposed for essential daily intake that would lead to optimal health and well-being, and reduce premature deaths worldwide by 19-23 per cent. Globally, more than 820 million people remain undernourished and concurrently, prevalence of diseases associated with high-calorie, unhealthy diets are increasing, with 2.1 billion adults overweight or obese and the global prevalence of diabetes almost doubling in the past 30 years.
Co-lead commissioner, Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University, has said in the report that the world’s diet has to dramatically change.
“The human cost of our faulty food systems is that almost 1 billion people are hungry, and almost 2 billion people are eating too much of the wrong food. These findings suggest that a shift towards a dietary pattern emphasising whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, without necessarily becoming a strict vegan, will be beneficial,” stated the report.