Study shows: win-win diet is good for people and planet

win-win diet

This article was last updated on June 10, 2024

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Study shows: win-win diet is good for people and planet

A diet that is good for the planet and good for people. That is what the Planetary Health Diet, launched in 2019, claims to be. And it is real, according to new American research.

According to the researchers, the so-called win-win diet reduces the risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease by 30 percent, according to the researchers. It also leads to 29 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions and more than 50 percent less land use for food production.

“This is the most detailed study of the effects of the Planetary Health Diet to date,” said lead researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The results show a lower risk of all major causes of death. In addition, we saw a greatly reduced impact on the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions and land use.”

The researchers used decades of data from about 200,000 Americans, all working in healthcare and free of chronic diseases. This group, three-quarters of which were women, kept track of how much they ate of fifteen different food groups, from grains and vegetables to meat and seeds. This allowed the researchers to determine exactly how close their diet was to the Planetary Health Diet.

What is the ‘win-win diet’?

The Planetary Health Diet, also called planetary diet, is a so-called flexitarian diet. It consists of 50 percent fruit and vegetables, as well as smaller amounts of meat – preferably white meat – grains, nuts and seeds.

To bring our diet more in line with the planetary diet, people should eat less red meat and more vegetables, nuts and seeds. The diet was drawn up in 2019 by a committee of the EAT Forum and the medical scientific journal The Lancet to continue to provide the growing world population with food in a healthy and sustainable way.

The better the participants adhered to the diet, the less likely they were to die from major causes such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease. The 10 percent who adhered best to the diet had a 30 percent lower chance of dying from it than the group that adhered most poorly. The results were published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Effect possibly even greater

The Planetary Health Diet was introduced in 2019 by the Lancet-EAT committee to continue feeding the growing world population in a healthy and sustainable way. “In 2019, people still assumed an assumed health benefit,” says microbiologist Remco Kort of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. “This new study shows that the health benefits really exist.”

Kort thinks that the effect of the diet on health could be greater than this study suggests, because the participants all worked in healthcare. “They will be slightly healthier than the average population. If you were to repeat the study with a cross-section of the population, you would therefore expect even more health gains.”

A large-scale application of the diet would be obvious, given the benefits for both people and the planet. But lead researcher Walter Willett guards against too much optimism: “Changes in behavior always take a lot of time. Moreover, the environmental and health costs of food are not always included in the price. And there are still many subsidies for unhealthy food.”

In any case, Willett himself sets a good example. “I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, whole grain products and unsaturated plant oil. And every now and then a little dairy, meat or an egg. It is a lot like the Mediterranean diet, but you can adapt the flavors and products to every culture.”

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