A bit of meat and a lot of veg: A simple introduction to the Planetary Diet

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 01 May, 2019

There's a new diet in town and it's cleverly coined 'The Planetary Diet' because it aims to save our health as well as our planet's health.

Scientists have been trying to figure out how we are going to feed everyone in the decades to come – and right now, this is their answer. The Planetary Diet doesn't completely banish meat and dairy, but it would require an enormous shift in what we pile on to our plates at the moment. In simple terms, if you eat meat every day then this is the first biggie. For red meat you're looking at a burger a week or a large steak a month – and that's your lot.

You can still have a couple of portions of fish and the same of chicken a week, but plants are where the rest of your protein will need to come from. The researchers are recommending nuts and a good helping of legumes every day instead. There's also a major push on all fruit and veg, which should make up half of every plate of food we eat.

What is it?

The diet is proposed by The EAT-Lancet Commission, based on extensive research into what constitutes both a healthy and sustainable diet for our world's population. The diet recommends a stark reduction in our consumption of red meat and dairy, with a rise in fruits and vegetables, and with nuts and legumes as a protein source. Across a week you would be looking at a maximum of 100g beef, 200g chicken, 200g fish, 7 glasses of milk and 1-2 eggs – as well as maximum of 350g of starchy veg such as potatoes. The rest of the diet would consist of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and pulses.

Why is it good?

The reduction in meat and dairy would have a significant positive impact on the environment. Currently, livestock across the globe is responsible for around 14-18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and land used for growing food is responsible for around 25%, of greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction in demand for meat and dairy would help to significantly reduce these impacts.

In terms of our health, the reduction in red meat and dairy provides a reduction in saturated fat, making it more heart healthy. As well as an increase in fibre, vitamins and minerals due to the increase in legumes, fruits and vegetables, it also proposes a much-needed reduction in added sugars, which is currently adding to the obesity crisis.

Are there any drawbacks?

If you're a big meat eater, this diet would be a significant change to begin with. There is also the question of how realistic it is that this could be implemented worldwide, given much of the UK population alone doesn't even adhere to current healthy eating guidelines. But in terms of a healthy diet, the Planetary Diet is very well balanced and would be a beneficial choice for us all.

How can I do it?

Plant based meals should be the rule with meat, chicken, fish as the exception – so aim for plant based meals 75% of the time, with the other 25% allowing for a little chicken, fish, egg or beef. Try introducing dairy free milks and limiting cheese intake. Introduce more legumes in place of meat in your meals and nuts as a daily snack. You may need to reconsider your 5-a-day goal too: 7-10-a-day would be more appropriate.

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.