Meat can stay on your plate, but plants should be the main course

The release of a report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health makes it clear that focussing on plant-based foods isn’t just for animal lovers and environmentalists. The Commission brought together 37 world-leading scientists to investigate what defines a healthy diet, and how we can eat it without running out of resources on earth.

The report examines a ‘planetary health diet’ and recommends people worldwide eat more whole grains and plant-based foods, and less meat and highly processed foods.

A diet that reduces your risk of lifestyle diseases and cancer

What can the planetary health diet do for you? “Vegetables and fruit are rich in vitamins and minerals, fibre, antioxidants and plant compounds called phytochemicals which protect against cancer,” says dietitian Terry Harris. Eating more fruit and vegetables can lower your risk of developing lifestyle diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some of the most common kinds of cancer in South Africa like breast and colorectal cancer.

“To gain the health benefits,” says Terry, “you need to eat a minimum of 400 g (that’s five portions) a day of a variety of fruit and non-starchy vegetables. Eat your fruit with the skin and pulp – not juiced.”

Keep those grains whole and don’t leave out your legumes

Eating whole grains instead of refined grain can also protect against lifestyle diseases and weight gain, Terry adds: “This is because whole grains – such as barley, brown rice, bulgur wheat, oats, popcorn and whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers – provide fibre, resistant starch, a number of vitamins and minerals, as well as those beneficial phytochemicals.”

“The fibre in whole grains helps you feel full faster and steadies your blood sugar levels, which helps prevent overeating and weight gain. In contrast, highly refined grains – like white rice, white bread and white flour – make you hungry soon after eating them, because they’ve been stripped of their filling fibre content.”

You should eat legumes and pulses (like beans, chickpeas and lentils) at least once a week. The fibre in these foods helps to decrease cholesterol levels, guard against diabetes, prevent constipation, and protect against gallstones.

The planetary health diet could help prevent 11 million deaths a year

The EAT-Lancet report concludes that we urgently need to change our diets. With their eating plan, the commission shows that it is possible and necessary to sustainably feed 10 billion by 2050. Also, if everyone on the plant follows this way of eating, it could save the environment and prevent 11 million deaths a year.

Will you take steps to be healthier, be sick less often and save the planet as you go?

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