Your sustainable diet for the year 2050: More nuts, less sugar and red meat

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Good news, Earthlings! An international team of scientists reports that it is indeed possible to feed everyone on the planet a healthy and environmentally sustainable diet by the year 2050.

All it will take is a wholesale, radical change to what foods we eat and the way we produce them.

"We call it the Great Food Transformation," said Jessica Fanzo, director of the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. "While that may sound dramatic, we need big transformation and massive cooperation to meet this global challenge."

In a report published Wednesday in Lancet, Fanzo, along with 36 colleagues from 16 countries, released a set of scientifically determined targets to guide producers, food consumers and policy makers toward creating a food system that will improve human health and the health of the planet.

The proposed diet, based on a two-year review of hundreds of nutrition studies, is not as scary as one might think. Insects are not required eating. No one is asking anyone to become a vegan.

The reference diet includes 2,500 calories per day, which is close to the global average today of 2,370.

In the U.S., men consume 2,800 calories per day while women consume between 2,000 and 2,200, according to the report.

The authors say that red meat can still be on a globally sustainable menu but in drastically reduced quantities. The diet allows for roughly 1 tablespoon of red meat per day. That's the equivalent of one decent-sized hamburger a week, or one steak a month.

Dairy is not off the table, either. The target diet includes up to one glass of milk or other dairy product per day.

For other protein sources the researchers recommend roughly two servings of fish per week, and 1 { eggs per week. The majority of calories on this diet comes from grains as they do today, but the authors emphasize that we need to shift to whole grains.

They also want to see a 100 percent increase in the amount of legumes, nuts and fruits and vegetables most of us consume and for added sugars to become just 5 percent of our total caloric intake.

"It is very consistent with many traditional diets including the Mediterranean diet," said Walter Willett, Professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who co-chaired the report. "This is not radical at all in many culinary traditions."

It would also lead to global improvements in human health. If everyone on the planet adapted these dietary rules 11 million premature deaths would be avoided each year, he said.

In order to keep this sustainable as the world's population grows, the authors set goals for how our food is produced as well.

These include a drastic reduction in associated with food production from 8.5 to 13.7 gigatons today to about 5 gigatons by 2050.

Environmental targets also require a 50 percent reduction in food waste, and a strict zero expansion of farmland. Sustainable food production will also require big changes in irrigation and fertilizer use, the authors said.

Of the 7.6 billion people on Earth today, nearly 1 billion don't have enough food, 2 billion are overweight or obese and another 2 billion don't get enough nutrients, the authors wrote. In addition, unhealthy diets are responsible for more deaths than unsafe sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco use combined.

Environmentally, global food production is currently responsible for 30 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions and 70 percent of freshwater use, the authors said. Meanwhile the conversion of natural ecosystems to farmland is the No. 1 driver of extinction.

Considering that the world is expected to have a population of 9.8 billion people by 2050, it is clear that a massive change is needed, the authors said.

"It's a win-win," said Johan Rockstrom, professor of environmental science at Stockholm University, who worked on the study. "Adopting a helps us deal with the climate and meet sustainable development goals."

Now all they have to do is get everyone on the planet to go along with it.

Explore further

Looming global crisis means people's diets must change: experts

Journal information: The Lancet

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Citation: Your sustainable diet for the year 2050: More nuts, less sugar and red meat (2019, January 19) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
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User comments

Jan 19, 2019
I like cashews, but a pound of cashews costs more than a pound of beef, and gives me wind.

Jan 19, 2019
Would be easier to reduce the population by a few billion. Also, how is me eating less going to put food on someone else's plate?

Jan 19, 2019
Would be easier to reduce the population by a few billion.[7q]
You go first? No? Didn't thinks so.

So how would this be 'easier'?

Jan 20, 2019
Eating healthier or "planet-friendly" is impossible for billions of people. Cost. For the cost of a pound of nuts and top-grade fruit, someone can buy a half-dozen cheap hamburgers and french fries. Dense calorie food is vital to feed 7 billion people. If the greenloons believe getting rid of a couple billion people is a good idea, then let them lead by example and kill themselves.

Jan 20, 2019
Well, as discoveries of early Neolithic settlements in Scotland show, cattle were an essential part of their lives. Unless, of course, we understand that cultivating the cow was because they couldn't cultivate a fishery or farm because of impoverished soil or seas.
So they brought their cows with them and actually cropped branches from fast growing aspens they had previously planted. Resourceful. Especially for sea traders going from here to there.

Jan 20, 2019
@thoriumboy, you're a fucking idiot. The people saying we need to change our diets are those who are trying to save lives. Nazi motherfuckers like gregoryhight are the ones who want to kill people or drive the world into climate chaos that will allow only the already rich to survive.

Jan 20, 2019
Some folks have the bad luck to be allergic to nuts such as peanuts and possibly other kinds. Perhaps a diet that consists of a small amount of meat protein per week with the rest consisting of grains, fruits and vegetables will keep one healthy. But if cattle are not used for food, then what is the point in their existence? If left alone, cattle will only become food for predators such as wolves and wild cats.

Jan 21, 2019
And we have difficulty digesting nuts, a lot of these foods count only as roughage

Jan 21, 2019
Interestingly, I already eat like this.

Jan 21, 2019
I recently read about the grassy plains of the US midwest States, where the herds of Bison aka buffalo have been increasing due to the combined efforts of conservationists, ranchers and Native-American tribes raising and caring for ever-larger herds whose presence on the plains are improving the health of the environment in so many ways. Bison meat is far healthier and leaner than beef and pork. Bison burgers are also very tasty with great flavour.
At one time in the old West and long before the Europeans came to the continent, Bison herds ran in the millions where the dust clouds could be seen from far off to know that they were approaching fast. But the Bison were decimated after Europeans came with their guns - killing the Bison - often for no good reason other than to hunt them. Until then, the Bison were one of the best sources of food for the Native-Americans who hunted them on foot - and then on horses.

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