By Sovina Taneja
The thing that we forget about nutrition and eating healthy is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Although some of us might prefer an ice-cream cone in the A.M. with a fatty steak for lunch, our vegetarian friends might like a good kale smoothie in the P.M. with a broccoli stir-fry for dinner - this honestly doesn’t make either of the two parties ‘better’ or ‘more healthy’ than the other.
Our dietary preferences differ, and so does our ability to eat an entire bar of milk chocolate in one sitting (what can I say...it’s just too sweet) - but this also doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement.
It’s all about a nutritionist, gym instructor and an expert tightrope walker’s favorite word: balance.
We talk about mortality and malnutrition, reminding you again and again that 6 out of the top 11 global diseases are a result of a poor diet for a reason. The reason is that this is the only way that the severity of the issue can be grasped. When we really take a second to digest (#punny) these numbers and understand their consequences, we’re scared. And when we’re scared, we try to make changes.
However, I’m not here to scare you. I just want you to know what the situation is looking like for us, and what we can do to make things a little less 💩.
Keeping our health and the environment in mind, the FAO has brought forward the idea of sustainable diets. Sustainable healthy diets are patterns of consumption that are acceptable culturally, and are deemed accessible, affordable, safe and equitable. Not only this, they create low environmental pressure and impact while promoting health and wellbeing. Seems like a pretty tall order, no?
Optimizing human health and environmental sustainability on Earth
The Planetary Health Diet
It’s fair to assume at this point that with the challenge to provide for our growing world population we’d have a pretty solid guideline set in stone - with an easy go-to reference doc, or one of those high-tech apps to make sure you’re on the right track.
Despite the substantial scientific evidence that links human health to a balanced diet, we actually lack global consensus on what the correct scientific targets are for us to achieve gut perfection. But then, the EAT-Lancet Commission came to play. Professor Walter Willet and Johan Rockström created scientific magic, bringing together 37 scientists from 16 countries to create a solid set of targets for people and the planet. (#foodcanfixit)
I’m sure you’ve heard of a low-fat diet, keto diet, vegan diet, and paleo diet, but have you heard of a planetary health diet?
The experts from the commission examined the food groups, and researched the best possible shifts in our eating habits in order to find an optimal diet to achieve our sustainable goals.
The Planetary Health Plate
Taking a look at the diagram above, you’ll notice that half the plate is covered in fruits & vegetables, with the other half a combination of whole grains, plant proteins, a small amount of animal protein (less red meat), plant oils, dairy foods and a tiny amount of added sugars. If you’d like a caloric breakdown of each of these macronutrients for an intake of 2500 kcal/day, you can take a look at page 10 of the report.
What we find most interesting is the local and regional context under which these targets were set. The commission didn’t just say ok this is it, this is the optimal diet for everyone - they acknowledged the fact that some populations worldwide depend on animal proteins for their livelihood since they are facing burdens of malnutrition and plant sources would not give them an optimal micronutrient intake. On the other hand, wealthier countries are better equipped to cut down on excessive consumption of red meat and added sugars.
Plant-based proteins are the future
Since our meat consumption needs to be brought down, one of the biggest concerns that come up is the loss of protein in this process. First let’s clarify: you do not need to completely cut meat out of your diet - they’re just asking you to reduce, lessen, cut down and that’s already a big step on your part.
Secondly, I think we tend to forget how plant-based proteins actually have a pretty well-rounded nutritional value. Michelle Lau, registered dietitian & nutritionist from NUTRILICOUS confirmed this fact when she spoke with us about her dietary recommendations. Plant proteins are made up of complex carbohydrates & vitamins which have a more well-rounded nutritional profile, with high fiber that is beneficial for digestion & gut health. This also makes them a great option for weight-loss since they are more filling, with essential amino acids - the building blocks of muscle.
Some common plant proteins you might want to try!
Time for our favorite part: telling you what to do!
1 - Love yourself: here’s a reminder that you are beautiful, and you are doing your best. Treat your body like the temple it is and respect it. Don’t follow crash diets, but try to aim for a healthy well balanced diet.
2 - Prioritize nutrition and sustainability as a choice.
3 - If you can’t do without meat or seafood, maybe look out for certifications on the packaging so that you know it has been sustainably sourced/farmed.
4 - Here’s a quote from Michael Pollan: “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”, so maybe try a Tofu fajita instead of a chicken one next time?