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Sustainable diets: are they attainable?

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

You may have heard the latest from the Lancet regarding the Planetary health diet – a diet that can both nourish the world’s growing population and tackle climate change. This follows the release of the One Blue Dot (OBD) campaign late last year; a project created by the British Dietetic Association (BDA) using the best available evidence to form a dietary toolkit synonymous with healthful and sustainable messages. The dietetic profession accepts that our current food system is damaging our planet and that we need to make changes to our current guidelines and practices. And no, it does not require the world population to go vegan.

As part of the OBD campaign, nine points were developed referencing the Eatwell Guide. When you compare both the Planetary diet and the nine points covered in the OBD campaign you can see there are some discrepancies. For example, the Eatwell Guide recommends 50-70g of red meat a day, whereas the Planetary diet recommends a mere 14g of red meat a day. Potatoes are also top of the list for increasing wholegrain and starchy foods; however, potatoes are discouraged on the Planetary diet.

The OBD campaign is certainly more realistic than the planetary diet, when you consider that the 14g of red meat recommended in the Planetary diet is approximately an 85% reduction in the 90.5g that we are currently consuming each day in the UK. At present, the only regions meeting the intake recommended in the Planetary health diet are Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia approximately consume half the recommended amount. Whereas, the other 5 global regions surpass the red meat intake recommended in the reference diet.

The take home message from both diets is that we need to change the way we eat and for good. There will still be certain groups of people that will not be able to implement these diets without potential adverse effects for their health. For example, those living with chronic or acute conditions that require higher energy/protein intakes than the general population to sustain life; which without the use of animal-based products can be a struggle to meet.

You may think the simple solution is to change to a dairy alternative such as oat milk, right? Not all dairy alternatives are fortified to contain calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, and some may not be as high in macronutrients (protein and fat). Fortified soy milk has the most similar nutrient profile to cow milk; it also contains leucine which has a key role in muscle protein synthesis. Decreasing dairy intake by replacing it with fortified soy milk consumption may be a practical method of increasing the sustainability of your diet; if you do not have an intolerance or allergy.

Dietary change is complex. Dietitians have a role in translating guidelines and helping the public make practical changes to improve the health of public and the planet. Dietitians acknowledge that behaviour change will likely be met with some form of resistance. Hence, the OBD campaign have created a bank of practical resources to assist making behaviour change. Making dietary adjustments that are personal and realistic of what you can manage will be important to making your eating habits more sustainable. Choose changes that are relatable to you – not all the advice will apply to your lifestyle.

If you would like to find out more about how to make sustainable changes to your diet, I will be posting a sustainable eating series - so subscribe for updates.

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