Planetary Health Diet: Study Suggests It Could Cut Premature Deaths by 30%

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The food choices we make today impact both our health and the health of the planet we live in. Researchers have discovered that adhering to a healthy, sustainable diet, termed the planetary health diet, can help preserve the environment and lower the risk of premature death.

The planetary health diet focuses on consuming plant-based foods with larger portions of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. While meat and dairy are included, they are consumed in much smaller amounts.

According to the results of the study published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, better adherence to the planetary diet was associated with a 30% reduced risk of early death.

“Climate change has our planet on track for ecological disaster, and our food system plays a major role. Shifting how we eat can help slow the process of climate change. And what’s healthiest for the planet is also healthiest for humans,” said corresponding author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition in a news release.

Previous studies have shown that plant-based foods offer greater benefits for both human and planetary health compared to animal-based diets. However, most of these studies relied on one-time dietary assessments. This makes the current study, which involved continuous dietary assessment over 34 years, particularly significant.

The study examined the health data of more than 200,000 participants of the Nurses’ Health Study I and II and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The participants completed dietary questionnaires every four years for up to 34 years. The adherence to the planetary health diet was assessed based on their intake concerning 15 food groups including whole grains, vegetables, poultry, and nuts.

The results showed that the top 10% of participants with the most adherence to the planetary health diet had a 30% reduced risk of premature death compared to those in the lowest 10%. Greater adherence to the diet was also linked to a lower risk of death from all causes, including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.

“In addition, the researchers found that those with the highest adherence to the PHD had a substantially lower environmental impact than those with the lowest adherence, including 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 21% lower fertilizer needs, and 51% lower cropland use,” the news release stated.

“Our study is noteworthy given that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has refused to consider the environmental impacts of dietary choices, and any reference to the environmental effects of diet will not be allowed in the upcoming revision of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The findings show just how linked human and planetary health are. Eating healthfully boosts environmental sustainability—which in turn is essential for the health and wellbeing of every person on earth,” Willett added.

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