Eating to Nourish People While Protecting The Planet

Author: Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Published: 2023/03/07 - Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Integrated action across society is needed to provide diets with enough vitamins and minerals while protecting the planet. The research, "Estimated micronutrient shortfalls of the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet," reveals important dietary shortfalls in iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12. The micronutrient shortfalls of the planetary health diet are due to the low amount of animal-source foods, which make up just 14% of total calories. Making the planetary health diet adequate in micronutrients would require increasing nutrient-dense animal-source foods.

Introduction

The landmark EAT-Lancet report, published in 2019, laid out how to nourish people and save the planet through a "planetary health diet" consisting mostly of whole plant-based foods. But new research, published yesterday in The Lancet Planetary Health, suggests the planetary health diet does not provide enough essential vitamins and minerals to nourish the global population. This is even more evident when looking at women of reproductive age (15-49 years) who have increased iron requirements due to menstruation. The planetary health diet provides just 55% of recommended iron intake for this population.

Main Digest

The research "Estimated micronutrient shortfalls of the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet" reveals significant dietary shortfalls in iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12. The researchers used new globally representative food composition data and recommendations on harmonized nutrient intakes, both published after the original EAT-Lancet publication. They also adjusted for how the body absorbs nutrients like iron and zinc in different diets.

Dr. Ty Beal, Research Advisor at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and lead author on this publication, said:

"The planetary health diet is likely to help protect against noncommunicable diseases, which are the leading causes of death and disease worldwide, and to do so sustainably. But these new findings on shortfalls in essential vitamins and minerals are concerning because deficiencies in these 'micronutrients' can lead to severe and lasting effects, including compromised immune systems and increased risk for infections; hindered child growth, development, and school performance; and decreased work productivity; all of which ultimately limit human potential."

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Fresh, healthy salad in a white bowl.
Fresh, healthy salad in a white bowl.
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The micronutrient shortfalls of the planetary health diet are due to the low amount of animal-source foods comprising just 14% of total calories. Making the planetary health diet adequate in micronutrients would require increasing nutrient-dense animal-source foods. In addition, it would require reductions in a compound called phytate, which inhibits the absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium. This could be done by reducing the proportion of whole grains, legumes, and nuts from the baseline planetary health diet, not from current consumption-or, preferably by reducing the phytate in these foods through crop breeding and processing, including soaking, fermenting, and sprouting.

According to Dr. Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Food Policy at Johns Hopkins University and co-author:

"The challenge in providing enough micronutrients is doing so sustainably. It needs to be clarified how much animal source food and which types could be sustainably produced worldwide: experts have different perspectives. But there is a limit. And there will inevitably be trade-offs between human health and environmental sustainability. It is important to use all available approaches to improve diets, including diet quality through nutrient-dense foods of both plant and animal origin, and food fortification and supplementation, which have limitations but can help fill micronutrient gaps sustainably and affordably."

What is clear is that a combination of actions is needed to increase access to diverse, nutrient-dense, and healthy foods and supplements. This includes increasing their availability, desirability, convenience, safety, and affordability through incentives and subsidies, improving fortification policies and implementation, and improving access to healthcare and supplements.

Dr. Mduduzi Mbuya, Director of Knowledge Leadership at GAIN, concluded:

"Future efforts to propose healthy and sustainable diets must ensure micronutrient adequacy, tailor recommendations according to the local context, equitably involve local stakeholders impacted by any changes, and be transparent about trade-offs. Preserving human health and protecting our planet is more important now than ever. Society must rise to the challenge now to address these integrally linked and equally important challenges."

The Researchers

Attribution/Source(s):

This peer reviewed publication titled Eating to Nourish People While Protecting The Planet was chosen for publishing by Disabled World's editors due to its relevance to the disability community. While the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or brevity, it was originally authored by Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and published 2023/03/07. For further details or clarifications, you can contact Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) directly at gainhealth.org Disabled World does not provide any warranties or endorsements related to this article.

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