Planetary Health

By Parul Kharod

You have heard of personal health, public health, community health, and global health. But what is planetary health?

Emerging research is showing that the way we are growing and eating our food is having a lasting damaging effect on this planet we call home.

If your house is damaged or destroyed for some reason, you have options. You can temporarily move into a hotel, fix your house, or rent/buy a new house. But as for this planet Earth, which is our only home, there is no option. If this gets destroyed, there is no Plan B. There is no other planet we all can move to. So it is of utmost importance that we do everything in our power to save our planet.

There is considerable evidence that links food and eating habits with health; however, the current state of food production, distribution, consumption, and waste threatens both the people and the planet.

At the United Nations Environmental Conference in March 2019, it was discussed that if people don't make fundamental changes in what they eat, how they create energy, dispose of waste, and generally decrease the human footprint that is degrading air, water, and land, our planet Earth will not be sustainable beyond 2050.

Degrading Health of the Planet

Scientists who study climate change have known for a while that the health of the planet has been degrading. Three years ago, EAT and The Lancet launched a joint commission to establish global scientific targets to study food systems and their impact on the environment. EAT is a global, non-profit startup dedicated to transforming our global food system. They teamed up with Lancet, an independent, international weekly general medical journal to form a commission. The EAT-Lancet Commission convened 37 leading scientists from 16 countries in various disciplines including human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability to develop global scientific targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.

They began with one question: what diet pattern is healthiest for both people and the planet? After three years of work, the Commission produced dietary and policy recommendations. In January 2019, the commission issued a summary report urging everyone to eat a “Planetary Health Diet".

The report calls for a significant overhaul in farming methods by 2050. Otherwise it says it will be impossible to feed the entire global population as well as avoid devastating damage to the planet.

Studies have found that the production of animal products generates the majority of food-related greenhouse-gas emissions — specifically, up to 78 percent of total agricultural emissions.

In today's agricultural system, we grow grains to feed animals. This requires resources such as land, water, fossil fuels, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. We feed those grains to animals, give them antibiotics and hormones to make them grow big and stay healthy, while they produce methane and manure. These animals are raised to be used as food for humans. This factory farming is now literally killing our planet. It is being recommended that we need to alter this inefficient method, and instead use the land, water, and energy resources to grow food (plants) that is directly consumed by people.

Sustaining a healthier planet will require considerably reducing the amount of food loss and waste, and improving farming practices and technologies. A shift towards a more plant-based diet and reducing the total consumption of animal foods will have a positive effect on the greenhouse gases and carbon foot print on the planet. A plant-based diet could also reduce other environmental impacts, such as those from fertilizers, and save up to quarter use of farmland and water.

We need to change this huge dependency on animal proteins. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has stated that legumes and pulses such as beans, lentils and peas are the most sustainable protein sources on the planet. They require very small amounts of water to grow, they can grow in harsh, dry climates, they grow in poor nations, providing food security, and they act like a natural fertilizer, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil. Thus, there is less need for synthetic fertilizers. These are the types of protein sources we need to rely upon more often.

According to the recommendations, the Planetary Health Diet is a flexible blueprint on how to consume a diet that is both healthy and sustainable. The Planetary Health Diet recommends more than double the global average daily consumption of foods like fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and nuts.

Planetary Health plate:

• Half a plate of vegetables and fruits
• Quarter plate of whole grains
• Quarter plate of plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses)
• Small quantity of unsaturated plant oils, nuts/seeds and starchy vegetables
• If animal proteins need to be consumed, they should in very small quantities
• Reduce consumption of refined sugars and packaged processed foods
• Follow mindful eating; prevent food waste

Other ways to be sustainable:

• Stop/reduce use of plastic; bring your own reusable shopping bags
• Reduce use of plastic/foam cups; carry your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug
• Stop using plastic straws
• Eat local produce
• Take shorter showers
• Walk if you can
• Save paper
• Eat a more plant-based diet

Hope you each are able to make some of these necessary changes for making sure our planet can be sustainable for the future the generations.

The Lancet Commission proposes a fivefold strategy:

• Campaigns and pricing policies to promote sustainable sources
• A shift from high-volume crops to a greater variety of nutrient-rich plants
• Appropriate agricultural practices
• Careful governance of land and ocean use, along with protection of natural areas
• Concerted attempt to reduce food wastage

----------

Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com