Poor diet is now cited as the leading cause of death from lifestyle diseases – which is more than those caused from smoking.
In closing the month of April, which observes World Health Day – celebrated on the 7th April annually – we looked into the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. The commission brought together 37 experts from 16 countries in various fields of human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability to develop global scientific targets for healthy diets from sustainable food production.
Studying two endpoints of the global food systems i.e. final consumption (healthy diets) and production (sustainable food production), the commission reviewed data on consumption of 15 different food groups in 195 countries. This includes sub-Saharan Africa and tracks a period of 27 years – from 1990 to 2017. The biggest highlight from the report released in January this year- An estimated 11 million preventable deaths per year (1 in every 5 deaths) are directly due to eating a poor diet. Basically, our food plates don’t include nutritious food varieties like vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts.
“While sodium, sugar and fat have been the focus of policy debates over the past two decades, our assessment suggests the leading dietary risk factors are high intake of sodium, or low intake of healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and vegetables. The paper also highlights the need for comprehensive interventions to promote the production, distribution and consumption of healthy foods across all nations.” – Dr Christopher Murray, one of the study authors.
What can we do?
The following is from the EAT-Lancet article Commission Brief For Everyone
- Choose health, sustainability and deliciousness. Sourcing, buying, cooking and eating healthier and more sustainably produced food is better for our bodies and for the planet.
- Increase, diversify and reduce. There is no silver bullet, but solving the problem starts with changing what we eat and waste. We should eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains. It is also important to eat a variety of these foods to ensure that we get all the nutrients we need while also supporting biodiversity in the food system. We should also try eat less red meat and dairy if possible.
- Dive into the breadth of options. There is something for everyone across price ranges, cultures, age groups and individual preferences. With more than 30,000 known edible plants, we have a lifetime’s worth of interesting options to taste and explore.
- Embrace plants as a source of protein. Many plants are both healthy and sustainable sources of dietary protein. Aim to consume at least 125 grams of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts or legumes per day.
- Go easy on meat consumption. While meat is an important source of key nutrients including protein, iron and vitamin B12, excess meat consumption can harm our health and the planet. Aim to consume no more than 98g of red meat (pork, beef or lamb), 203g of poultry and 196g of fish per week.
- Approach food in moderation. Consuming too much food can lead to weight gain and other health problems, and it is also a challenge for the environment. Taking the time to share meals with family and friends and choosing single-serving portions are two simple ways to avoid eating more than we need.
- Support regenerative farming practices. As livestock are central to sustainable farming, sourcing meat from farmers that practice regenerative agriculture can support the fight against climate change. This type of farming contributes to carbon storage in the soil, keeps water away from pollutants, and provides room for local biodiversity to flourish.
- Vote with every plate. As markets follow demand, purchase foods that are suitable for your recipes, health and the planet. Consider making choices that provide additional benefits for human health and the environment, like supporting environmentally sustainable and socially responsible farming.
- Plan the week ahead. Healthy and sustainable eating can be tasty, flexible and dynamic. Plan menus for the coming week to ensure a diversity of delicious dishes and shop according to plan. This will save time and money and help reduce waste. (Read our article about meal prepping and why it’s worth it)
- Bring biodiversity to the table. Bold conservation targets require collaboration between farmers and farming communities to maintain habitats on or around farms and to preserve ecosystems. Purchase foods from farmers and retailers who support biodiversity.
- Cook more at home. Cooking and preparing food at home provides great opportunities for shared family time. It also allows for recipes to be passed along from generation to generation including their unique stories and tastes.
- Waste not, want not. Packing leftovers into lunch boxes, using them in new creative recipes or keeping them for future consumption is good for the planet and for your budget. With less food waste, less food needs to be produced to feed the world and the planet can be spared.
What the study encourages is adding more healthy foods to our diets and consuming less salt. Countries that scored well in the study were found to have diets close to the Mediterranean diet (a diet linked to a reduced risk of heart attacks), which comprises lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and healthy oils. For us the study raises a huge challenge as unhealthy foods are still cheaper and more easily accessible than healthy foods. As individuals we need to endeavour to find ways of incorporating healthy foods onto our plates.
Don’t forget to sign up to our weekly veggie box delivery service operating in Johannesburg. We deliver organic and seasonal vegetables, fruit, nuts and more. Sign up here!
Disclaimer: External information referenced is for purposes of this article only and does not imply partnership or association with the organisation or its specific view point.