Planetary Health Diet linked to 30% lower risk of premature death

By Staff 8 Min Read

  • The Planetary Health Diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables as well as protein from plant-based sources.
  • In a new study, researchers said the diet can lower the risk of premature death by 30%.
  • They added that the diet also has environmental benefits for the planet.

Closely following the Planetary Health Diet may reduce the risk of premature death by 30%.

That’s according to research published today in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In their study, researchers say the Planetary Health Diet reduced the risk of every major cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, and lung disease for research participants.

They add the plant-based diet can also help the environment.

“Shifting how we eat can help slow the process of climate change. And what’s healthiest for the planet is also healthiest for humans,” Dr. Walter Willett, a co-author of the research and the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts, said in a press statement.

“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,” he added.

The Planetary Health Diet emphasizes plant-based foods as well as foods that are sustainable for the environment.

A plate of food that follows the diet is made up of about half a plate of fruits and vegetables. The other half of the plate includes whole grains, unsaturated plant oils, plant protein sources, and optional modest amounts of protein from animal sources.

“These foods provide abundant essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that our body needs to stay healthy and prevent chronic disease. The diet also limits consumption of red and processed meat due to the higher environmental impact of these foods and their association with conditions like colorectal cancer and heart disease. By endorsing this diet, we can promote both human and planetary health,” Anna Arthur, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center, told Medical News Today.

“I do believe the Planetary Health Diet is a promising path forward to reduce the burden of chronic disease,” added Arthur, who was not involved in the study. “However, it is still important to consider individual preferences, cultural values, and nutritional needs when it comes to making dietary recommendations and adjusting the pattern accordingly. People interested in following this diet may benefit from working with a registered dietitian nutritionist who can guide them in adopting the diet while ensuring individual dietary needs and preferences are met.”

In undertaking their study, the researchers examined data from more than 200,000 people involved in the Nurses’ Health Study I and II as well as the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The participants in the studies had no major chronic diseases at the beginning of the study period. They completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for up to 34 years.

The diets were then given a score based on their intake of food groups such as vegetables, whole grains, poultry, and nuts.

Those in the top 10% who most closely adhered to the Planetary Health Diet had a 30% lower risk of premature death compared with those in the lowest 10% with the least adherence to the diet.

Along with the health benefits, high adherence to the Planetary Health Diet was also found to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29% as well as lowering cropland use by 51% and reducing fertilizer needs by 21%.

Dana Hunnes, PhD, an assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and author of “Recipe for Survival” says she believes planet-based diets are the wave of the future.

“I endorse this diet whole heartedly because of its health properties and environmental benefits and wish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the USDA and those of other countries would follow suit,” Hunnes, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“I believe the planetary health diet is the way forward,” she added. “The faster we can get there as a society, the better off we are health-wise, longevity-wise, cost-wise, and environmentally. This type of diet costs less than medication, is good for us, and it’s good for the planet. I call this a win, win, win. Does it take more time to do than opening a package? Yes, it does. But, the cost-savings on your life and your cost of medication and health care over your life will be huge.”

The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association all endorse a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables as well as limits intake of processed foods.

The Planetary Health Diet shares similarities with diets such as the Mediterranean diet, pescatarian, vegetarian and DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diets.

Christopher Gardner, PhD, is the chair of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee as well as a professor of medicine at Stanford University in California.

He argues one of the benefits of the Planetary Health Diet is that it may provide an additional motivating factor for some people.

“What I find challenging is motivating people to make substantive changes in their diet for the sake of their own health – many people are willing to postpone or delay making healthy diet improvements when they think that the only one they are impacting is themselves with these choices,” Gardner, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“The Planetary Health Diet actually provides a different kind of motivation,” he added. “It helps to make it clear that our personal dietary choices have an impact on our neighbors, community, state, nation, and world when all of those food choice decisions are considered collectively. The opportunity is here to make use of this Planetary Health Diet information to align personal health with planetary health, and perhaps to help motivate someone to make a change and sustain that change for the sake of not only themselves, but for society as well. In our research we have found this is an important potential motivator for meaningful dietary change.”

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