As the world’s population grows, we face the challenge of ensuring there is enough food to feed us all while protecting the planet from the harmful effects of increased food production. Scientists are working hard to design healthy diets that could help put us on track for a sustainable food system that protects our environment.
One such approach was put forward recently by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (EAT-Lancet) which developed a global reference diet. The authors of this article have compared the EAT-Lancet recommendations with existing dietary guidance in the USA to see how closely matched they are in their advice on what people should be choosing to eat. They found some key differences, say the authors.
EAT-Lancet versus existing US dietary guidance
Most dietary guidelines, including the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), are based on nutritional needs and don’t consider environmental sustainability. This study compared the proposed EAT-Lancet diet with three DGA dietary patterns (healthy US-style, healthy vegetarian and healthy Mediterranean-style) on the basis of weight (grams) of foods.
EAT-Lancet recommends more whole grains than standard guidelines
The authors found that the EAT-Lancet and the DGA are similar in their recommendations for several food groups: vegetables, poultry, eggs, seafood, soy, beans and peas, dairy and unsaturated oils.
The EAT-Lancet recommends 1/4 to 1/3 more total grains than the DGA, with EAT-Lancet recommending only whole grains and the DGA allowing some refined grains. The DGA recommends more fruit and starchy vegetables than EAT-Lancet.
EAT-Lancet recommends much less red meat
But the big difference in advice between the guidelines concerns where we get the protein in our diet. The EAT-Lancet diet includes a lot more beans, peas, nuts and seeds, and recommends 80% less red meat than the DGA healthy US-style and healthy Mediterranean-style diets.
EAT-Lancet recommends less saturated fat and added sugars
Compared with the DGA, EAT-Lancet recommends that people eat much less saturated fat and added sugars. This may reflect the DGA’s recognition that the average American diet is far from ideal, and that health-based dietary recommendations need to be practical and achievable, say the authors.
Cultural differences and designing dietary guidelines
The DGA guidelines were developed for the US population and take into account the general eating habits and food choices of the US consumers. The guidelines aim to encourage dietary intake in ways that are easily adopted and can be sustained over time. This means making small or moderate changes, rather than large changes that many people could find difficult to stick with.
The EAT-Lancet reference diet is intended for worldwide use and has taken into account food consumption patterns in different countries. As well as describing the ideal diet, EAT-Lancet provides ranges of recommended amounts of the different food groups so that the guidance can be adopted by nations and cultures with differing preferences and food availability. At the moment, the authoers say “we don’t know how easily each country will be able to use these recommendations to ensure a nutritionally-balanced and sustainable dietary pattern locally”.
‘Analyses demonstrated that widespread adoption of this eating pattern [EAT-Lancet], in addition to curbing global food waste and improving the resource-use efficiency of agriculture, could put the food system on a sustainable trajectory by 2050.’ – Blackstone and Conrad, 2020.