Cutting back on red meat 'will save the planet'

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It would also reduce the damaging effects of climate change, soil erosion, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

It describes a universal healthy reference diet, based on an increase in consumption of healthy foods (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts), and a decrease in consumption of unhealthy foods (such as red meat, sugar and refined grains) that would provide major health benefits, and also increase the likelihood of attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Providing healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge as the population continues to grow - projected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 -and get wealthier with the expectation of higher consumption of animal-based foods.

Human diets inextricably link health and environmental sustainability and have the potential to nurture both.

Current diets, with a growing emphasis on Western-style high calorie foods laden with saturated fats, are pushing the planet beyond its natural boundaries while causing ill-health and early death, say the researchers.

Based on a 2,500 calories a day diet, the targets consist of a daily combined intake of up to 60 per cent in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, 15 per cent in protein, such as meat, eggs and fish, with the remainder coming from fruit and vegetables, added fats and added sugars.

People would also be limited to 7g of pork a day - equal to a single cocktail sausage - and just 29g of chicken which is around one and a half chicken nuggets.

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But convincing people to overhaul their diets will be hard, especially in areas where meat, cheese, eggs and other restricted foods are integral to the culture.

One of the study's authors, Professor Tim Lang, said that humans are now "getting this very wrong". "A combination of policies and practises will be needed to enable farmers to meet their ambitions but we must not forget the impact of a changing climate on food production - we only have to look back to the drought previous year to see the effect it can have".

Entitled "Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT - Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems", the three-year study is a joint initiative of the EAT Forum and The Lancet medical journal.

The shift could prevent 10.8 to 11.6 million deaths annually, researchers said. And researchers have warned that we can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If it's a global problem than the response must be global and that's going to mean a global move towards producing specific foods in the specific locations most scientifically suitable with least environmental stress.

The authors argue that the lack of scientific targets for a healthy diet have hindered efforts to transform the food system. "This puts both people and the planet at risk", the commission said in a statement.

The red meat limits would allow a "fairly hefty hamburger" every week, or a big steak once a month, Willett said.

The unveiling of the planetary health diet follows a series of recent studies that have shown it is environmentally necessary for humans-particularly in the United States and Europe-to dramatically reduce red meat consumption. This could not be achieved voluntarily, it maintained. They note the recommendations are compatible with the US dietary guidelines, which say to limit saturated fat to 10 percent of calories.

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