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New research suggests that the Planetary Health Diet can help reduce risk of early death from every major cause, including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Johnny Greig/Getty Images
  • A large study has found that adhering to the Planetary Health Diet lowers the risk of premature death by 30%.
  • It also has a substantially lower environmental impact.
  • Experts say this eating pattern delivers essential vitamins and minerals that allow the body to function optimally.
  • To follow this eating pattern, you should include more plant-based protein in your diet and consume moderate amounts of meat and dairy.

Looking for a way to improve your health and lower your carbon footprint? New research has found the Planetary Health Diet is associated with a lower risk of premature death and lower environmental impact.

A study published this week, led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that people whose diets most closely adhered to the Planetary Health Diet had a 30% lower risk of premature death compared to those with the lowest adherence.

Every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, was lower with greater adherence to this dietary pattern.

In addition, diets adhering to the Planetary Health Diet pattern had substantially lower environmental impact, including 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions and 51% less land use.

The large study evaluated health data from more than 200,000 participants. They completed dietary questionnaires every four years for up to 34 years.

Their diets were scored based on intake of 15 food groups—including whole grains, vegetables, poultry, and nuts—to quantify adherence to the Planetary Health Diet.

Nutritionist GQ Jordan, who was not involved in the study, says these findings align well with what we know about the power of whole foods in our diets.

“It’s encouraging to see quantitative data supporting the idea that what’s good for us can also be good for our planet,” she points out.

The Planetary Health Diet focuses on increasing fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains in your diet while keeping meat and dairy to a moderate level and processed foods at a minimum.

“It’s about balancing our nutritional needs with environmental sustainability,” Jordan surmises.

Looking at human health specifically, the Planetary Health Diet appears to offer a wealth of benefits.

“Having eating habits that adhere to the Planetary Health Diet will significantly reduce the risk of premature death by enhancing metabolic health,” explains Jordan.

“This diet’s high intake of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains delivers essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the body to function optimally, too,” she says.

These nutrients help regulate blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels, and maintain healthy blood pressure, all of which can lower your risk of premature death.

Jordan says the diet’s emphasis on fiber improves digestive health and aids in managing body weight.

This, she says, is important because it mitigates obesity-related health risks, further decreasing the likelihood of major diseases.

“Meanwhile, the reduction in processed foods and saturated fats from red and processed meats contributes to better lipid profiles and reduces inflammation, which is often a precursor to metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Jordan explains.

The study notes that every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, was lower with greater adherence to this dietary pattern. Jordan isn’t surprised.

“The lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease among those adhering to the Planetary Health Diet can be attributed to its high content of antioxidants and fiber, which reduce oxidative stress and support heart and digestive health,” she explains.

The inclusion of Omega-3 fatty acids also plays a role. “Omega-3 fatty acids from plants and fatty fish contribute to cardiovascular health and may help lower cancer risks,” Jordan explains.

Vegan and vegetarian diets have grown in popularity in recent years, both for their purported health benefits and their lower environmental impact.

The Planetary Health Diet, however, differs from these two eating styles as it includes moderate amounts of meat and dairy.

Registered nutritionist Laura Wyness, who was not involved in the study, says meat and dairy are important nutrient sources, including essential vitamins and minerals such as iodine, calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and selenium.

“Reducing meat and dairy without careful consideration of plant foods that provide key nutrients is likely to increase the risk of inadequate intakes of some essential vitamins and minerals,” she warns.

“Diets that aim to reduce environmental impact can result in lower intakes and status of micronutrients that are already in short supply for some groups of the population,” she explains.

Similarly, Jordan says the inclusion of a moderate intake of meat and dairy can be beneficial, as it can be harder to obtain certain nutrients in sufficient quantities from a strictly plant-based diet.

If you want to follow a Planetary Health Diet, Wyness recommends making a few small changes at a time.

She says including more plant-protein foods is a good place to start. “Adding a can of chickpeas or beans to a casserole, curry, or stew will make the meat go further and save some money,” she points out.

“You could also make a regular meal completely plant-based by replacing the meat with a mixture of pulses and vegetables. Canned pulses provide a useful balance of plant protein, beneficial fiber, and other essential nutrients.”

She says the addition of lentils is another great way of adding fiber and nutrients.

Jordan believes shifting the focus of protein intake away from red meats toward fish, poultry, and plant-based proteins is key.

“Fish such as salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health and reducing inflammation in the body,” she points out.

“Meanwhile, incorporating a variety of nuts and seeds like almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds can also increase protein and nutrient intake.”

Choosing whole foods over processed foods as much as possible is another great change to make.

Jordan says this means buying foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are often lost in processed foods.

The Planetary Health Diet is a good diet to follow if you want to improve your overall health while lowering your environmental impact.

New research suggests that diet may help lower the risk of premature death by 30%.

Health experts say this eating pattern delivers essential vitamins and minerals that allow the body to function optimally.

You can make the switch by eating more plant-based protein, reducing your intake of meat and dairy, and consuming more whole foods.