An RD Breaks Down The New Study


Everybody wants to be healthy. And if you’re like most people, you care about the planet’s health, too. New research shows that one specific way of eating could actually help your body and the earth at the same time. 

A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Planetary Health Diet can reduce your risk of premature death by 30% and lower your risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. 

Understanding the Planetary Health Diet

The planetary health diet is pretty simple. It’s all about eating mostly whole plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Meat isn’t off the table—the diet allows a modest amount of animal products. 

The study analyzed health and data from 200,000 participants. Subjects filled out food diaries for as long as 34 years.

Researchers used 15 food groups—among them, whole grains, vegetables, chicken, and nuts—to assess how closely people followed a Planetary Health Diet.

The study also showed a correlation between those who most closely stuck to the diet and a positive impact on the environment: 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 21% lower fertilizer needs, and 51% lower cropland use.

Health Benefits of the Planetary Health Diet

Is the Planetary Health Diet really as beneficial as recent headlines make it seem? We asked MyFitnessPal registered dietitian Brookell White to decode the science and fill us in on everything we need to know. 

“Any diet high in plant foods and low in heavily processed foods, sugar, and red meat is generally a good choice for most people,” says White. “The Planetary Health Diet appears to be a healthy, well-balanced diet.” 

White agrees with the researchers’ key findings: By sticking to the program, you may be able to reduce your risk of certain preventable diseases. 

“This diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which are both commonly recommended to people at risk of heart disease or common metabolic disorders, including obesity,” says White. “They have been shown to lower the risk of these diseases.”

Where the planetary heath diet differs most is that the mediterranean diet puts an emphasis on eating monounsaturated fats in foods like fatty fish and olive oils, according to White. 

6 Ways to Diversify the Mediterranean Diet

Who can benefit from the Planetary Health Diet?

While you should always consult with your physician before starting any new diet regime, according to White, the planetary health diet would be a good program for most people. But it can be especially beneficial for anyone living with or at risk of heart disease, metabolic disorders, and obesity. 

“This diet could be great for people at risk for these conditions but also for most people in general as it is a great dietary pattern high in whole foods,” says White.

Is the Planetary Health Diet good for weight loss?

One of the appealing aspects of the planetary health diet is its potential for weight management. 

“This diet includes lots of low-calorie foods. For most healthy people, weight loss comes down to a reduction in total calories,” says White. The low-calorie, high-fiber content of these foods can help you feel full and satisfied, supporting weight loss efforts.

However, lack of portion control could still lead to weight gain. “I don’t see any specific food patterns where this diet may lead to weight gain for most people when followed correctly, with the exception of overconsumption in general,” says White. “Excess calories in any diet will likely lead to weight gain.”

Challenges of the Planetary Health Diet

It’s not exactly breaking news to say people should eat less meat for their health and the environment. But it’s easier said than done, especially if you don’t want to sacrifice protein.

Americans eat, on average, about 4.5 pounds of meat each week. While the most recent study doesn’t list the exact amount of meat you can include in the Planetary Health Diet, there’s good reason to think it’s less than that.

A study on a similar diet suggests consuming no more than 98 grams of red meat and 203 grams of poultry per week,” says White. That’s less than one pound of meat per week. 

“It’s the equivalent of one cooked beef patty and two small chicken breasts.” 

A dramatic drop in meat could be tough for a lot of people. 

“If you follow the Planetary Health Diet, I would suggest slowly reducing your meat intake. Taking some time to slowly get to eating poultry and red meat only three times a week may increase the likelihood of maintaining this way of eating,” says White.

Fun fact: Did you know MyFitnessPal has one of the world’s largest food databases, with over 19 million foods? Track your protein and more on the app!

Another consideration is protein intake. If your goal is to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass—something White strongly recommends—you may want to focus on increasing plant protein if you follow this diet. 

Good plant-based protein sources include tofu and other soy products as well as legumes like lentils and chickpeas.

“I recommend calculating your protein consumption on this diet to ensure you’re getting enough,” says White.

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