On 17 January in Oslo, the EAT-Lancet Commission presented the report of a three-year research and review project aimed at laying the foundations for the definition of a universal diet that is healthy and environmentally sustainable.
This study has proved necessary as it is becoming increasingly apparent that the choice of food and the way it is grown, processed, transported, consumed and wasted have a clear impact on the health not just of individuals, but also of the entire planet.
There is strong evidence that food production is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases and one of the main factors responsible for global environmental changes, and in particular for climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater exploitation, interference with global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and changes in the terrestrial system. At the same time, unhealthy diets are among the main risk factors for the onset of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer worldwide. It is estimated that the impact of a poor diet on the causes of mortality is higher than that of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and unprotected sexual intercourse combined. Added to this is the high level of global malnutrition in developing countries: today more than 800 million people do not have enough food for their livelihoods, while many other countries follow very poor diet regimens made of excessive portions and wrong combinations of foods that cause overweight and obesity.
In the light of these considerations, it is clear that the transformation of the food system must be radical, urgent and mandatory.
To do this, the Commission has focused on two fundamental aspects of the food supply chain:
Final consumption: to identify which diet is best suited to keep the population healthy
Production: identify the changes to be implemented in the food production chain to make it sustainable
The team, made up of over 30 top experts working in different fields (human health, agriculture, political science and environmental sustainability) from all over the world, has been working on defining a universal reference diet to estimate the effects on health and the environment derived from an alternative diet compared to current standard diets which are often high in unhealthy processed food.
In addition to having positive health effects, the universal diet will have to be able to cope sustainably with the strong demographic growth expected in coming years: the United Nations estimates say that by 2050 the world’s population will reach about 10 billion people.
The Commission’s working groups considered five key issues:
- What is a healthy diet? That is a diet based on solid scientific evidence which optimizes health understood as both the absence of disease and a state of complete well-being (physical, mental and social).
- What is a sustainable food system?
- What are the trends shaping diets today? In other words: what is actually on people’s plates in different countries around the world?
- Can we create healthy diets from sustainable food systems? How?
- Which solutions and policies can we adopt? A set of guidelines that governments, businesses and consumers should follow to achieve the planet’s health and well-being goals.
The result is a varied diet, with a daily calorie intake of 2,500 kcal, which takes the Mediterranean diet with few tweaks as its basic model.
The healthy and “sustainable” diet should consist predominantly of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and proteins of vegetable origin (nuts and pulses), reduced amounts of food of animal origin ( moderate quantities of fish and poultry, little or no quantity of red meat and processed meat); it should also choose unsaturated fats over saturated and consumption of limited quantities of refined cereals, highly processed foods, and added sugars.
Below is a table summarizing the main recommendations for a “sustainable diet”:
|FOOD||Macronutrients in grammes to be taken per day (possible interval)||Daily calorie intake (kcal)|
|Starchy tubers or plants||50 (0-100)||39|
|Dairy products||250 (0-500)||153|
|Red meat||14 (0-28)||30|
|Unsaturated fats||40 (20-80)||354|
|Saturated fats||11.8 (0-11.8)||96|
|Added sugar||31 (0-31)||120|
This transformation of eating habits can only occur through a multisectoral and multilevel action involving the entire supply chain, from the producer to the final consumer.
The changes to be implemented involve:
A substantial shift in eating habits towards purely vegetable diets with a 50% reduction in meat and sugar consumption and a doubling in the consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses,
A sharp reduction in food loss and food waste,
Implementation of important changes and improvements in food production practices.
The report closes with five strategies to be implemented in order to make the so-called “Great Food Transformation” possible:
- We must commit ourselves, at both national and international level, to promoting a transition to a healthier diet.
- Redefining agricultural priorities: moving from production of large quantities of food to production of quality food.
- A new agricultural revolution: increasing quality food production sustainably through system innovation.
- Sustainably controlling and coordinating the management of land and oceans without further uncontrolled expansion of agricultural land and overfishing.
- Halving food waste at all levels, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The data available to date is already more than enough to justify immediate action; if nothing is done, future generations will end up inheriting a seriously degraded world where a large part of the population will suffer from malnutrition and preventable diseases.
The Great Food Transformation is both necessary and achievable.
Euro Company absolutely agrees with this study’s findings that it is essential forthe entire food industry to make it its goal to produce healthier and more wholesome food, and to do so responsibly and sustainably.
- Every day we care that our nuts and our 100% vegetable products are both wholesome, healthy, without added sugar and processed as little as possible.
- At the production level we buy electricity produced from renewable sources and we have reduced our CO2 emissions by 15%.
- In 2 years we have reduced packaging waste by 24 tonnes and expect to make our packaging 100% compostable by 2020.
Every company and every individual should do its part in this ambitious project, for our sake and that of our planet.
Walter Willett, Johan Rockström, Brent Loken, Marco Springmann, Tim Lang, Sonja Vermeulen, Tara Garnett, David Tilman, Fabrice DeClerck, Amanda Wood, Malin Jonell, Michael Clark, Line J Gordon, Jessica Fanzo, Corinna Hawkes, Rami Zurayk, Juan A Rivera, Wim De Vries, Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, Ashkan Afshin, Abhishek Chaudhary, Mario Herrero, Rina Agustina, Francesco Branca, Anna Lartey, Shenggen Fan, Beatrice Crona, Elizabeth Fox, Victoria Bignet, Max Troell, Therese Lindahl, Sudhvir Singh, Sarah E Cornell, K Srinath Reddy, Sunita Narain, Sania Nishtar, Christopher J L Murray; Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems; The Lancet Commissions; January 16, 2019.