Want to save the world? Here's what you should eat

sardine on bread
Public Domain MaxPixel

Scientists say this is the only way to feed 10 billion people without causing catastrophic damage to the planet.

How are we going to feed an exploding human population in an increasingly unstable climate? Furthermore, how do we eat nutritiously, in a way that does not exploit resources or damage the environment, and do so frugally? These questions weigh heavily on scientists, policy-makers, and conscientious eaters the world over.

By 2050 there will be 10 billion humans on Earth, and we know from the latest climate change report that we have only 11 years left to reduce carbon emissions drastically or face certain disaster. Food production plays a huge role. It uses 70 percent of global freshwater sources for irrigation and is a leading contributor to methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Livestock contributes up to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. What we eat has to be taken into consideration when talking about the planet's future.

A partnership between Norwegian thinktank EAT and British science journal The Lancet has done much of this work for us. The two created a commission that has just spent two years researching a flexible diet plan that brings together health, climate, and ethical concerns. In other words, this is the diet that could save the world. It was published and presented yesterday in Oslo.

Keep in mind, this diet is not what many people are used to eating. To some it may seem restrictive, but it's important to maintain perspective: it's far more than what two billion people currently have access to. As Dale Berning Sawa wrote for the Guardian, "If making sacrifices to eat this way brings about even a small measure of the change it is meant to, it could have a huge impact around the world."

The diet is based on 2,500 kcal daily, which corresponds to the energy needs of a 70 kg (154 lb) man and 60 kg (132 lb) woman with a moderate to high activity level. It is "loosely based on the much-lauded Mediterranean diet, but with fewer eggs, less meat and fish, and next to no sugar." It is not vegan because, as co-author Prof. Walter Willett told BBC, it was unclear whether eliminating meat was the healthiest option; however, "if we were just minimising greenhouse gases we'd say everyone be vegan."

The red meat ration is very small at 7g (quarter ounce) per day, so, as the Guardian reported, "unless you are creative enough to make a small steak feed two football sides and their subs, you will only be eating one once a month."

"Similarly, you are allocated little more than two chicken breast fillets and three eggs every fortnight and two tins of tuna or 1.5 salmon fillets a week. Per day, you get 250g (8 oz) of full-fat milk products (milk, butter, yoghurt, cheese): the average splash of milk in not very milky tea is 30g (1 oz)."

Instead the emphasis is on nuts and seeds, whole grains like bread and rice, beans, chickpeas, and tons of fresh produce, which the report says should make up 50 percent of one's plate. See a sample week here.

The changes do not affect just meat-loving North Americans and Europeans. It requires East Asians to reduce fish and Africans to reduce starchy vegetable consumption. These changes, the report authors suggest, would save 11 million lives annually while minimizing GHG emissions, slowing species extinction, stopping the expansion of farmland, and preserving water.

The commission's work has only just begun with the release of its diet model. It will now start research in 35 locations around the world, taking its finding to governments and trying to convince the World Health Organization to make these dietary changes official.

Want to save the world? Here's what you should eat
Scientists say this is the only way to feed 10 billion people without causing catastrophic damage to the planet.

Related Content on Treehugger.com