Having written about how we need to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy recently, it’s worth asking what we should be eating more of. Besides the five a day of fruit and vegetables of course, which everyone hopefully knows about by now.
Diets vary around the world and according to taste, custom and income levels, so there’s no one answer for everybody. But here’s a good summary drawn from the planetary health diet that I wrote about recently. This is an attempt to balance sustainability and nutrition, and outline a diet that could keep 10 billion people healthy and well fed without destroying the soil or the atmosphere in the process.
According to this study (and others are available), red meat is currently overconsumed in most parts of the world. South Asia is well below the average, and Sub-Saharan Africa is about right. On starchy vegetables on the other hand, African diets contain far too much, and there’s a need for more nutritious variety.
On the aforementioned 5 a day, only the Middle East and North Africa has an ideal consumption. Everyone else could eat more. Everyone could be eating more fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
What’s with the nuts? Not much love for those, it appears. Too bad, because nuts are nutritious and high in protein and fibre. They also contain a lot of fat and energy, and so some people avoid them for that reason – but that’s an outdated view of all fats as bad, apparently. There is no correlation between eating nuts and weight gain, and lots of benefits.
On the sustainability side, peanuts are nitrogen fixing, which means they’re good for the soil and don’t need artificial fertilisers. They can be used in crop rotation, and they grow in dry conditions. They’re a proper 21st century food, unless you’re allergic of course.
There’s room for a lot more whole grains in our diets too, in every region of the world. That would include oats and whole wheat. Yes, it includes brown rice and quinoa for those who like a healthy living cliche, or there are regional varieties like teff or freekeh if that’s what you’re into. If all of those make you sad, eat popcorn – also a whole grain.
Whole grains are known to be better for us nutritionally, but they’re also better for the environment. There’s less processing involved, and less waste.
In summary, the report recommends “increased consumption of plant-based foods – including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains – while in many settings substantially limiting animal source foods.”