Fresh research out of Sweden suggests promising health benefits are associated with following the EAT-Lancet diet: a way of eating with health and environmental sustainability in mind.
“Our results indicate that dietary guidelines that are beneficial for both planetary health and personal health do exist,” said first author of the study, Anna Stubendorff, from Lund University.
A diet for human and planetary health
The diet made headlines as part of the EAT-Lancet Commission’s report, first published in early 2019. The culmination of a three-year project developed by experts from 16 countries, the report issued the world’s first scientific targets for a healthy diet that placed food production within planetary boundaries.
Stressing the ‘inextricable link’ between what we eat and planetary health, the report authors called for increased food production – to feed the 10 billion mouths expected on the planet by 2050 – within the planetary limits for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and water use, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.
Specifically, the report authors recommended a 50% reduction of red meat and sugar consumption by 2050, with an at least two-fold increase in consumption of nuts, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.
At the time, the researchers predicted the diet shift could have reduce the annual premature death rate by between 10.9 and 11.6 million.
Exactly how to quantify the EAT-Lancet reference diet as a diet index and its relation to mortality, however, has not been widely studied. Until now.
“We wanted to investigate scientifically how the EAT-Lancet diet could be linked to health, as it has not yet been sufficiently evaluated. The results clearly show that the diet can be linked to a lower risk of premature death,” said Stubbendorf.
The researchers studied a total of 22,421 participants from the Malmö Diet and Cancer study, which aimed to clarify whether the western diet is associated with certain forms of cancer.
By creating a special points system that showed how similar the dietary habits of individuals are to the EAT-Lancet diet, the researchers were able to divide the participants into five groups. Essentially, the higher the adherence to the EAT-Lancet diet, the higher the points assigned according to the researchers’ model.
The researchers investigated the association between the participants’ diet and mortality around 20 years on, on average. Associations were adjusted to take life-style factors into account, such as smoking, physical activity, BMI and high alcohol consumption.
Reduced mortality risk
“Even in cases where the study participants’ dietary habits were far from the targets for the EAT-Lancet diet, we observed a clear difference in total mortality, already when participants were halfway to the target,” said Stubbendorf.
Specifically, findings revealed that individuals with a dietary intake closest to the EAT-Lancet diet had a 25% lower risk of premature death compared to individuals with lowest adherence to the EAT-Lancet diet.
When specific causes of death were investigated by researchers, they were able to link the EAT-Lancet diet to a 32% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 34% lower risk of dying from cancer.
In the future, the researchers hope to study the diet with a focus on nutrition. But in the meantime, Stubbendorff said she hopes the study results and the points system model will help develop more sustainable dietary recommendations.
“For many people, eating according to the EAT-Lancet diet would entail a major change, in particular for those living in the richer countries of the Western world. Research has shown that it is possible, but it will take time to change our eating habits.
“Knowing that there is a diet that benefits both public health and the planet should increase our motivation, though. Either way, we humans need to change what and how we eat – to save our own health and our planet.”
Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
‘Development of an EAT-Lancet index and its relation to mortality in a Swedish population’
Published 13 November 2021
Authors: Anna Stubbendorff, Emily Sonestedt, Stina Ramne, Isabel Drake, Elinor Hallström, Ulrika Ericson.