Planetary health diet vs. the Mediterranean diet: Which one is best?

Planetary health diet vs. the Mediterranean diet: Which one is best?

Eating a diet which consists of mostly fruits, vegetables and whole foods — is not only good for the planet but can also be good for your health.

The planetary health diet [was] designed by the EAT-Lancet Commission, to try and see how we [can], on a global level, design a dietary pattern that meets people’s nutritional needs,” says Maya Vadiveloo, an associate professor in the department of nutrition at the University of Rhode Island.

“But also address the issues that we see with the growing proportion of animal-based foods and how [production] contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and other markers that could adversely affect planetary health.”

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the risk of premature death was lower by 30% for people who followed the planetary health diet in comparison to those who did not.

Whole-food, plant-based diets like the planetary health diet “tend to be very nutrient dense, so they end up being an important source of antioxidants and macro- and micronutrients that are ideal for the body,” says Vadiveloo, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Followers of the diet also had a 29% lower contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the study found.

“A single cow produces between 154 to 264 pounds of methane gas per year,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That number only multiplies when you consider that 1.5 billion cattle are specifically raised for meat production, meaning at least 231 billion pounds of methane emissions are entering the atmosphere from meat production from cows alone, the agency reports.

How does the planetary health diet compare to other diets?

But what makes the planetary health diet different from other popular eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet or the heart-healthy DASH diet?

“The fundamentals between the patterns are similar. They are higher in whole fruits and vegetables, which is really the key to almost every heart-healthy pattern, as well as whole grains, and nuts and seeds,” Vadiveloo says.

Yet there are some differences between the eating patterns.

The DASH diet “allows for higher consumption of animal-sourced foods, including low fat, dairy, and poultry. And maybe in higher quantities than the planetary health diet, because it’s not looking specifically at planetary health,” Vadiveloo notes.

The planetary health diet also places more limits on total fat consumption than the DASH diet does, she adds.

Generally speaking, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t emphasize dairy foods, Vadiveloo says. The popular diet has a higher emphasis on unsaturated fat components like olive oil and fish compared to the planetary health diet.

“The other consistent thing is [in] all of these patterns, Mediterranean, DASH, planetary, there’s no discrepancy over reducing sources of added sugars, reducing sources of solid fats, like from saturated fats, trans fats in coconut oil and animal sources,” Vadiveloo notes.

She emphasizes that the best thing you can do to eat for good health is add more whole foods to your diet, especially fruits and vegetables; this aligns with all three of the healthy patterns. Additionally, limiting your consumption of ultra-processed foods is strongly recommended.

“We can say that the vast majority of ultra-processed foods are high in added sugars, high in refined grains, saturated fat, all the things that every single one of these patterns is saying limit,” Vadiveloo says.

“Make your pattern high in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds [and] legumes.”

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