Scientists set target for a healthy diet, balancing human welfare and the planet's ability to provide

January 29, 2019

With food production impacting everything from biodiversity to climate change, a global team of researchers—including a University of Minnesota professor—have established the first scientific targets for a healthy diet that balances food consumption and the planet's ability to sustainably support human welfare.

“With nearly ten billion people expected to be living on the planet by 2050, a healthy and sustainable diet will be key in ensuring that people will be able to live healthier lives and our planet will be able to support them,” said David Tilman, professor in the College of Biological Sciences and member of the EAT-Lancet Commission.

The Commission, which created the targets for what is called the planetary health diet, is made up of 37 experts with expertise in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability and other related areas. Find their published report at The Lancet.

When compared to the diet eaten by the typical American, the proposed diet would reduce the chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and stroke. It would also help prevent water pollution and slow climate change.

Based on a 2,500 kcal/day diet, the Commission recommends daily dietary targets of:


Food group

Macronutrient intake range (grams/day), ranges included

Calorie intake (kcal/day)

Major carbohydrate sources – 0-60% of energy

Whole grains (such as rice, wheat, corn), dry

232 grams (adjusted to meet energy target)


Starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava)

50 (0-100) grams


Protein – around 15% of energy intake

Beef or lamb

7 (0-14) grams



7 (0-14) grams



29 (0-58) grams



13 (0-25) grams (about 1.5 eggs per week)


Fish (including shellfish)

28 (0-100) grams


Dry beans, lentils or peas

50 (0-100) grams


Soy foods, dry

25 (0-50) grams



25 (0-75) grams


Tree nuts

25 (0-75) grams


Dairy (whole milk and dairy products, such as cheese)

250 (0-500) grams


Fruit and vegetables


300 (200-600) grams, including 100 grams of dark green vegetables, 100 grams red and orange vegetables, and 100 grams of other vegetables

Dark green vegetables – 23

Red and orange vegetables – 30

Other vegetables – 25


200 (100-300) grams


Added fats

Palm oil

6.8 (0-6.8) grams


Unsaturated oils (olive, soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, and peanut oil)

40 (20-80) grams


Dairy fats (such as butter)

0 grams


Lard or tallow

5 (0-5) grams


Added sugars

All sweeteners

31 (0-31) grams


Table courtesy of The Lancet.

According to the Commission, widespread adoption of such a diet:

  • would improve a person’s intake of most nutrients, such as healthy mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and increase essential micronutrient intake (e.g., iron, zinc and vitamin A);
  • would cause the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by 50 percent and consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes to double;
  • would exist within the planetary boundaries for food production (e.g., land and freshwater use and nutrient cycles).

Along with dietary changes, researchers say improved food production and reducing food waste by as much as 50 percent would be needed. Tactics researchers suggest include: refocusing agriculture to produce varied nutrient-rich crops; increased research funding for food sustainability; better harvest planning and food storage infrastructure; and increased governance of land and ocean use.

The Commission says in countries like the United States, consumers also contribute to a significant amount of food waste. They suggest reduction in food waste could be resolved through public awareness campaigns to improve shopping habits; help people better understand ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates; and improve preparation, portion sizes and leftovers.

The EAT-Lancet Commission is one of several reports on nutrition being published by The Lancet in 2019.