Planet-first linked with lower risk of early death, fewer environmental impacts

Image of a woman eating a bowl of fruit

People who eat a healthy, planet-first diet may lower their risk of premature death by up to 30%, according to a new NHLBI-funded study.

The study quantified people’s adherence to a diet known as the Planetary Health Diet (PHD), which focuses on eating a majority of plant-based foods with limited meat and dairy. Analyzing dietary data from more than 200,000 people to see how they ate compared to the PHD, the researchers drew links between diet and health outcomes. Every four years for 34 years, study participants filled out dietary questionnaires. Researchers then scored the diets based on the intake of 15 food groups. Foods scored as good for the planet take fewer overall resources to grow and include whole grains, tubers, vegetables, fruits, legumes, soybean products and oils, such as olive oil. The researchers also measured added sugar and foods that require a greater land use, such as cattle and other animals. 

The top 10% of people who followed the PHD were 30% less likely to die prematurely from any cause than those in the bottom 10%, the study found. In addition, those who most closely followed the planetary diet had a 28% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, a 14% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, a 10% lower risk of dying from cancer, and a 47% lower risk of dying from a respiratory disease. Following the diet also had a significantly lower environmental impact, including 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions and 51% lower land use. 

 The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.