Whole grains and planetary health

Current global dietary trends are having detrimental impacts on both the environment and human health1.

It is predicted that by 2050 we could see increases in global GHGe of 80% from food production and land erosion, as well as increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions1,2.

It has been suggested that a shift towards adopting alternative dietary patterns, where sustainable food systems are utilised, is required to mitigate these planetary impacts2.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sustainable diets are defined as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.”3

Although eating for planetary health is influenced by a balance of many factors, not by any one specific food or nutrient, the evidence points to plant foods such as whole grains and legumes as part of varied whole food diet4.

The recent Eat Lancet Commission also has highlighted the health and planetary benefits of consuming more plant-based foods, with flexitarian dietary patterns as an example of this style of eating2.

Grains Sustainability Facts

  • Rice GHGe are lower than wheat, and wheat emissions are lower than meat and dairy5
  • With improvements in rice production systems in Australia over the years, water usage of rice is currently 50% less than the global average6.
  • Emissions used by Australian farmers to produce a tonne of wheat are among the lowest in the world7.

The bottom line

Adopting global sustainable diets is a complex yet important goal towards ensuring planetary and human health well into the future.  Although the sustainability assessment of foods is complex, research suggests that many plant foods such as whole grains and legumes are both healthy and sustainable sources of dietary protein2. Aim to enjoy at least 48g (3 servings) of whole grain foods daily.

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