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1.6BILLION people couldn't afford the £2.22-per-day 'universal' diet

Almost 1.6BILLION people can’t afford the £2.22-a-day ‘planetary health diet’ that cuts red meat allowance to just a quarter of a rasher of bacon

  • International researchers said a cheaper diet could have the same effect
  • They predicted more than half of sub-Saharan Africans would be priced out
  • And it may be too costly even for people in North America and Europe 
  • World Health Organization withdrew its support for the diet recommendations
  • People should get most of their calories from grains, fruit, vegetables and beans 

The ultimate healthy diet would be unaffordable for at least 1.58billion people around the world, according to experts.

Scientists this year created a ‘universal diet’ which they said would be best for human health and protecting the environment.

It is mostly plant-based but includes fish, poultry and eggs – but it recommends a red meat intake equivalent to just a quarter of a rasher of bacon each day.

The $2.84 (£2.22) per person per day it is predicted to cost, however, would be too much for almost a quarter of the world’s population, researchers have warned.

Although the diet could be cheaper than average for Westerners, more than half of people in sub-Saharan Africa and a third of South Asians may be unable to afford it.

A radical ‘planetary health diet’ suggests people should replace nearly all meat and dairy with beans while doubling their vegetable intake

The diet says people should get most of their calories from grains, fruit and vegetables and legumes and nuts – it drastically cuts back the amount of red meat and added sugar people in developed countries eat

Experts from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Tufts University in Massachusetts issued the warning in a study published today.

They said the recommendations – which were created earlier this year – had failed to make the ‘universal’ diet affordable.

They were published by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, a non-profit organisation founded by scientists in the UK, Sweden and Norway.

Professor William Masters, an economist at Tufts, said: ‘When formulating this pioneering benchmark diet – addressing individual health outcomes as well as the health of the planet – the Commission deliberately did not take its cost into account.’

In April the World Health Organization (WHO) backed out of sponsoring an event promoting the radical red-meat-free diet.

The UN body planned to support the launch event of the scientific group behind the controversial ‘planetary health diet’.

Scientists said its adoption is vital to feed the world’s booming population without destroying the environment and would improve the health of millions.

But the WHO stopped sponsoring the event following criticism there is ‘no scientific justification’ for everyone in the world to adopt a standard diet.

It is unclear what prompted the body to pull its sponsorship, however, the views of Italy’s ambassador to the UN may have played a role.

Gian Lorenzo Cornado argued it could cost millions of people working in agriculture theirs job, as well as those in other areas of the food industry, and spell an end to traditional cuisines across the world. 

His colleague at the IFPRI, Dr Kalle Hirvonen, added: ‘We found that the global median of the proposed diet would cost $2.84 per day as of 2011.

‘In low-income countries, that amounts to 89.1 percent of a household’s daily per capita income, which is more than people can actually spend on food.

‘In high-income countries, we found that the EAT-Lancet reference diet would cost 6.1 percent of per-capita income, which is often less than what people now spend on food.’

The diet is not made up of specific ingredients but instead recommendations of how much of someone’s food should be made up each different type.

It takes into account health – considering red meats and sugars are linked to heart diseases and cancers – and the environment, which is damaged by animal farming and overfishing. 

Broken down by calories, it suggests whole grains such as rice and pasta should make up about a third of a 2,500kcal-per-day diet suitable for a 30-year-old woman weighing 131lbs (60kg).

Some 243kcal should come from fruit and vegetables, 575kcal from beans and nuts, 132kcal from meat (including fish) and just 120kcal from added sugar.

The proposed diet doesn’t suggest specific foods but instead breaks down the proportions of someone’s calories they should get from different sources. The amounts are based on a 2,500kcal-per-day diet for a healthy 30-year-old woman weighing 131lbs (60kg)

The diet says red meat and potatoes should be eaten sparingly and replaced instead with fish, whole grains and nuts and beans

Professor Masters and Dr Hirvonen and their colleagues found the EAT-Lancet diet was 64 per cent more expensive than it could have been.

They worked out the $2.84 cost using retail prices in an international standardised computer program developed by the World Bank and various nations.

They used prices for 744 food items in 159 countries and said a far cheaper diet could still meet nutritional requirements and be good for the environment.

‘Although 1.58 billion is a lot of people, it is actually a conservative lower limit on the total number who cannot afford the diet,’ Professor Masters said.

‘The cost of food preparation and of non-food necessities ensure that an even larger number of people cannot afford that kind of healthy diet.’

And Dr Hirvonen added: ‘Even if many poor consumers were to aspire to consume healthier and more environmentally sustainable foods, income and price constraints frequently render this diet unaffordable.

‘Increased earnings and safety-net transfers, as well as lower food prices, are needed to bring healthy and sustainable diets within reach of the world’s poor.’

In some countries, including Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the diet would cost more than the average household income.


The planetary diet, widely ridiculed at the time of its announcement, would mean a radical shift away from meat, sugar and dairy to vegetables, beans, nuts and pulses.

Experts say this would prevent around 11million early deaths around the world by 2050 by slashing obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

But the diet would see people eating just 7g of pork, beef or lamb a day – the equivalent of a quarter of a rasher of bacon or a 16th of a burger.

Average consumption of red meat in Britain would have to drop by 77 per cent from its current 62g a day, according to the report drawn up by 37 experts from 16 countries.

Dairy and butter intake would be cut by 40 per cent to just 250g – the equivalent of half a glass of milk, a slice of cheese and a small knob of butter.

The consumption of eggs would fall to a fifth of an egg a day, sugar intake would drop by half to just 31g a day and potato intake by three-quarters to 50g.

But people following the planetary diet would have to eat three times as much vegetables, beans, nuts and soya to make up the calories.

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