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Planetary Health Diet can reduce risk of early death and help planet, study finds. What is it?

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Can a diet that's good for the planet also be good for your health? A new study is pointing to yes. 

In the study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Monday, researchers found those who most closely adhered to the Planetary Health Diet had a 30% lower risk of premature death compared to those with the lowest adherence.

Following the diet also had a substantially lower environmental impact, including 29% lower greenhouse gas emissions and 51% lower land use. 

"Climate change has our planet on track for ecological disaster, and our food system plays a major role," corresponding author Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said in a news release. "Shifting how we eat can help slow the process of climate change. And what's healthiest for the planet is also healthiest for humans. ... The findings show just how linked human and planetary health are. Eating healthfully boosts environmental sustainability-which in turn is essential for the health and wellbeing of every person on earth."

Using health data from more than 200,000 women and men, this is the first large study of the Planetary Health Diet recommendations. Participants in the research had no major chronic diseases at the start of the study and completed dietary questionnaires every four years for up to 34 years.

"It's one of the most important papers I've done over the past 45 years," Willett told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.

What is the Planetary Health Diet?

The diet "emphasizes a variety of minimally processed plant foods but allows for modest consumption of meat and dairy foods," according the the release.

It was first proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission in 2019, which focused on addressing the need to sustainably feed an increasing global population.

The diet aims to increase consumption of healthy foods including:

While decreasing the consumption of foods like:

"Lean towards plants," LaPook says of the diet's main objective. "If you're in a restaurant and there's a choice of a plant-based or something else, then lean towards the plant-based choice, lead towards fruit and vegetables."

In many ways, the diet is similar to the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. It can be adapted to be fully plant-based and vegan or omnivorous with the inclusion of some meat and dairy.

"Meat and dairy constitute important parts of the diet but in significantly smaller proportions than whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes," according to the nonprofit EAT's website. 

Ideally, a "planetary health plate" should consist of about half a plate of vegetables and fruit with the other half consisting mostly of whole grains, plant protein sources and optional modest amounts of animal sources of protein, the organization explains. 

Sara Moniuszko

Sara Moniuszko is a health and lifestyle reporter at CBSNews.com. Previously, she wrote for USA Today, where she was selected to help launch the newspaper's wellness vertical. She now covers breaking and trending news for CBS News' HealthWatch.

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