Human health, diet, and environmental sustainability are prevailing concerns that share many common uncertainties. Fulfilling the nutritional needs of a growing population while limiting environmental degradation is a critical challenge that requires global collaboration and commitment. Current food systems, in addition to supporting unhealthy diets and practices, greatly impact the environment, leading to climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater misuse, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and land-system change. Current global food systems are simply unable to provide the population of ~7.7 billion with healthy diets while also achieving environmental sustainability.
The EAT-Lancet Commission brings together scientists and experts from the diverse fields of human health, agriculture, political sciences, and environmental sustainability in an effort to establish global targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. Using the best scientific evidence available, the Commission seeks a global transformation of food systemsthat will help to achieve the goals set forth in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. The SDGs are global goals reduce hunger and improve nutrition. The Paris Agreement sets a budget on greenhouse gas emissions to keep the global mean temperature increase to less than 2°C.
The EAT-Lancet Commission has quantitatively characterized a universal healthy reference diet that will positively impact both human health and the environment. This healthy reference diet consists predominantly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and unsaturated oils; includes a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry; and includes no or little red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables. The commission has also rendered scientific boundaries that will aid in the reduction of environmental degradation caused by food production at all scales.
At OFAS, we have spent over 25 years studying how a low-methionine diet improves lifespan and healthspan. This diet consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes and contains limited quantities of meats, seafood, and poultry—much like the the EAT-Lancet Commission’s healthy reference diet. Thus, a low methionine diet not only provides benefit to an individual’s health but also promotes a sustainable environment.
The EAT-Lancet Commission proposes five strategies to achieve the “Great Food Transformation”.
1. Seek international and national commitment to shift towards healthy diets
2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing large quantities of food to producing healthy food
3. Sustainably intensify food production, generating high-quality output
4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
5. At least halve food loss and waste, in line with global SDGs
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Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., et.al. 2019. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. EAT-Lancet EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4
Ables, G.P., and Johnson, J.E. (2017). Pleiotropic responses to methionine restriction. Exp Gerontol 94, 83-88.
A recent study has demonstrated that a ketogenic diet significantly improved memory in aging mice and increased the animal’s chances of surviving to old age, opening up a new area of inquiry in aging research.
Eating a ketogenic diet – which is high in fat and low in protein and carbohydrates – ramps up the number of ketone bodies. In this study, Newman et al. carefully designed three diets that were matched in every way except fat and carbohydrate content: a normal high-carbohydrate diet, a zero-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, and a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that was not ketogenic. Mice were fed the ketogenic diet intermittently to prevent them from becoming obese, starting at one year old, which is middle age for mice.
The ketogenic diet-fed mice had a lower risk of dying as they aged from one to two years old, although their maximum lifespan was unchanged. Another group of mice underwent memory testing at both middle age (one year old) and old age (two years old). Mice that had been eating a ketogenic diet performed at least as well on memory tests at old age as they did at middle age, while mice eating the normal diet showed an expected age-associated decline. Mice who ate the ketogenic diet also explored more, and their improved memory was confirmed with another test a few months later.
According to the paper, gene expression could explain the cognitive improvement. Future work to understand the nature of the persistent effect on memory in particular may lead to therapies to promote cognitive resilience to dementia or illness-associated delirium.
As more people age well past their 70s, researchers have increasingly explored the issues of health and quality of life during aging. A recent mouse study at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine sheds revealed that a high-fat, or ketogenic, diet not only increases longevity, but improves physical strength as well.
Ketogenic diets have gained popularity for a variety of health benefit claims, but scientists are still teasing out what happens during ketosis, when carbohydrate intake is so low that the body shifts from using glucose as the main fuel source to burning fat and producing ketones for energy.
While calorie restriction has been shown to slow aging in many animals, Roberts et. al. were interested in how a high-fat diet may impact the aging process. In their research, they found a 13% increase in median life span for the mice on a high-fat versus high-carb diet.
The study mice were split into three groups: a regular rodent high-carb diet, a low-carb/high-fat diet, and a ketogenic diet (89-90 percent of total calorie intake). Originally concerned that the high-fat diet would increase weight and decrease lifespan, the researchers kept the calorie count of each diet the same.
In addition to significantly increasing the median lifespan of mice in the study, the ketogenic diet increased memory and motor function, prevented an increase in age-related markers of inflammation, and reduced the incidence of tumors. This indicates that a ketogenic diet can have a major impact on life- and health span without major weight loss or restriction of food intake. It also opens a new avenue for possible dietary interventions that have an impact on aging.
Future studies are warranted to investigate the mechanisms through which this diet works and to optimize diet composition and feeding approaches to further extend healthspan.
If you could lose weight and reduce your risk of life-threatening disease by dieting five days every few months, would you do it?
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, demonstrated a host of benefits. They placed 100 generally healthy participants into two study arms to test the effects of a fasting-mimicking diet—low in calories, sugars, and protein, but high in unsaturated fats. The diet proved to have significant effects on markers/risk factors associated with aging and age-related diseases.
According to the findings, the diet reduced the study participants’ risks for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other age-related diseases. It also shrank waistlines and resulted in weight loss, both in total body fat and trunk fat, but did not reduce muscle mass. The researchers noted that participants considered “at risk” because they had risk factors (high IGF (Insulin-like Growth Factor)-1, cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels) made significant progress toward better health. Thus, cycles of a 5-day FMD are safe, feasible, and effective in reducing markers/risk factors for aging and age-related diseases.
“This study provides evidence that people can experience significant health benefits through a periodic, fasting-mimicking diet that is designed to act on the aging process,” said Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and a professor of biological sciences for USC Davis and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomized clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans. Larger FDA studies are necessary to confirm its effects on disease prevention and treatment.”¹
The next step for researchers is a large phase III clinical trial, which compares new treatments to what is already available. This trial will test the fasting-mimicking diet on patients diagnosed with age-related diseases or at high risk for them.
¹Gersema E. Scientifically-designed fasting diet lowers risks for major diseases. Press Room. https://pressroom.usc.edu/scientifically-designed-fasting-diet-lowers-risks-for-major-diseases/. Published February 15, 2017.