Meatless Utopia? Researchers Propose Flexitarian Diet To Save Humanity & The Planet
On January 16, the EAT-Lancet Commission released recommendations for a “universal health diet,” that authors believe will nurture human health and support environmental sustainability.
The 47-page report is titled, “Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems,” and its core message is to minimize the consump-tion of animal fats and proteins and replace them with whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Spearheaded by Norwegian billionaire and animal rights activists activist Gunhild Stordalen, founder of the EAT Foundation, in collaboration with one of the world’s oldest and respected medical journals, The Lancet.
Penned by 37 international scientists, including co-lead Walter Willett, M.D., of Harvard Univer-sity, the report calls for a “Great Food Transformation,” which would incorporate “sustainable intensification” to grow more with less while protecting the planet’s natural resources.
In an interview, Willett, told Forbes “The world’s diets must change dramatically. More than 800 million people have insufficient food, while many more consume an unhealthy diet that contrib-utes to premature death and disease. To be healthy, diets must have an appropriate calorie in-take and consist of a variety of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal-based foods, unsatu-rated rather than saturated fats, and few refined grains, highly processed foods and added sug-ars.”
Co-author of the report, Tim Lang, PhD, also told Forbes, “The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong. We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before.”
Closer to home, the EAT-Lancet report hasn’t gained much traction in the local media, and many are shrugging it off as just another over-hyped food trend. Among those is Dr. Cheryl Bietz, DC, IFMCP, of Parham Chiropractic in Sioux Falls, S.D., who says she’s seen a growing trend of extremists who use emotions to influence others and overpower factual information to misinform people about nutrition.
Bones said, “It is important to be conscientious of the environment and animal welfare because certain factors that contribute to both of those things may contribute to our overall health; how-ever, it shouldn’t drive the choices to the nutritional needs of the individual. We have a lot of work to do to help change the mindset around food, but I don’t think removing animal proteins from the diet is the right answer as the report indicates.”
She added, “Based on lots of research and a good understanding of the basic needs of the hu-man body, good quality animal fats and proteins in our diet are vital to maintaining good health. It’s important for joint support, gut function, muscle support, etc. Collagen, Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and amino acids are just a few of the good nutrients that we can benefit from. Good quality animal fat and protein is very beneficial along with a lot of plant-based dishes and snacks, as well.”
Per the report’s recommendations, consumers should eat half as much red meat and twice as many nuts, fruits vegetables and legumes. The suggested serving size is less than half an ounce of red meat daily, or one quarter-pound hamburger per week.
The authors are recommending a “flexitarian” diet verses veganism. Specifically, the report sug-gests that protein should be largely derived from legumes and nuts, with a recommended con-sumption of 284 calories of legumes and 291 calories of nuts per day, while limiting pork, beef and lamb to just 30 calories per day, chicken at 62 calories per day and eggs at 19 calories per day.
Naturally, the beef industry is pushing back against these recommendations, which are advising people follow a one-size-fits all, globally adopted and accepted plant-based diet.
According to a statement released by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), “Most people are already eating beef within global dietary guidelines, so we believe the biggest oppor-tunity for a healthy, sustainable diet will come from reducing food waste, eating fewer empty calories and enjoying more balanced meals.”
Other nutritional voices outside of the beef cattle industry are also blasting the recommenda-tions, citing biased personal agendas and gross researching errors in the report that would lead to global hunger and nutrient deficiencies in populations around the world.
Georgia Ede, Massachusetts-based psychiatrist and nutrition consultant, said, “There are scien-tifically plausible reasons to question whether removing animal foods from the diet may pose real risks to human health. The undisputable requirement for B12 supplementation aside, plant foods lack several key nutrients, and some of the nutrients they do contain come in forms that are more difficult for the human body to utilize. Plants also contain anti-nutrients which interfere with our ability to absorb essential minerals.
She added, “To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a human clinical trial designed to test the health effects of simply removing animal foods from the diet, without making any oth-er confounding diet or lifestyle changes (such as simultaneously reducing sugar, adding medita-tion, etc.). Unless and until such research is conducted that finds benefits of this strategy, the assertion that human beings would be healthier without animal foods remains an untested hy-pothesis, and therefore should not form the basis of public health recommendations.
Nina Teicholz, executive director for The Nutrition Coalition executive director and scientific journalist and author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Eggs Belong In The Diet,” says, “In my research on Walter Willett, I discovered that his first anti-meat leanings came about when he was traveling in Italy and Greece in the late 1980s and developed a passion for the food there. He interpreted the Mediterranean diet to be low in meat. However the data upon which he based his assumptions had been gathered in the late 1950s, on a mere 33 to 34 men on the island of Crete. Willett extrapolated from this to form the foundation of his ‘Mediterranean Diet’ pyramid, presented in 1993, in which he places red meat in the tip of the pyramid, above, even, sweets — meaning, that according to Willett, it is better to eat candy than red meat.”
Bret Scher, a California-based cardiologist, said, “As a cardiologist, I’ve made healthy lifestyle recommendations to thousands of patients, and it is clear that the best lifestyle is one people can actually maintain over the long term. It turns out that protein and fat are uniquely satiating—thus keeping hunger at bay—and therefore a friend to any dieter. Red meat is an excellent source of protein, low in calories and high in many needed nutrients. Also, in my practice, I have seen that a vegan lifestyle fails far more than it succeeds. That said, there is no one-size-fits-all diet, and it’s lamentable that the EAT-Lancet authors should want to impose their ideas about healthy diets on all populations worldwide.”
“There is no rigorous (i.e., clinical trial) evidence showing that red meat has any ill effects on health,” added H. Russell Cross, Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science profes-sor and former Administrator of FSIS, USDA under Presidents Bush and Clinton. “Meat is a rich source of needed nutrients, including B12, iron and folate some of which are borderline deficient in the U.S., and an extremely calorie-efficient way to obtain complete proteins. Other proteins, such as nuts and seeds, contain more far calories per ounce of protein. Thus, to discourage consumption of red meat is potentially harmful to health.”
As the EAT-Lancet Commission unveils its recommendations to the world, many are anticipat-ing that sin taxes will be placed on meat, eggs and dairy to further this plant-based agenda. The Commission will be introducing its dietary recommendations in a huge roll-out campaign cen-tered in 40 cities around the world, as well as the 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Switzerland.
In the United States, committee members will begin their work on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Will the new recommendations be plant-based and align with the popular rhetoric that meat is the culprit of everything from climate change to cancer?
Bones said, “Food trends shouldn’t shape our dietary guidelines; these recommendations should be based on factual information. However, with social media the way it is today, unfortu-nately trends can possibly shape the minds of influencers making the recommendations. I don’t agree with the current guidelines as they stand right now and don’t put too much emphasis on what the government says is the best way to eat. Some day I hope they get it right though.”