What’s the beef with the EAT-Lancet Commission?

By The Irish Heart Foundation Nutrition Council Nutrition News   |   28th Jan 2019

The Irish Heart Foundation gives its view on the recent report from the EAT-Lancet Commission.

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about a new report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health. Much of the media reports have focused on the need for people to eat less meat. However, from a health perspective, we don’t need to avoid animal proteins such as meat or dairy as part of a balanced healthy diet, but it does encourage us to think about the source of our food and how much of it we are eating.

The EAT–Lancet Commission addresses the need to feed a growing global population a healthy diet while also defining sustainable food systems that will minimise damage to our planet. The Irish Heart Foundation welcomes the attempt by the EAT-Lancet Commission to take an integrated approach to nutrition, food and agriculture policy.

"A well balanced, healthy diet is important whether you eat animal proteins or not, to provide all the nutrients needed for good health and to prevent disease,"

.

The report provides interesting information on how our current eating habits impact our health and the environment and makes a number of recommendations on how, achieving a global healthy and sustainable diet will require not only examining our diets but also how food is produced.

Broadly, the planetary health diet recommended in this report states that we should eat more fruit and vegetables, plant proteins (e.g. beans, peas, lentils, nuts), whole grains, unsaturated plant oils and less animal protein (such as red and processed meat), refined grains (like white bread, white pasta etc.) and sugary food and drinks.

Our dietary habits, how we produce food and food wastage create a range of stresses on the planet which include greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. A growing body of evidence supports that a shift towards a more plant-based sustainable diet is needed to relieve these environmental pressures. Global warming is, by a significant margin, the greatest threat to the long-term health of both the population and the planet.

It has long been recognised that a diet more focused on plant-based foods is also best for our health as recognised in the Irish Food Pyramid which states that the largest proportion of our diet should come from fruit, vegetables, salad, beans, peas and lentils.

However, eating a more sustainable diet does not have to mean becoming a vegetarian or vegan, unless you wish to do so. From a health perspective, we don’t need to avoid animal proteins such as meat or dairy as part of a balanced healthy diet, but it does encourage us to think about the source of our food and how much of it we are eating. For example, if you eat a lot of meat (particularly red and processed meat) cutting down and including more plant-based options (e.g. beans, peas, lentils and nuts) is beneficial from both a health and environmental perspective. A well balanced, healthy diet is important whether you eat animal proteins or not, to provide all the nutrients needed for good health and to prevent disease.

" It has long been recognised that a diet more focused on plant-based foods is also best for our health,"

.

This report clearly indicates that one of the key actions we can take to combat global warming is to adopt a diet rich in plant-based foods and to substantially reduce the amount of foods such as red meat and sugar that we eat. The Irish Heart Foundation agrees that for most people, making these changes will confer health and environmental benefits and for this reason, we are happy to endorse the findings of this report.

However, further consideration is needed to take account of the nutritional requirements of specific population groups for example children, the elderly or pregnant women as well as elements such as culture, price, accessibility and local context. In other words, not one set of dietary recommendations is suitable for all.

" The Irish Heart Foundation agrees that for most people, making these changes will confer health and environmental benefits and for this reason, we are happy to endorse the findings of this report,"

.

What does this report mean for me?

There has been a lot of confusion and debate around the report and its specific recommendations particularly as it is so far removed from our current diet in Ireland. What we know is that most of us are not meeting the current dietary recommendations. For example, most Irish people are not eating the recommended 5 to 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. However, if people in the general healthy population want to make a difference not just in terms of the environment but also their health, there are a few realistic changes to their diet they can make:

1. Eat more plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, lentils, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds; eat a rainbow to ensure you’re getting a wide variety of nutrients. Remember half our plates should be made up of vegetables or salad.

2. Consider how much meat (particularly red meat e.g. beef, lamb, pork and processed meat e.g. bacon, ham, sausages) you eat. This does not mean you have to exclude meat, it just means thinking about your portion sizes and how often you are having it. Meat is one of the most expensive food items in your shopping basket, so learning to make a little stretch a long way or not eating it every day is also a good way to save money. Adding or swapping meat for plant-based alternatives (beans, lentils, peas and nuts) along with vegetables in your meat- based dishes will provide you with lots of fibre, vitamins, minerals and protein.

3. Shop the seasons locally – Look out for seasonal fruit and vegetables, like strawberries in the summer or root vegetables (parsnips beetroot or swede) in the winter. Seasonal local fruit and vegetables tend to be widely available, cost less, taste much better and are more environmentally friendly.

4. Choose higher fibre/wholegrain starchy foods such as oats, wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice instead of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta etc.

5. Use heart healthy fats such as olive oil and rapeseed oil in cooking and dressings

6. Reduce your intake of sugary drinks and high calorie, low nutrient foods such as cakes, biscuits, sweets. If you wish to have these treats try to have them on occasion only.

If you are considering following a vegan diet, we recommend that you see a registered dietitian to develop a tailored plan that will meet all your nutritional needs.

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