In January 2019, an extensive report about nutrition recommendations was published by an international committee of scientists from around the world: Switzerland, Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan, and United States, headed by one of the renowned researchers in nutrition, Walter Willett of the Harvard University School of Public Health. Usually, such reports published by international organizations, such as the “World Health Organization“, but in this case, it’s an initiative of “Lancet Medical Journal“, which is quite rare.
The major innovation of the report lies in his scope, and the writers’ attempt to discuss other topics, besides nutritional and health issues, such as the impact of our diet on the environment, which is customarily less mentioned. In fact, despite the authors’ attempt to provide some sort of general guidelines that each person can use anywhere, they emphasize that each country needs its guidelines.
The recommendation – eat less meat, but loads of legumes
The main recommendation of the report is to eat more vegetarian ingredients than beef. It’s worth mentioning that this reform is not new. As early as 2015, the US Department of Agriculture recommends more vegetarian-based food. The report calls for large scale changes on a global magnitude to lessen the burden on the environment and health systems and to balance global consumption. This means, for example, a 50% reduction of beef consumption in some areas while raising it in others. It also recommends increasing the intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes. According to the authors, such changes would save the lives of 11 million people every year.
The report overlapping with other UN global recommendations. For example, it is correlated with the recommendations on widespread investments in preliminary prevention of disease and disorders through promoting education methods of food consumptioning. Another way is by cultivating sustainable agriculture that contains less harmful fertilizers and reducing greenhouse emissions.
The report offers consumption of 2,500 kcal per day. This consumption indicates possible ranges allowed for each food group. For instance, it’s allowed 811 calories per day of grains (rice, corn, wheat, etc.), which means 230 grams per day. On the contrary, it’s recommended to eat only 7 grams of beef per day, 7 grams of pork, 29 grams of chicken, 13 grams of eggs and 28 grams of fish. If we sum them all up, we will get about 100 grams of meat per day. Instead of meat, the report encourages a large number of legumes, 50 grams per day before cooking, 25 grams of soybeans before cooking and 25 grams of peanuts. The report does not include distribution to major food groups, an analysis of the recommendations implies that the daily consumption based on 55% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 30% fat.p
The environmental effects of our current dietary patterns
Most of the report deals with the environmental impacts of current dietary patterns. The recommendations refer to the fact that a carnivore’s diet requires more soil to grow animal food, and thus involves more greenhouse emissions. moreover, it includes more acidity in the ground and more Eutrophication, which means an overgrowth of algae due to the enrichment of soils in phosphorus and nitrogen, as a result of fertilizers. The main player in all of the above is beef, while the impact of poultry and fish on these trends is smaller, and vegetarian foods as the least.
The article’s conclusions call for a major dietary change that combines several different factors and depend on the unique characteristics of each state. Researchers suggest investing more resources in scientific research related to this and influencing governments to legislate and make decisions based upon strategies that will lead to the necessary major nutritional change, i.e. beyond sustainable nutrition.
In my opinion, the report’s proposals are incomplete. The main idea fo the article is to favor any dietary pattern that doesn’t contain a lot of sugar and fat in it, which means, any diet that doesn’t emphasize ultra-processed foods. apart from that, the committee also addressed the scientific basis of these dietary patterns. but, the article lacks a list of recommended diets for the public, due to the large disparities between each state. To the simple reader, it seems as if the report is meant to the politicians and not for the common people.
furthermore, although this is an interesting initiative, the report has made by an independent journal and no organization is obligated to accept its proposals. Nevertheless, the report published by a well-known journal and renowned researchers in the field, so it may be that in the next few years we will hear about health agencies in the world that will adopt some conclusions or all of them.
To sum up, the demand for a major dietary shift will undoubtedly require widespread adaptation of a significant portion of the world’s population, so it is highly doubtful that such a change will occur soon.