The way most of humanity eats is bad for us and bad for the environment, a new report contends. And the authors are proposing a new diet that addresses both.
A three-year research project published in the Lancet Wednesday outlines what a panel of nutrition, agriculture and environmental experts believe is the best way to eat for our own health and the planet’s — and it looks very different from what most people eat. Big changes are necessary, the report contends.
It recommends a plant-based diet, based on previously published studies that have linked red meat to increased risk of health problems. It also comes amid recent studies of how eating habits affect the environment. Producing red meat takes up land and feed to raise cattle, which also emit the greenhouse gas methane.
“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,” said one of the report authors professor Tim Lang of the City University of London, U.K.
“We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country’s circumstances.”
The diet that they propose focuses on eating lots of vegetables, getting most protein from plant-based sources like lentils and other pulses, eating more soy and nuts, and for Canadians anyway, much, much less red meat. Eggs should be limited to fewer than about four a week, the report says. Dairy foods should be about a serving a day, or less.
“It is a substantial shift from what we are currently eating here in Canada,” said Jess Haines, an associate professor of applied nutrition at the University of Guelph.
However, she said it’s not that different from what’s in the current Canada Food Guide.
Some people recommend eating a “Meatless Monday,” she said. With the tiny amounts of red meat in this diet — maybe one burger or steak a week.
“It certainly wouldn’t just be a Meatless Monday. It might be Meat Monday,” quipped Haines.
The diet set out in the paper contains about 2500 calories a day, which registered dietitian and owner of Wellness Simplified, Amanda Li, said is likely more suitable for a man.
Here’s what a day eating the paper’s “healthy reference diet” might look like, with examples from a few different cuisines, as the dietary guidelines are meant to be applied around the world.
A North American-style breakfast could be oatmeal, said Li, with two tablespoons of peanut butter and a whole banana mixed in. You could eat two small containers of flavoured fat-free Greek yogurt.
A Middle Eastern breakfast would start with a cup of coffee with milk and sugar, said registered dietitian Sarah Hamdan, who operates Nurtured Mama Nutrition in Ottawa. It could include a toasted sandwich made with a slice of pita bread, three pieces of halloumi cheese, some sliced tomatoes and parsley. It could finish with a clementine.
For a Chinese-style breakfast, you could drink a glass of sweetened soy milk and eat one serving of steamed rice noodles with soy sauce and sesame paste or peanut butter, Li suggested.
For a North American lunch, Li suggests a salad bowl. Using romaine lettuce and field greens as a base, she’d add bell peppers, a cup of corn, roasted sweet potatoes, two and a half ounces of chicken breast, some feta cheese and pecans and a slice of bacon — with a dressing that includes oil.
This would make a “hefty” salad that could be recreated at a salad bar if you prefer to eat outside of the home.
A Chinese lunch could be a bowl of congee — a rice porridge — with fish, green onions and ginger as a garnish. You could dip a piece of fried dough into the congee, and wash it down with Hong Kong Style milk tea, she said.
A Middle Eastern lunch that fits the recommended diet might be three-quarters of a cup of mujadara — a dish that’s mostly lentils, with a tiny bit of rice and olive oil, Hamdan suggested. It would be served with fattoush salad and half a cup of plain yogurt.
According to research presented in the report, of major world regions, the Middle East and North Africa likely come the closest to eating the reference diet already, though people there would likely still have to make changes. “There is definitely less of a focus on meat in that part of the world, for sure,” Hamdan said.
For dinner, Li thinks an Indian meal would be a good fit in this diet. She recommends cooking a cup of chickpeas in a garam masala spice with ginger, garlic and oil, for a chana masala-style dish. You could serve it on top of two cups of brown rice to get in your whole grains and have some steamed vegetables like broccoli on the side.
A Middle Eastern dinner could be based around mulukhiyah, a stew of a green vegetable called Arab’s mallow in English, along with some chicken and spices, served with rice, Hamdan suggested.
A Chinese dinner, Li said, could be mapo tofu — a spicy dish made with lots of tofu and a little bit of minced pork — cooked with peanut oil. It would be served with rice, three cups of steamed Chinese greens like gai lan or bok choy, and a bowl of pork bone soup, which she says actually contains very little meat, as it’s mostly flavoured by the bones.
For dessert, she recommends a persimmon fruit and a small bowl of sweet walnut soup if you’re following a Chinese menu.
For North Americans, two Oreo cookies are a good choice, she thinks, as they don’t include eggs or dairy and will round out your added sugar allotment for the day.
Hamdan would also include snacks of an apple and some mixed nuts in her daily diet.
“I don’t think it’s hard for people to follow this way of eating,” Li said. “It’s very realistic in my opinion.”
She recommends increasing your intake of plant-based protein gradually, incorporating it bit by bit into your dishes. Adding tofu to your beef stir fry would be one example.
“If I was going to give a major recommendation to follow this diet from this journal article, it would be recommending just choosing one meal of the day to go completely plant-based.”
– With files from AP