Nutrition & Conservation

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To help protect the planet and promote good health, people should eat less than 1 ounce of red meat a day and limit poultry and milk, too. That’s according to a new report from some of the top names in nutrition science. People should instead consume more nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the report says. The strict recommended limits on meat are getting pushback. Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Preparing ahead for a meal to be cooked today, I was reading this recipe, whose image (below) was competing for my attention with the image above. The picture above is eye-catching, at least to me, a visual cue leading me to the type of meal I should be thinking about more often. It is a big picture picture. I have red lentils in the cupboard, and I intend to prepare them today, so the recipe won the race for my attention.

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Melissa Clark’s red lentil soup.CreditJoseph De Leo for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

The story by National Public Radio (USA) waited. It is about diet, with the kind of explanatory information that motivates me to find lentils more appealing, and to understand why meals like this should dominate the weekly menu:

What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.

Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it’s better for both.

So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it’s far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day.

Here’s the environmental argument: Agriculture is responsible for up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and much of the emissions come from red meat production. A lot of land and water are needed to grow the grains to feed the livestock. (About one-third of all the grain produced globally is used as animal feed.)

And, as the World Resources Institute estimates, producing beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein. By one estimate, if people in the U.S. switched from beef to beans, this alone could get the U.S. more than halfway to the greenhouse gas reductions goals set during the Obama administration.

“Many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production,” concludes the new EAT-Lancet Commission report. And in order to feed the estimated 10 billion people that will inhabit the planet by 2050, “a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”

But climate health is not human health, and at a time when competing food tribes (think Paleo versus vegan) cling to polar-opposite conclusions about what makes a healthy diet, the recommendations put forth in this report were bound to stir controversy and raise the ire of the meat and animal-agriculture industries. The report also calls for strict limits on consumption of other animal products like milk and poultry.

“The [EAT-Lancet] Commission’s radical recommendations to drastically limit meat and dairy consumption would have serious, negative consequences for the health of people and the planet,” writes Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The group has released its own analysis in response to the EAT report that concludes that meat and dairy provide “unmatched nutrition for healthy bodies, brains and bones.”

The industry isn’t alone in its endorsement of meat. Some of the popular diets of the day, from Paleo to keto, are meat-centric. And promoters of carnivorous diets, such as Mark Sisson and Shawn Baker, who is trained as an orthopedic surgeon, have lots of followers, some of whom share their anecdotes of losing weight and gaining energy as a result of these diets.

We also hear about celebrities celebrated for their physiques who’ve gone Paleo – or at least tried it. But, beautiful bodies aside, how might a meat-centric diet influence long-term health?

“We looked at all the evidence on diet and health” and determined red meat should be limited “to less than an ounce per day — or about a hamburger a week,” says Dr. Walter Willet, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of the EAT-Lancet Commission’s report. “This may seem a little extreme to many Americans, but this is actually in line with what the traditional Mediterranean diet was when the Greeks were the healthiest people in the world,” Willett told me…

Read the whole article here.

2 thoughts on “Nutrition & Conservation

  1. Chicken has a great feed conversion ratio. One pound of feed makes half a pound of chicken meat. Eggs are even better. How about farmed oysters. They filter and clarify seawater with no (no!) agricultural input. Bon appetit!

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