Report urges ‘radical changes’ to world’s diet

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Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has come out swinging in response to the publication of a controversial scientific report outlining what it claims are "healthy diets" from sustainable food systems. The global diet must reduce red meat and sugar consumption by half and increase their intake of vegetables, fruits and pulses, according to the new report by EAT-Lancet Commission, published on Wednesday (16 January).

The panel, the EAT-Lancet Commission, has determined that daily healthy diets should contain at least 35 per cent calories from whole grains and tubers, protein sources mainly from plants but including up to 14 grams meat per day, and 500 grams of vegetables and fruits. The diet recommends no more than 29 grammes of daily poultry - around one and a half chicken nuggets - and 13 grammes of eggs, or just 1.5 a week.

But convincing people to overhaul their diets will be hard, especially in areas where meat, cheese, eggs and other restricted foods are integral to the culture. "This puts both people and the planet at risk", the team said. Globally, more than 820 million people remain undernourished and concurrently, prevalence of diseases associated with high-calorie, unhealthy diets are increasing, with 2.1 billion adults overweight or obese and the global prevalence of diabetes nearly doubling in the past 30 years.

"The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are now getting this seriously wrong", said commission co-author Professor Tim Lang of the City University of London, UK. We need a significant overhaul, changing the global food system on a scale not seen before in ways appropriate to each country's circumstances, " warned University of London's Professor Tim Lang.

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However, experts not involved with the research said there is a major question about the ability of populations to shift to such dietary recommendations and their wider public acceptability. Feeding a growing population of 10 billion people by 2050 with a healthy and sustainable diet requires a transformation of eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste.

Findings from the experts are reported in the latest issue of The Lancet medical journal.

Computer models simulating the effects of the diet showed that it would prevent between 10.9 and 11.6 premature deaths a year.

What are the scientific targets for a healthy diet?

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Thirdly, the report states that the current global food system requires "a new agricultural revolution that is based on sustainable intensification and driven by sustainability and system innovation".

On dairy, the report notes high intake of dairy products, at least three servings per day, has been widely promoted in western counties for bone health and fracture prevention, primarily due to their high calcium content.

"The food group ranges we suggest allow flexibility to accommodate various food types, agricultural systems, cultural traditions, individual dietary preferences - including numerous omnivore, vegetarian and vegan diets", Walter Willet, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University and the panel's co-lead, said in a media release. Current UK Government guidelines suggest we should eat 70g of red meat a day, with average population intake in the UK now below this figure.

"They say they want to save the planet but it is not clear which planet are they on".

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