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Plant-based diet: why do we need it to survive as a species



The way we eat and produce food has become so devastating to our environment and health that it now threatens the long-term survival of the human species, says an international commission of 37 scientists.

We now have so many interrelated food-related crises – climate change, pollution and waste, not to mention malnutrition and obesity – that it will be impossible to feed the 10 billion people expected by 2050 , unless they make dramatic changes in our diet and farming, the researchers say.

What is needed, according to the reviewed report entitled "Food in the Anthropoche: The EAT-Lancet Commission for Healthy Nutrition from Sustainable Food Systems," is a new philosophy of how to eat on Planet Earth. Although there are enormous variations around the world in what we consume we are all together in this existential crisis.

This leads us to what appears to be the most controversial aspect of this report: its specific eating tips to ensure that everyone's nutritional needs are met without exceeding "planetary boundaries." To survive as a species, everyone says ̵

1; including you! – it is recommended to consume mainly vegetables, cereals, legumes and nuts and limit the consumption of red meat to only one portion per week. The planetary diet of the Commission is provocative


EAT- EAT- Lancet Commission's planetary health plate
recommendation, especially for those of us in countries (such as the US), where many people eat a few meals per day. This would require a radical overhaul of our food culture – prioritizing sustainability and collective survival over hedonism and food tradition.

So it is not shocking that there has been some impetus to the report, not just the usual suspects in the meat industry, who seem to feel more and more threatened by a modest increase in flexibility, veganism and good old-fashioned vegetarianism. Several researchers and doctors have also taken care of some details in eating tips and whether we really know what a healthy diet looks like for all people. Let's understand the details.

Why the Commission EAT-Lancet Insists on a Plant Diet

After three years of review of what they say is "the best available evidence of healthy eating and sustainable food production" The authors of Lancet have devised a set of dietary targeting targets to an average of 2500 calories per day. The funding of the initiative is from Wellcome Trust in the UK and the EAT Foundation, the private foundation of the Norwegian billionaires Gunhild and Petter Stordalen. Goals are ambitious, at least.

Compared to average world consumption patterns, everyone should eat half of red meat and sugar, and twice as much nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

One person means less than half an ounce of red meat a day, or a portion of red meat (a quarter kilogram of hamburger) per week. The targets are just as stringent for other animal products, recommending less than one ounce of white meat (such as chicken), one ounce of fish, one quarter of the egg and 9 ounces of milk a day.


Goals for a planetary, healthy diet, with possible limits, to intake 2500 calories a day.
EAT-Lancet Commission

According to Walter Willet, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University and lead author of the report, is a strong proof of the health benefits of plant diets. "Our findings are based on dozens of randomized controlled dietary studies that show improvements in cardiovascular risk factors with higher intakes of plant protein sources," he wrote in an e-mail

. randomized controlled trials (considered as the "gold standard" for evidence in health studies) of the Mediterranean diet that has shown benefits for the risk of cardiovascular disease or overall mortality. The Mediterranean diet, highlighting the load of olive oil, fish, nuts and fresh produce, is a good example of something that fits well with the nutritional goals of the report, he added. (For a solid critique of the Predimed study, see Julia Belluz's last piece.)

Francesco Branca, head of nutrition at the World Health Organization and co-author of Lancet says the report is also largely in line the WHO recommendations for fat and carbohydrates. He cited a recent systematic review of prospective studies and clinical studies published in Lancet which found that increasing dietary fiber intake and substitution of refined whole grains is expected to be beneficial to human health.

Of course, the planetary diet is not just for human health. As Marco Sprinman, a researcher at the University of Oxford and a member of the commission, showed in a recent paper from Nature animal products generate the bulk of food-related greenhouse gas emissions (72 to 78% of total agricultural emissions ). ). Even the largest livestock companies in the world, through efforts such as the Global Round Table for Sustainable Beef Production, recognize that they need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from the billions of animals they grow to make us sell.

A great deal of the demand for products of animal origin comes from richer countries like the United States – where everyone eats 222 pounds of red meat and poultry, on average in 2018. As reported in the report Lancet we eat much more than our exposure

The report recognizes that livestock farming can be beneficial to ecosystems in some contexts. But "plant foods cause less adverse environmental effects" than animal products for each indicator. "We thought changes in food production practices could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture by 2050 by 10%, while increased dietary consumption could reduce emissions by 80%," he said.

Why do some researchers and doctors repel back

According to Stanford meta-researcher John Ioannides, nutrition science is still not able to prove whether there is a single set of nutritional guidelines as specific as those in the report Lancet for all people to follow.

The problem, he says, is that the nutrition studies provided by the researchers to support this "healthy" diet have been observed, which means they can not tell us if one thing caused another thing to be happened – only two things are connected. "Very often they have never been tested in randomized trials and they continue to promote it as if they were solid knowledge," he told Vox by email.

He explained that the only component of the EAT-Lancet diet, which has been evaluated in large randomized trials, is unsaturated compared to saturated fat: "There is indeed little / modest benefit for cardiovascular events but even this seems to be managed at more than attempts that are not adequately controlled. Sugars and added sugars have been evaluated in small randomized trials with mostly unpredictable results. "

Others also agree with the recommendations of the report – including doctors and nutritionists who advocate low-carbohydrate eating patterns, especially in the epoch. when we drown in sugar and refined carbohydrates.

In today's psychology article, Georgia Ede, a psychiatrist and nutrition consultant, writes that "animal foods are essential to optimum human health," and describes the different ways in which Commission authors EAT-Lancet do not provide enough scientific proof of the nutritional value of the plant diet. "For those of us who have insulin resistance (also known as" pre-diabetes ") whose insulin levels are too high, the Commission's diet with a high carbohydrate content – based on up to 60 percent calories from whole grains, in addition to fruit and starchy vegetables – is potentially dangerous, "Ede Notes.


World Resources Institute

As you will say about all people who are malnourished or do not eat much meat at all? the chart from the World Resources Institute above shows that the consumption of me The report notes that many of the 1 billion people in the world who are malnourished need more animal products in their diet, not less. "In some places, like rural Africa south of Sahara and rural areas in South Asia, people do not get enough animal products to get their cognitive needs, "says Jessica Fanzo, associate professor at Johns Hopkins and co-author of Lancet. The slowing of children's growth, for example, is sometimes associated with low consumption of animal products and other protein-rich foods

Finally, the dietary guidelines the report proposes are designed to be flexible and consistent with different cultures and the availability of foods. But there is a clearer message for richer countries where meat consumption is high: we will have to cut down to 90%.

"In the United States, Australia, Brazil and some European countries where we consume too many products in general, the question is whether we can move on to lower-priced foods such as poultry and legumes? "Fenzo said. "And can we displace this equilibrium, so those who do not get enough to get more animal products to create more balance?"

As to how we get there, the authors of the report admit, "humanity has never been aiming to change the food system so radical in this scale or speed." But they note that several countries – including China , Brazil, Vietnam and Finland – have quickly changed their food systems over the last decades (in some cases drastically increasing meat consumption).) And there may be clues as to how governments can bring it back

. we move the world towards plant diets, we can rely on people, instead we will need a wide range of policies – from limiting certain foods to directing food choices through incentives, which could mean unpopular methods such as taxes, levies and mandates. call for a global treaty to curb the political influence of the food industry, following the model of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Feeding everyone within planetary boundaries will also mean changing agricultural practices and reducing food loss. This is a huge task and obviously not a major priority for most leaders (hm, Donald Trump). And yet it's time to move, time to cross the big ambitious ideas like this in the report Lancet and understand how to feed in a way that will not destroy the planet. Otherwise, we can get ready.


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