Q: Are there new recommendations for a healthy diet? it can be confusing with so many options.
A: This is a question often asked at the beginning of a new year when we tend to evaluate our diet and lifestyle, convinced this is the year we make a change! And yes, there are a lot of options out there. However, I would recommend caution against jumping on the ‘fad diet band-wagon’ or following the latest celebrity selling their wares!
The original dietary food groups were established to ensure that the population ate the foods necessary to provide nutrients that protected against (then) known nutrient deficiencies and provide for growth and development.
Over the years as science has advanced, the groups have been adjusted and choices within each group ‘fine tuned.’
For example from the grains group, choose unrefined products, and likewise when eating meat choose low fat lean cuts.
Actual nutrient needs haven’t changed too much, but we have discovered a few new ones that seem to be important to our health. Phytochemicals and omega 3 fatty acids come to mind.
However, one thing that has changed is the availability of food for some people and the extreme lack of it for others.
Worldwide over 820 million people go hungry every day with 150 million children suffering from malnutrition that affects growth and development. The flip side, over 2 billion adults are overweight and with associated health problems that drain country’s economies.
So with that in mind and the uncertainty that we can actually provide food for everyone on the planet, 37 health experts from 16 countries have put together a report, the ‘EAT-Lancet Commission’ with suggestions on adjustments to our diet to help maintain sustainable food production.
Unfortunately the recommendations regarding the amounts of food to eat on a weekly basis are in grams (metric) confusing to some stateside. For example for fish you get 28 grams a day (one ounce). You might have trouble finding that on your plate! But another way to look at it is two 3 ounce salmon steaks a week, or one 6 ounce salmon a week. Similarly with meat, 14 grams a day of red meat and 29 grams a day of chicken. Sounds pretty mean, but it translates to a 3 ounce and a 4 ounce chicken breast a week. Definitely sounding better!
We may have trouble with the fish recommendation as almost 80 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are now depleted. Of note, you get more chicken a week than red meat as chicken is more sustainable.
The new approach does not eliminate a specific food or food group, but asks that we cut back on foods that take our resources. This may make it an ‘easier sell’ for the general population and lessens the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies and going back to why we had food groups to start with.
The report also found no evidence to support totally eliminating foods for health purposes, important to remember with some of the more restricted diets out there. So, the key message is to cut back on animal products and increase vegetable intake, sounding suspiciously like the message we have been hearing for years from the American Institute of Cancer Research, and incidentally the Mediterranean Diet which has been at the top of the lists of ‘healthy diets’ for some years.
Bottom Line: Try to cut back on intake of red meat and animal products in general, a plant based diet in other words. For 2019 try some meatless meals, increase vegetable and fruit intake, check out bean recipes and go catch a fish if you can!