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Recently a new federal report was issued which outlined the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based or vegan diet and apparently, the meat industry is not too happy about it. The representatives are saying that sustainability shouldn’t be a topic of discussion for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. A representative from the North American Meat Industry actually stated: “The same concern would exist if an expert sustainability committee were making nutrition policy recommendations, it is not appropriate for the person designing a better light bulb to be telling Americans how to make a better sandwich.”

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“Nowadays, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.” – Harvard Medical School (source)

“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, July 2009) (source)

What Does The Actual Report State?

The report says that “The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”

The Committee’s Findings On The Standard American Diet

  • About half of American adults have one or more chronic disease related to poor diet and inactivity.
  • Many of these that are preventable include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
  • Nearly one third of American children are overweight or obese.
  • When focus is on treatment rather than prevention there are increased healthcare costs, and reduced overall health.
  • Chronic diseases are affecting lower income communities

A big part of the problem with the American diet is that people are simply uneducated about health and what it actually means to be healthy. The media portrays a healthy diet as consisting of low or no calorie foods, leading many people to opt for heavily processed foods as a result. Unfortunately, these foods are extremely high in sodium, preservatives, and artificial ingredients, while simultaneously lacking in essential nutrients.

For the first time ever, the committee recognized the importance of environmental sustainability and mentioned it in its recommendations, stating:

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“Quantitative modeling research showed how healthy dietary patterns relate to positive environmental outcomes that improve population food security. Moderate to strong evidence demonstrates that healthy dietary patterns that are higher in plant based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and lower in calories and animal based foods are associated with more favorable environmental outcomes (lower greenhouse gas emissions and more favorable land, water and energy use) than are current US dietary patterns.”

What Does The North American Meat Institute Have To Say?

They believe that the advice is “flawed and nonsensical,” even going so far as to launch a petition on to get people to protest the new dietary guidelines. The petition states, “hot dog, sausage, bacon, salami lovers throughout the land stand together as Americans in favor of a balanced diet that includes meat and poultry of all kinds.” They certainly are trying, but times are changing and people are starting to become much more aware of their diet and lifestyle. It has almost become common knowledge nowadays that many meats, especially processed meat products, are not good for you.

I want to point out that while the meat industry is upset, the report doesn’t say to eliminate meat and animal products completely, just to drastically lower your consumption of them. If everyone were to do this it would make a huge difference on our current environmental footprint.

What Can You Do?

If you are someone who is used to having meat for every single meal, consider the following:

  • Try some meals with no meat. Make an effort to have one meal a day that is free from animal products. You can try smoothies or oatmeal in the morning.
  • Cut down your portion sizes of meat. Make an effort to include a lot more fruits, veggies, and legumes.
  • Try out Meatless Mondays to start and then gradually add more days as you get comfortable with vegetarian cooking.
  • Spread the word and invite your friends over for a meatless meal so they too can discover that a nutritious, plant based meal can also be delicious!

It is up to us to take care of our health and the environment. Finally the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is stressing the importance of a more plant based diet, it’s time we gave it a shot for our health and for the environment’s sake!

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