Growing concerns for the environment, sustainability issues and the global double burden of malnutrition sees 820 million people going hungry everyday while 2 billion are overweight or obese. But how do we combat this challenge? This January saw the release of the eat-Lancet commission on the sustainable planetary diet, which controversially suggests a massive reduction in meat consumption and instead advises that protein should be acquired through plants and alternative sources.
Is this a sustainable way of eating or an unachievable diet? Are you really getting the nutrition you need? We highlight the important differences between flexitarian and plant-based diets and what you could potentially be missing out on.
This January saw the release of new healthy eating guidelines published in the Lancet. These recommendations have arisen from the global concern over public health, sustainability and the environment. Food production is responsible for 30% of total GHG emissions and 70% of freshwater use, and land conversion is the largest contributor to biodiversity loss. Some foods have a greater environmental footprint than others, however red meat is said to have a relatively high footprint (especially grain-fed animals) making it a great concern for the planetary diet. Along with the perceived negative health issues and the concern surrounding red meat production and the environment, the EAT-Lancet report suggests that we should reduce our meat intake and maybe even try a vegan lifestyle. The diet favours increasing the consumption and variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and small portions of meat and dairy. However, it also addresses the over and under consumption of foods in different areas of the world.
The EAT- diet only provides 2.27mcg of B12 compared to the recommended 2.4mcg. There are insufficient amounts of retinol, vitamin D, sodium, potassium and calcium with the planetary diet only containing 17%, 5%, 22%, 67% and 55% of these nutrients respectively. The main source of vitamin K in this diet comes from broccoli (in the form of K1), however the animal form (K2) is much better absorbed by the body. Similarly to this, the diet only contains 88% of the recommended iron intake. Haem iron, which comes from meat, poultry, seafood and fish is better absorbed by the body and so it is recommended that vegetarians eat 1.8 times more than those who consume meat.
So where does meat now place in the diet? Although the report does acknowledge the nutritional content and the benefits that red meat can bring to the diet, it suggests that the negative nutritional concerns along with the environmental harm to the planet outweigh this. Therefore, it is recommended that we consume less than 98g of red meat (with no lower limit) and 203g of poultry a week. The average consumption of lean red meat is recommended by the NHS as 70g a day, however with the new guidelines published by the Lancet, this number has been reduced more than 80% to just 14g a day – this is equivalent to a quarter of a rasher of bacon or a 16th of a burger. However, meat is central to sustainable farming in the way that it is ‘regenerative’ – it gives back to carbon stores in the soil, keeps water away from pollutants and encourages biodiversity. Another main part of advice from the report is to focus on including more plant-based proteins in the diet. These are included in order to replace the protein and fats from meat, therefore accounting for the reduction in meat consumption. However, unless you eat the correct combination of plant proteins, you could be missing out on essential amino acids that you need in your diet! This isn’t the only nutrient that the recommendations from the report are low on. Although the eat-lancet commission is implemented to help reduce the environmental burden, the report fails to address the difference between livestock that are part of the problem and those that are an essential component of sustainable agricultural systems. This, along with other issues such as bias, a lack of consumer understanding and unachievable diets, raises the concern that is this diet really good for the planet or is it just an attack on the meat industry?
Why Do You Eat Red Meat?
Over the past years, red meat has become of increasing concern to health-focused individuals who, in light of the current reports such as EAT Lancet, are avoiding red meat due to its association with colon cancer. Currently, consumers are choosing to eat meat for pleasure rather than health, even though it is only processed red meat which is categorised as a class 1 carcinogen. This can be seen in the results of the survey where more than 2/3 of the cohort selected they eat meat for ‘taste and enjoyment’ and ‘as a treat’. Surprisingly, it appeared that many people didn’t know or choose to eat meat for its health benefits (e.g. B vitamins, unsaturated fats and iron). However, it is apparent consumers are aware of arguably meats best health benefit – high protein.
No one chose ‘source of unsaturated fat’ for the reason they consume red meat. Fats are classified as either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats increase the amount of LDL in the body and increase the likelihood of fat deposition in the artery walls whereas unsaturated fats help to remove fats from the body, taking them to the liver to be broken down. While red meat does contain both types of fat some can be avoided. The white fat you see marbling through the beef is predominantly unsaturated, and contains beneficial fats such as omega-3 which are linked to improving cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
In total, only 5.6% of the survey said they eat red meat because of its B vitamin and iron profile. In the UK, almost 50% of women of child-bearing have low iron intakes and those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are more susceptible to iron deficiency, especially if they are not careful about their dietary sources. For example, many non-meat eaters include spinach in their diet as their iron source, however, not all may be aware of its bioavailability. This is the ability of the body to readily absorb a nutrient. Although spinach is hailed a ‘good source’ of iron, it does not contain haem iron (which IS bioavailable). This means that although spinach may contain between 2.1 and 2.7mg of iron per 100g, what is actually absorbed is only between 0.042 and 0.054mg per 100g – due to non-haems bioavailability of 2%. Although this may seem like we would need to consume huge amounts of ‘iron-rich’ spinach, in reality, we could just chance our source of iron. Lean red meat is one of the best bioavailable sources of iron, containing 1.4mg of iron per 100g of grilled beef steak, and due to this being haem-iron it is.
Grass-fed is Better!
As well as making better tasting meat, grass-fed has also been hailed as a healthier type of meat. The saying ‘you are what you eat’ not only applies to people, but cows too. Grass fed beef usually contains less total fat than grain fed beef, which means that gram for gram, grass-fed beef can contain fewer calories. Also, the composition of fatty acids is altered: ➢ Grass-fed beef contains less monounsaturated fat than grain-fed beef ➢ Although the omega-6 polyunsaturated fat content is pretty similar, grass-fed beef can contain up to 5 times the amount of omega-3 which is beneficial for numerous aspects of health. ➢ Grass-fed beef contains twice as much conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) as grain-fed beef. The Campaign is to launch with retail partners: The Lamb company (Largest supplier of lamb in North America), New Zealand Spring lamb, First Light (known for wagyu beef – crowned a gold medal winner at the global meat news world steak challenge in London) and the Atkins Ranch.
While the vegan and alternative proteins market is still on the rise, according to Mintel, the red meat category reached sales of $47 billion in 2018, strengthened by consumers love for great tasting meat. New Zealand is focused on supplying high quality, grass-fed and pasture-raised beef and lamb for customers around the world.
Andrew Morrison, Chairman New Zealand Beef and Lamb said, ‘New Zealand sheep and cattle are raised in a farming paradise with rolling green hills surrounded by an expansive ocean and fresh, clean air, and we believe this results in the best grass-fed meat.’
Due to the rise in demand for NZ meat in America, coupled with the expansion of a health driven demographic, California – specifically San Francisco and Los Angeles – is first to be targeted with the push on eating grass-fed.
The campaign will include: online displays, video advertisements, social media, public relations, and a bespoke website with information and recipe inspiration.