By Amy Culliford
It’s been over a decade since the Food and Agriculture Organisation defined the term “sustainable diets”. Since then, many scientific publications and reports by international organisations have stressed the significant environmental and ethical impacts of animal agriculture as well as the negative health impacts of excessive meat and dairy consumption. This includes the ground-breaking Eat-Lancet Commission report, setting out the planetary health diet which has become the “gold standard” in the field of healthy sustainable diets.
Have we agreed what a plant-based diet looks like?
The idea that we need to reduce meat and dairy consumption has been steadily gaining traction internationally. Although it is recognized that one can achieve all the nutrients needed on a diet with no animal foods many are relieved to know that it is not necessary to eliminate all animal-based foods to benefit the health of people and planet. The term plant-based diet encompasses a range of dietary patterns, from vegan diets to flexitarian diets which include modest amounts of animal-based foods.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet but the consistent message is that we need to eat more plants and less animal-sourced foods.
The UK national dietary guidelines, the Eatwell Guide, is one example of a plant-based diet made up mostly of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and starchy carbohydrates with a balance of dairy or plant-based milk alternatives, pulses, beans, meat, eggs and fish. In May 2023, the WWF published their report Eating for Net Zero setting out a healthy, sustainable and socially acceptable diet for the UK population, recommending further reductions in meat and dairy as well as higher standards of farming with less reliance on chemicals and better animal welfare.
Are we nearly there in achieving recommendations?
The short answer is that no, we still have a long way to go. A 2020 study found that those who meet five of the nine Eatwell Guide recommendations have a 30% lower carbon footprint and a 7% lower mortality rate, yet this is only one third of the UK . Reynolds et al modelled affordable, healthy sustainable diets for different income groups. All were able to achieve nutritional recommendations whilst reducing dietary carbon footprint by almost 60%, however this required substantial change from current diets.
The bottom line is that most of us are still eating too much meat and sugary, fatty processed foods but not enough plants. Still, we are seeing a growing interest in plant-based diets in the UK. According to a recent YouGov survey, 25% of the UK population now identify as either vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or flexitarian, up from 23% in 2019. In the 2022 Eating Better survey a quarter of Brits reported eating less meat than the previous year and 61% said they would be willing to eat less meat.
What is the role of plant-based alternatives?
The food industry has responded to this plant-based popularity by developing alternatives to nearly every animal-based food we can imagine. New technologies are making plant-based meat, dairy, seafood and eggs more competitive in taste, texture and price than ever before. The European plant-based alternative market boomed in the last few years reaching a massive €5.8 billion. In the UK, the percentage of people consuming plant-based alternatives almost doubled between 2008 and 2019 (from 6.7% to 13.1% of the population).
On one hand this removes barriers to adopting plant-based eating, such as taste preferences and a lack of time and skills for cooking. But do these foods offer the same nutritional and environmental benefits as more traditional plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses? Or are we just heading in the same direction of cheap, convenient but nutrient-devoid foods, only this time with a plant-based label?
The answer is, it depends! Plant-based alternatives can be a convenient and nutritious switch for anyone wanting to reduce or eliminate animal-based foods from their diet. However, not all products are created equal. Alongside more traditional alternatives to meat and dairy, we are seeing a boom in plant-based convenience foods such as ice-cream, pizza, and ready meals.
Research into the health and environmental impacts of these novel products is limited as most studies have focused on whole plant-based foods for their analysis. With new products constantly emerging into the market, policy makers, manufacturers and consumers alike need to stay on their toes to avoid spiralling in the wrong direction.
Is there space for plant-based “junk foods”?
As researcher Jennie Macdiarmid emphasised, we can’t assume that a plant-based label automatically makes a food good for us and the planet. Many plant-based convenience foods have a better nutrient profile and lower environmental impact compared with the conventional products they replace. However, there are also plenty of products on the market which are even higher in salt, fat or sugar and are lacking in other key nutrients. Either way, a diet packed with heavily processed plant-based foods is certainly not aligned with sustainable healthy dietary guidelines.
Whether there is any place for HFSS foods in a balanced diet, plant-based or not, is an ongoing debate. The current consensus is that they should be considered an occasional treat but not part of the daily diet, hence placing them outside of the main Eatwell plate. There is space for plant-based “junk foods” but we should continue to promote a diet of mostly whole, unprocessed plant-based staples and educate manufacturers and consumers alike on the importance of producing and choosing healthier plant-based alternatives.
Could fortification of plant-based alternatives be the answer?
Whilst we can certainly meet all of our nutritional needs via a well-balanced plant-based diet regular consumption of fortified foods and/or supplements is recommended for those who chose a fully vegetarian or vegan diet. Fortification of plant-based alternatives with key nutrients can facilitate the much-needed transition to more sustainable and nutritionally adequate diets. However, currently there is huge variability in the nutritional profile of these products.
Going forward, we need to see clearer guidance for manufacturers around fortification. Efforts have been made in the US to propose nutrient standards for plant-based milks, to ensure they are similar to dairy milk in terms of energy and protein content as well as levels of calcium, vitamins A, D, B2, and B12. However, further research is needed to clarify the role of these products in the diet and therefore which nutrients should be added, based on the needs of the population.
We also know that it’s important to move away from focusing on the nutrient content of specific foods and instead focus on the nutritional adequacy of the dietary pattern as a whole. As an example, the majority of UK adults consume well above the RNI for protein (0.75kg per kg body weight) and a modelling study of the “Eatwell diet” recommended a 24% decrease in protein intakes. Therefore, adding by protein to plant-based alternatives we may be missing an opportunity to achieve this recommendation.
We also shouldn’t forget that an omnivorous diet is also not necessarily a healthy diet. Deficiencies can and do occur in both plant-based dieters and meat-eaters alike. Overall diet quality and variety is important, no matter which diet we choose.
Can we really get everything we need from plants?
Researchers have proposed a Planetary Health Diet Index, based on the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet recommendations. A higher score on the index was associated with better dietary quality (in terms of nutrient intake) as well as lower carbon footprint. A clinical study of almost 100,000 French adults also found that greater adherence to the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet improved nutrient intakes.
However, there has been a recent criticism of the planetary health diet, suggesting that strict adherence to the diet may lead to deficiencies in iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12, particularly for women of reproductive age. The authors of this critique proposed a modified version of the diet with a higher proportion of animal-based foods (still lower than current consumption) and fewer high-phytate foods such as legumes and wholegrains, due to their potential to affect absorption of these minerals.
Springmann, who was part of the original EAT-Lancet commission, has since rebutted the study, highlighting that the modified diet could lead to an additional 1 million diet-related deaths per year compared with the planetary health diet. He also estimates that, if adopted globally, the diet would result in higher diet-related greenhouse gas emissions and land use than current diets and could double the food budget in low-income countries. The fact remains that global guidelines such as the planetary health diet are a baseline, intended to be adapted to suit national public health needs and local food culture and availability, as with the Danish adapted plant-based diet.
How can we facilitate the shift towards plant-based diets?
The Behavioural Insights Team report, A Menu for Change, offers evidence-based strategies rooted in behavioural science to drive the much-needed shift towards sustainable diets. The report sets out 12 recommendations for government, industry and civil society (including the public) to make sustainable food the easy, appealing, and normal choice. Suggestions include eco-labelling, taxes on high environmental impact foods, increasing availability and promotion of plant-based options in retail and hospitality and marketing them as a delicious, aspirational choice.
One absolutely necessary component of several recommendations is effective communication, which we dived deeper into in our recent scientific publication. As well as clear, consistent guidance on sustainable healthy diets, we need creative engaging campaigns that target and engage different population groups. This must be bolstered by policy to create a supportive food environment and a food system which makes the wellbeing of people, planet and animals a priority, as set out in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy.
Facilitating the shift towards a more sustainable food system needs collaboration across multiple levels Consistent and collective effort is needed to achieve a plant-based way of living.
Guidelines, surveys and key reports
Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity (2010). Food and Agriculture Organisation
Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (2019). EAT-Lancet commission
The Eatwell Guide (2016). Public Health England
Eating for Net Zero (2023). World Wildlife Federation
Dietary choices of Brits (2023). YouGov Survey
Cost and choice are key to sustainable eating finds 2022 public poll from Eating Better (2022). Eating Better
National Food Strategy Independent Review (2021). Dimbleby et al.
A Menu for Change (2020). Behavioural Insights Team
Health Impacts and Environmental Footprints of Diets That Meet the Eatwell Guide Recommendations: Analyses of Multiple UK Studies (2020). Scheelbeek et al. BMJ Open
Healthy and sustainable diets that meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and are affordable for different income groups in the UK (2019). Reynolds et al. Public Health Nutrition
The role of plant-based alternative foods in sustainable and healthy food systems: Consumption trends in the UK (2022). Alae-Carew et al. Science of The Total Environment
The food system and climate change: are plant-based diets becoming unhealthy and less environmentally sustainable? (2021). MacDiarmid. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products (2022). Bryant. Future Foods
The Safe and Effective Use of Plant-Based Diets with Guidelines for Health Professionals (2021). Craig et al. Nutrients
The Potential of Food Fortification as an Enabler of More Environmentally Sustainable, Nutritionally Adequate Diets (2023). Grasso et al. Nutrients
International Analysis of the Nutritional Content and a Review of Health Benefits of Non-Dairy Plant-Based Beverages (2021). Craig & Fresán. Nutrients
Proposed Nutrient Standards for Plant-Based Beverages Intended as Milk Alternatives (2021). Drewnowski et al. Frontiers in Nutrition
Eatwell Guide: modelling the dietary and cost implications of incorporating new sugar and fibre guidelines (2016). Scarborough et al. BMJ Open
Nutrient Intake and Status in Adults Consuming Plant-Based Diets Compared to Meat-Eaters: A Systematic Review (2022). Neufingerl et al. Nutrients
Development and Validation of an Index Based on EAT-Lancet Recommendations: The Planetary Health Diet Index (2021). Cacau et al. Nutrients
Estimated micronutrient shortfalls of the EAT–Lancet planetary health diet (2023). Beal et al. The Lancet
Development of a Danish Adapted Healthy Plant-Based Diet Based on the EAT-Lancet Reference Diet. Lassen et al. Nutrients
Improving Communication of the UK Sustainable Healthy Dietary Guidelines the Eatwell Guide: A Rapid Review (2023). Culliford, Bradbury & Medici. Sustainability
This month, we are pleased to see the publication of a paper that Nutrilicious were commissioned to create. While our nutrition and science team at Nutrilicious strongly believes that we must now update the Eatwell Guide we also believe that more focus must be given to communications of the Eatwell Guide. The new rapid review explores communications around food based dietary guidelines (FBDG), including the Eatwell Guide. The paper has been published in the journal ‘sustainability’ , authored by Amy E Culliford, Jane Bradbury and Elphee B. Medici. As a nutrition and sustainable diets communications consultant at Nutrilicious, Elphee was part of the core research team for this project.
Improving Communication of the UK Sustainable Healthy Dietary Guidelines the Eatwell Guide: A Rapid Review
In the UK, FBDG are reflected by the Eatwell Guide, developed by Public Health England (PHE), last updated in 2016. The Eatwell Guide replaced the Eatwell Plate and continues to define the government’s advice on a healthy balanced diet. The visual guide provides a representation of healthy eating by splitting the food we eat into five food groups and shows how much an individual should eat from each group. The supporting guides that can be found on the government’s website include A colour Eatwell Guide PDF, Government dietary recommendations, The Eatwell Guide Booklet and A quick guide to the government’s healthy eating recommendations
Currently, only 0.1% of the UK population are meeting all nine recommendations provided by the Eatwell Guide. Improving adherence is of upmost importance not only to improving health and reducing rates of non-communicable disease in the UK but also to supporting a reduction in the environmental impact of what we are eating, to help meet the UK’s targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) by 68% by 2023, compared to 1990 levels.
Key themes were pulled out as part of the review as being significant in effective communication of FBDG. The following five recommendations were made, with the aim of helping to improve adherence to the Eatwell Guide:
(1) Review of language and tone of nutrition and sustainability related messages
Short, simple, specific and easy to understand communications should be utilised, using an empathetic and empowering tone. Specific messages relating to sustainable diets should be recommended and incorporated into guidelines offering benefits for the people and the planet.
(2) Targeting of FBDG and communications to specific population segments
Communication needs to be tailored and appeal to different population groups including age, gender, cultural background and motivation style. Further research is warranted to explore factors which influence food choices within specific target population segments.
(3) Addressing barriers to and benefits of adopting the Eatwell Guide recommendations
Barriers need to be addressed to guide in effective communications. Barriers identified included taste preferences, cost, time and habits.
(4) Development of practical tools and resources to support implementation of the guidelines
Compared to other countries’ FBDG communication strategies, the UK is currently lacking in producing supporting resources to assist in the implementation of the Eatwell Guide. For example, portion size guidance for various population groups, healthier and tasty substitutions for unhealthy and/or unsustainable foods would be beneficial and also recipes and practical approaches to meeting FBDG.
(5) Leveraging social media and social marketing techniques to increase public engagement
Social media and the internet are a key target area to communicate to individuals. The digital space should be utilised to form a key part of the Eatwell Guide communication strategy, alongside traditional media.
As can be seen, multiple elements need to be considered when communicating the Eatwell Guide to the public, health professionals and other stakeholders.
The review provides such valuable lessons into the effective use of FBDG, including what has been working well globally. Research findings from this new rapid review can help to drive better and more effective communication strategies in order to promote sustainable healthy eating guidelines. Policy makers, the food industry and health professionals should use this to drive dietary behaviour change. The authors conclude that further research is needed in this area, with a particular focus on ‘research into the motivations, perceived barriers and preferred communication style for target population groups and a more detailed analysis of social marketing and industry strategies which could be adapted to promote sustainable healthy diets.’
“Healthy eating guidance including the Eatwell Guide need to be brought to life through a strategic and creative marketing strategy designed to resonate with different population groups and on a level similar to how food marketing is successfully done. Government needs to go beyond current guidelines and campaigns and embed this into an always-on public health strategy to make this happen. Those involved in such a strategy would benefit from the learnings in this paper” – Tanya Haffner, Registered Dietitian, CEO Nutrilicious
Are you working on a nutrition and health strategy for change? Trying to convince your colleagues or board that your wellbeing approach is right? Developing a new food product and want to know how it will be received from a nutrition, health or sustainability point of view?
Over many years of working with people in the same situation, we know that you’re most likely to succeed if your process includes consulting those who will ultimately be influencing your target consumers – their key influencers including health leaders, NGOs, lobbying groups and health media.
Why carry out qualitative research with influencers?
Too often we’ve seen organisations launch a new initiative without consulting this important audience first – making it far more likely that the initiative won’t be the success it could be.
Do you know who is currently influencing your key target audiences on health and/or sustainability? Do you know what they are saying and might say about you and your initiatives?
These influencers will have a deep understanding of this changing landscape, the sector and the way population groups think and act as well as what they themselves want and may be telling them about your initiative. That’s what makes their insights so valuable – whether you’re using it as proof of an approach and a way to secure funding, or to help shape your thinking.
How to go about getting relevant insights
In 2019, we enjoyed many in-depth, eye-opening conversations with key health and nutrition influencers, carrying out qualitative research for clients. We listened, we learned and we helped companies inform their strategy, sell their vision to their colleagues and boards and develop new products.
The interviewing was vital, and it’s not always easy to get right. Here are our Nutrilicious top things to think about when embarking on your insights-gathering mission:
1. Choose your targets wisely. Work out the ideal criteria for mapping who you want to speak to and why. Always include disrupters and future thinkers if you have a longer term goal.
2. Your interviewee is likely to have a busy day job. Allow sufficient time for chasing appointments and contingency for cancellations.
3. Interviews don’t have to take place in a private space, but make sure it won’t be too loud.
4. Conduct the interview in pairs, to help capture everything but not overwhelm the interviewee.
5. You’re there to listen, not inform. You may be an expert in the field but you need to adopt a beginner’s mindset.
6. Try to extract facts, not opinion, and delve deep. The golden question is ‘why?’. Ask it again and again.
7. If you’re not a qualified practised insights interviewer, it’s important to work with a qualitative researcher or research team to help you. That’s why we partner with See Research. With stakeholder qualitative research we find that a combo team of a nutrition/dietetic expert lead and qualitative researcher is ideal.
8. Always ask permission before recording and don’t video the whole interview, just a summary at the end. You don’t need fancy equipment – a phone on a tripod should be enough, just check that you’re actually recording and your mobile is switched off!
9. If you can’t get a face-to-face meeting, video chat works too, using Zoom, Skype or an equivalent.
10. The interview should just be the beginning of the relationship. Use it as a way to build an understanding of what they care about, which opens doors for future conversations, for you helping them and indeed for them helping you at the communication phase.
11. What will you do with your results? Forget the insights report: it won’t be read widely. Better to paint a picture with infographics and edit your summary videos down to a single short film highlighting the key themes you’ve discovered.
We’re here to help
Hopefully, these points are useful. But if you need more support, we’re here to help – from helping identify your golden targets to delivering the learnings to support your objectives. Just get in contact, we’d love to hear from you.
What’s going to have the most impact on reducing sugar consumption in the UK – educating consumers and encouraging them to change their habits, or changing the environment, reformulation and marketing? Is responsibility ultimately on the individual or industry?
That’s one of the key questions that came out of a panel discussion I was part of at an Action on Sugar event held at Parliament for Sugar Awareness Week.
Campaigners, government officials, health experts and industry experts came together for a networking opportunity all wanting to make a difference, before sitting down to hear from our host Andrew Selous MP, who’s served on the Health Select Committee; Katherine Severi, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies; Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar; and me, asked to speak about how sugar reduction can improve the health of the most vulnerable and what’s our view on industry’s role.
The theme of this year’s Sugar Awareness Week is ‘What’s in your drink’. Action on Sugar have done an excellent job at highlighting a loophole in regulations whereby alcoholic drinks are not obliged to label any nutritional information about their products – even though the calorific and sugar levels are often alarming.
There was universal agreement in the room that something must be done – and everyone can play their part by emailing their local MP to demand change. You can find lots more information on the Action on Sugar website, and I highly recommend you do so.
What, though, will be the ultimate impact of labelling? As Professor MacGregor said yesterday, although labelling and education are a vital step, it’s the environment, formulation of products and marketing that will truly have an impact.
As a nation we are consuming too much sugar on average, which can often mean too many calories, leading to weight gain and obesity. Children, our most vulnerable group, are consuming more than double their maximum recommended allowance of sugar.
In England, around 1 in 4 children have tooth decay and 1 in 3 are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
What’s more, as a 4-5 year old, you’re three times more likely to be overweight or obese if you’re in the most deprived socio-economic group compared to the least deprived: 27.2% vs 17.3%. The results are even worse for 10-11 year olds.
Andrew Selous shared what he discovered on a learning visit to Amsterdam, where the mayor was inspired to do more to reduce child obesity after seeing a girl in a playground who was too overweight to do a forward roll. As the mayor pointed out, if one third of children were suffering from tuberculosis, there would be no avoiding the issue. Action would be taken. The army would be out on the streets helping.
Yet the with obesity comes the complex problem of stigma, shaming and how best to deal with the issue in a ‘publicly correct’ way that’s not going to impact mental health.
What is the role of the wide food industry, retail and out-of-home sectors?
Of course, consumers should make their own choices – and of course we want to encourage them to make good, informed choices benefiting their health and the planet where support for this must continue.
But numerous reports, behavioural change groups and experts globally all concur that if we leave things to individual choice alone, we will not achieve the behavioural change we need to see. We live in environments that are swamped with foods that are high in calories, fat, salt and sugar which are also low in protective nutrients and are heavily promoted to us. Industry has a crucial role to play in providing and marketing healthier choices. Industry can no longer blame poor eating habits on the consumer and their personal choice. It’s especially important for the vulnerable groups, who need the most help.
Examples of positive action for change
An inspiring example from Amsterdam was a supermarket who decided that they didn’t want their consumers to eat unhealthy foods. They changed their environment, made healthier food more accessible, reduced the amount of unhealthy products and made sure the labelling was clear. They had a profit to make but – led by the top – decided that the health of the public was their responsibility too.
Katherine Severi pointed to the action in Scotland to price alcoholic beverages based on the number of units they contained. A 3-litre bottle of cider that previously cost £3.50 went up to over £11 when the law was introduced in May 2018, making it far less accessible to the most deprived.
While it’s too early for full data analysis of the impact, early signs are extremely positive on the positive impact the pricing can have.
What are our recommendations to industry?
1. Stick with the sugar reduction despite the challenges (and ultimately you may have no choice). It makes sense and it’s vitally important to continue to see small subtle incremental reductions in sugar and calories. Reformulation takes time but it IS achievable – we have a precedent with salt reductions.
2. Have a nutrition and health strategy with teeth. It must be:
- Led from the top
- Consistent and joined up across departments and suppliers
- Aligned to both health and sustainability
- Communicated and understood right across the business – from CEO to porter
Marketing and external communications should focus on healthier choices, and for optimum impact should incorporate smart partnerships.
We can’t ignore that change has its challenges:
- Industry has to make money. We can’t impact on jobs in these vulnerable times
- There will be growing pains and these need to be listened to, carefully considered and supported
- Change takes time, goodwill and, crucially, support from the top
But there is reason to believe that now, perhaps, there are colliding drivers to move us in the right direction:
- The health of the nation and its impact on socio-economics is stark
- More and more consumer groups are demanding action, for both health and environmental issues
- The financial necessity to change is on the horizon. The likes of Share Action, amongst others, are telling investors that if business don’t change, they will be at risk.
Getting the government to take action
The government said they wanted to half childhood obesity by 2030. That is not going to happen with their current plan.
If our new Government doesn’t have the foresight to act and create the level playing field that industry says it needs, industry needs to get together and lobby for it to be implemented over a reasonable period of time, which at the very least:
- Ensures only healthy products (not high in fat, salt and sugar) to be marketed, promoted and advertised
- Makes uniform colour-coded labelling on front of pack mandatory on all products sold in retail and out-of-home
At the moment, despite all the health and economic imperatives, obesity simply isn’t the top of the agenda.
As each member of yesterday’s panel said, for the sake of our nation’s health and the planet, it’s going to take us all coming together to create a powerful voice and movement for change.
The Game Changers is causing a stir. The documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos and James Cameron investigates plant-based eating, and features the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton and Novak Djokovic.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s streaming on Netflix now and is essential viewing. Meat and dairy are painted as deadly, with vegan diets the only solution for optimal physical and environmental health. It presents the latest nutrition, health and environmental science in an enticing and motivational way – be it in an all or nothing manner.
So does the film put the final nail in the coffin for the meat and dairy industry?
Even if you are a sceptic about vegan diets and their nutritional quality, The Game Changers cannot be criticised for the scientific credibility of the health benefits of plant-based eating presented.
Some key myths debunked by The Game Changers:
- The label ‘complete protein’ attributed to meat is dated…why do both consumers and many health professionals hold onto this belief? The truth is:
- All plants contain all essential amino acids, be it some at lower levels than meat protein.
- Food combining at mealtimes is not needed. Protein balance is achieved over the course of the day and not dependent on the protein consumed in one sitting.
- As long as individuals meet their energy requirements, a diet based purely on plant foods will achieve protein balance.
- Vegans, like omnivores, exceed their protein requirements.
The Game Changers illustrates this point brilliantly by using elite power and endurance athletes following a vegan diet, whose performance has clearly not been compromised.
- The film demasculinises meat by showing high-profile elite male strength and endurance athletes excelling on a plant-based diet.
- Iron and vitamin B12 deficiency is not a consequence of meat and dairy avoidance but a result of our current poor quality dietary and farming practices.
- Epidemiological studies have consistently demonstrated better health outcomes in individuals following more plant-based diets: heart health, cancer, diabetes, body weight.
- Soya does not feminise men, nor does it reduce testosterone levels. This has been a long-held misconception based on theoretical risk and animal studies using pure isoflavones or exceptionally high loads of soya feed. All human studies using soya foods and drinks have consistently demonstrated no risk to human health and in many cases improved health outcomes.
- And of course, sustainability. The leading scientists from the EAT forum, including Dr Rockstrom, Dr Tim Lang and Prof Walter Willet discuss the overwhelming evidence that animal farming is the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, water and soil pollution, carbon emissions and the biggest user of fresh water and land.
This is not new scientific thinking. The key facts from The Game Changers have been repeatedly demonstrated by the scientific literature from randomised controlled or epidemiological studies, meta-analyses and systematic reviews. At Nutrilicious, we’ve been championing sustainable plant-based eating amongst health professionals, organisations and brands as a core mission since our foundation.
We’re thrilled to see this reach the mass consumer. The Game Changers have presented the science in such a refreshing, convincing and inspirational way which will have significant influence on consumer perceptions and acceptance of plant-based eating – something the scientific community has been struggling to achieve despite the plethora of scientific research published.each the mass consumer.
What about the criticisms that have ensued since its release?
There will always be criticism when a seemingly radical change to day-to-day food systems is proposed, especially when one of the biggest food industries is the target – meat and dairy. Most of the critics of The Game Changers have unfortunately fallen in the common trap of using dated and poorly designed scientific studies for their counterarguments.
Some have commented that The Game Changers only reports on elite athletes and the benefits of plant-based diets cannot be extrapolated to every-day consumers.
The film’s key aim is to remove the long-held belief that removing meat and dairy from the diet will compromise protein quality and quantity, and be unable to meet other essential nutritional needs. If elite athletes’ performance can excel by switching to a vegan diet for many years, we have proof that the nutritional quality of the diet is not compromised – even in individuals with exceptionally high-quality nutritional demands.
What about other athletic performance factors such as sleep, recovery, training programme etc., not discussed by the documentary?
Firstly, The Game Changers does not set out to claim that if all consumers followed a vegan diet they can become elite athletes. Secondly, the athletes in the documentary have always followed a highly-regimented training programme and have only altered one factor – their diet, with a switch to veganism. This is an excellent group of individuals to demonstrate how changing one factor in their regimented programme does not compromise performance.
However, what The Game Changers does fail to do is bring a practical, balanced approach to how the public can change their dietary habits.
- As Arnold Schwarzenegger comments near the end of the documentary (we too are shocked that we are quoting Arnie!), telling individuals that they have to stop eating meat isn’t going to bring about change. We need to bring the public on board, gradually advising on small realistic achievable goals.
- The film lacks any practical advice on how someone can progress to a more plant-based diet in a balanced and healthy way. Advising consumers to drop key food groups is not the solution. The public needs to be guided on which foods to consume and in the right quantities.
We need to bring to life what the scientific evidence demonstrates to be a healthy ‘plant-based’ diet i.e. more fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses, seeds and nuts. The foods and meals served on the documentary are, in the main, highly-processed plant imitations of meat and dairy, and salads were drenched in high calorie ‘vegan’ dressings. This has to be a big watch out for retailers and food manufacturers developing and launching new plant-based foods.
Additionally, portions sizes are extremely ‘American’ (aka large), which will do little to thwart our obesity epidemic. While that may be fine for elite athletes who burn it off, it’s not so good for the average person.
- It neglects to acknowledge that most national dietary guidelines globally do focus on a more plant-based healthy and environmentally sustainable diet.
- ‘Vegan’ in itself is not the answer – someone consuming processed carbohydrates, fried and highly processed vegan foods, vegan chocolates and biscuits will do little to improve physical or environmental health.
- Finally, The Game Changers doesn’t tackle behaviour change and the importance of changing the food environment consumers live in. As the latest evidence clearly demonstrates, individual responsibility will have little, if any, impact on public health outcomes. A significantly bigger role needs to be played by all food providers.
Would we have done it differently?
In the main, this is an exceptional documentary presenting the latest scientific thinking and debunking the myths associated with plant-based diets in such a consumer inspiring and appealing way.
We need to shift consumers to a more plant-based dietary pattern – though not necessarily vegan, which is neither realistic or practical for the masses. Removing misconceptions and popularising a diet predominantly based on plant foods with just a garnish of meat and dairy is a win-win for both human and environmental health.
Our Nutrilicious tweaks would be:
- Provide more practical, how-to solutions focusing on which foods you can have, rather than which foods to avoid. Step-by-step guide to gradually including more plant foods whilst reducing animal foods.
- Rather than meat and dairy imitations, bring the focus on the versatility of natural plants such as beans, pulses, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and fruit and vegetables.
- Focus more on the food providers and marketeers and the drastic changes they need to make.
- As always in winning comms…lead with the creative ‘inspirational’ yet credible marketing spin!
Check out our related webinars:
NutriWebinar: Plant Food Source of Protein
NutriWebinar: Sustainable Diets 1 – BDA One Blue Dot
NutriWebinar: Sustainable Diets 2 – EAT Lancet
The facts and figures around heart health and cholesterol are stark. Coronary heart disease (CHD) remains one of the major killers in the UK and Ireland, with 64,000 UK adults and 4,140 Irish adults dying of CHD every year.
The incidence of CHD saw an impressive decrease in the past decade thanks to better medical intervention and reduction in smoking. However, that has plateaued and incidences are beginning to rise again due to increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, compounded by the fact that we are living longer.
What can we do about it? Actually, a lot. Around 93 per cent of deaths from CHD have been attributed to risk factors that can be modified – dietary habits and lifestyle. High cholesterol levels are one of the major risk factors to CHD.
This October, HEART UK’s National Cholesterol Month, sees the launch of the updated Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan (UCLP©). It’s a science-based approach to encouraging diet change to include foods proven to improve heart health – and particularly lower cholesterol levels.
Originally developed in 2011 by HEART UK with the science and nutrition team at Alpro, the step-by-step plan is based on both heart health science and behavioural strategies. It can be tailored to meet any individuals’ motivation level and preferences – users are encouraged to build the plan that suits them best, so that change is realistic and easy to maintain. They’re encouraged to incorporate more changes only as and when they feel ready to do so.
It’s made up of three steps:
1. Improving motivation and tackling barriers to change.
2. Establishing a heart healthy foundation diet.
3. Incorporating four UCLP©-specific foods to the foundation diet, proven to impact on cholesterol levels:
– Soya foods
– Oats and barley
– Foods and drinks fortified with plant stanols or sterols
– A daily handful of any unsalted, unsweetened nuts
A new scientific review for healthcare professionals shows how the latest evidence supports the UCLP© guidelines, including the benefits to heart health of:
– Reducing saturated fat and partly replacing it with heart healthy unsaturated fats: for example, replacing high saturated fat meat with plant proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts and soya; or switching from full cream dairy products to lower fat versions or plant-based drinks and yoghurt alternatives.
– Increasing oil rich fish
– Encouraging higher fruit, vegetable and wholegrain intake
The review should give confidence to the healthcare professionals that advising their patients to follow the UCLP© will have positive outcomes; equally the patients will know it’s trusted by experts. On Wednesday 30 November a special UCLP© NutriWebinar will explore the science in detail and help health professionals understand how to apply the plan. It’s free and CPD-accredited; we hope you’ll join us for it. Sign up for the UCLP© NutriWebinar