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Less beef, more beans - experts say world needs a new diet

A hamburger a week, but no more — that's about as much red meat people should eat to do what's best for their health and the planet, according to a report seeking to overhaul the world's diet.

Eggs should be limited to fewer than about four a week, the report says. Dairy foods should be about a serving a day, or less.

The report from a panel of nutrition, agriculture and environmental experts recommends a plant-based diet, based on previously published studies that have linked red meat to increased risk of health problems.

It also comes amid recent studies of how eating habits affect the environment. Producing red meat takes up land and feed to raise cattle, which also emit the greenhouse gas methane.

John Ioannidis, chair of disease prevention at Stanford University, said he welcomed the growing attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report's recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health.

"The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be," Ioannidis said.

The report was organised by EAT, a Stockholm-based nonprofit seeking to improve the food system, and published yesterday by the medical journal Lancet.

The panel of experts who wrote it says a "Great Food Transformation" is urgently needed by 2050, and that the optimal diet they outline is flexible enough to accommodate food cultures around the world.

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Overall, the diet encourages whole grains, beans, fruits and most vegetables, and says to limit added sugars, refined grains such as white rice and starches like potatoes and cassava.

It says red meat consumption on average needs to be slashed by half globally, though the necessary changes vary by region and reductions would need to be more dramatic in richer countries like the United States.

Convincing people to limit meat, cheese and eggs won't be easy, however, particularly in places where those foods are a notable part of culture.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, systems analyst Cleberson Bernardes said as he was leaving a barbecue restaurant that limiting himself to just one serving of red meat a week would be "ridiculous."

In Berlin, Germany, craftsman Erik Langguth said there are better ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and dismissed the suggestion that the world needs to cut back on meat.

"If it hasn't got meat, it's not a proper meal," said Langguth, who is from a region known for its bratwurst sausages.

Before even factoring in the environmental implications, the report sought to sketch out what the healthiest diet for people would look like, said Walter Willett, one of its authors and a nutrition researcher at Harvard University.

While eggs are no longer thought to increase risk of heart disease, Willett said the report recommends limiting them because studies indicate a breakfast of whole grains, nuts and fruit would be healthier.

He said everybody doesn't need to become a vegan, and that many are already limiting how much meat they eat.

"Think of it like lobster — something that I really like, but have a few times a year," Willett said.

grains, beans, fruits and most vegetables.
Source: istock.com