I believe in building bridges and finding common ground rather than building walls between groups. This is true of the multitude of nutritional advice that people read and hear from a variety of sources.
I don’t claim to know the best diet for my genetic makeup, as that’s an area of science just developing. I do know that during the decades I’ve eaten a plant-based diet, my health and energy have been optimal, my carbon footprint has been small, and I’ve harmed few or no animals to supply my calories.
I find it hard, however, to remain silent when one diet plan after another is highlighted by experts and the media with absolutely no mention or disclosure that serious concerns and disclaimers should accompany these recommendations. Here’s my list of the elements of an honest conversation about any dietary plan being promoted but are often omitted.
1. The environment
Diets containing animal products should indicate concerns that the nutritional plan increases greenhouse gases, deforestation, destruction of oceans and increases in environmental toxins and pollution compared with plant-based diets. Currently, each U.S. citizen eats about 260 pounds of meat yearly, the second highest per capita rate in the world, and aUnited Nations report says that the current rate will be unsustainable by 2050, a date rapidly approaching.
2. Animal cruelty
No one likes to watch the videos of the production of eggs, meats and dairy in CAFO and some “free-range” farms, but the fact is that over 90% of the animal products, including milk, in the U.S. comes from these sources. Extreme pain and suffering is involved in their production. A diet that includes animal products but fails to mention that the recommendation is at the cost of torture and cruelty is incomplete in information.
3. Low-carbohydrate diets
No sector of the diet world has been hotter than a variety of recommendations to follow diets low in carbohydrate content, raising by exclusion the percentage of fat and protein. Although weight loss may be achieved with these plans, I rarely see experts mention the long-term harm related to them.
For example, low-carb diets are associated with an increased risk of heart disease such as heart attack and stroke, withincreased overall death rates in general populations, and higher death rates in survivors of a prior heart attack. In my view, a black box warning should accompany all low-carb diets similar to cigarette labeling.
4. Whole grains
I know I’m really swimming upstream in an era where “gluten-free for all” is often heard, but the data says the opposite, and it’s usually ignored. If you want to avoid inflammation as measured by c-reactive protein, while also avoiding diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, whole grains are a proven path to achieve these important end points.
Individuals with celiac disease or proven gluten sensitivity — less than 10% of the population in most estimates — need to avoid whole wheat and other gluten containing foods. For the vast majority of people, the USDA Food Plate, which recommends 25% of the plate to be sourced from whole grains, remains valid.
5. Processed meats
Bacon is a hot item, with T-shirts, bumper stickers and condoms celebrating this marketing victory. A diet that includes meat items but does not disclose that processed red meats have been associated in studies with increased rates of death, cancer and heart disease is not providing complete information. Bacon, hot dogs, sausage and processed hams are the bottom of the food chain in terms of safety and health.
Deciding on a dietary pattern is a complex decision involving issues of health, culture and availability. Recommendations from experts cannot be made in a vacuum and must consider the booming world population growing by nearly 250,000 people daily.
I’d like to see a scoring system for diets that includes analyses of:
- Macro and micronutrients
- Impact on chronic diseases and mortality from peer-reviewed publications
- Environmental considerations
- Animal treatment
We would be wise to eat with a consideration of the health of Mother Earth and future generations at every meal.