A hamburger a week, but no more – it's about how much red meat people ought to eat to do the best for their health and the planet, according to a report attempting to review the diet in the world.
Eggs should be limited to less than four times a week, the report says. Dairy products should be about one serving a day, or less.
The report by a group of experts in nutrition, agriculture and the environment recommends a herbal diet based on previously published studies linking red meat to the increased risk of health problems. It also comes from recent studies on how eating habits affect the environment. Red meat takes over the livestock and livestock feed, which also emit greenhouse methane.
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John Ioannidis, president of Stanford University disease prevention, said he welcomed increased attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report's recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainty in nutrition and health.
"Evidence is not as strong as it seems to be," said Ioannidis.
The report was organized by EAT, a Stockholm-based non-profit organization that seeks to improve the diet, and published on Wednesday in the medical journal Lancet. The group of experts who wrote it says there is an urgent need for a "great food transformation" by 2050 and that the optimal diet it outlines is flexible enough to adapt to food crops around the world.
Generally, the diet encourages whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and says it limits the added sugar, refined grains such as white rice and starches such as potatoes and manioc. It is said that on average, red meat consumption should be halved globally, although the necessary changes vary depending on the region, and cuts should be more drastic in richer countries such as the United States.
People's belief in limiting meat, cheese and eggs will not be easy, however, especially in places where these foods are a notable part of culture.
In Brazil, system analyst Cleberson Bernardes said that while leaving a barbecue restaurant that lets eat only a portion of red meat per week, it would be "ridiculous." In Berlin, Germany, craftsman Erik Langguth said there are better ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and rejected the suggestion that the world needs to cut meat.
"If he does not have meat, it's not a good meal," said Langguth, who is from a region known for bratwurst sausages.
Before even influencing the implications for the environment, the report sought to outline what would be the healthiest diet for people, said Walter Willett, one of his authors and nutrition researcher at Harvard University. While eggs are no longer considered to increase the risk of heart disease, Willett said the report recommends limiting them, as studies show that a whole grain breakfast, nuts and fruit would be healthier.
He said there is no need for all to become vegans and that many already limit the amount of meat they consume.
"Think of lobster – something I like very much, but a few times a year," said Willett.
Red meat limiting tips are new and are related to its saturated fat content, which is also found in cheese, milk, nuts and foods packed with coconut oil and palm oil. The report finds that most evidence of diet and health come from Europe and the United States. In Asian countries, a great analysis has found that poultry and red meat (especially pork) have been associated with an improved life. This could be partly because people could consume smaller quantities of meat in these countries, the report says.
Ioannidis de Stanford noted that nutritional research is often based on observational links between diet and health and that some past associations have not been validated. For example, dietary cholesterol is no longer considered to be strongly related to blood cholesterol.
The meat and dairy industry also challenges the report's recommendations, saying their products provide important nutrients and can be part of healthy diets.
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Andrew Mente, a researcher in the field of nutritional epidemiology at McMaster University, urged caution before making large-scale dietary recommendations, which he said could have unintended consequences.
However, the authors of the EAT-Lancet report say the total body of evidence firmly supports reducing red meat for optimal health and moving towards herbal diets. They note that the recommendations are consistent with the US Dietary Guidelines, which prescribe limiting the saturated fat content to 10% of the calories.
While people in some poorer counties can benefit from getting more nutrients from meat and dairy products, the report says they should not follow the path of countries richer in how many of these foods they eat in the coming years.
Although the estimates vary, a United Nations report says livestock accounts for about 15% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions that calm the climate.
Robbie Andrew, principal investigator at CICERO's International Climate Research Center in Norway, said that farming practices that make animals grow faster and higher can help reduce emissions. But he said that cows and other ruminants produce much methane, a strong greenhouse gas.
"It is very difficult to get rid of these natural emissions that are part of their biology," Andrew said.
The ecological benefits of giving up red meat depend on what people eat in their place. Chicken and pork produce much less emissions than beef, said Andrew, adding that plants generally have the smallest traces of carbon.
Brent Loken, author of the EAT-Lancet report, said the report sets the parameters for an optimal diet, but acknowledged the challenge of how to work with policy-makers, food companies and others in adapting and implementing it in different regions.
Candice Choi, The Associated Press
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