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Nutrition experts factor emissions into dietary advice

UK dietitians are to promote plant-based diets in which beans and pulses replace red and processed meat. The move is significant because the advice considers both health and the environment.

In a new policy paper published this week, the British Dietetic Association concluded that: “… a cultural shift towards a more plant based diet is required to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions, improve land and water use and relieve other environmental pressures. A more plant based diet is also recognised as being better for health, as recognised in the most recent iteration of the Eatwell Guide.”

The BDA said that reducing meat intake in favour of alternative plant-based sources remains “the single biggest way to improve diet sustainability”.

However, it didn’t advocate a reduction in dairy products, with producers having made “some progress” in reducing emissions. Consumption is also “broadly in line with that recommended in the Eatwell Guide” and lower fat products have become popular, the association noted.

The experts acknowledged that red meat and dairy produce can be important sources of protein, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, riboflavin and vitamins A, D and B12. It will therefore be “important to provide guidance on alternative dietary sources of these nutrients to prevent nutritional deficiencies resulting from a reduction of red meat and dairy”.

The group also noted that the public and patients could find some of the messages hard to swallow. It warned members that they will “need to consider the cultural and social norms in the UK which might make moving to more sustainable diets challenging”. The cost benefits of plant-based diets could be one way to encourage patients to consume more plants and less meat.

Next year, the BDA will launch a toolkit designed to help dietitians put its new policy into practice.