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  1. Two decades’ proof that plant-based food is best

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    What would it take to convince you that plant-based eating is healthier than eating meat? Two years’ worth of academic investigation? Five? What about 48 studies over the course of twenty years?

    New analysis of two decades of research has underlined something that MFMers have known for far longer, that eating with people and planet in mind benefits the body as well as the environment.

    An “umbrella” study looked back at 48 pieces of research conducted between January 2000 and June last year – from Association between plant-based diets and plasma lipids to Key elements of plant-based diets associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome – and found that in comparison with meat eating, a plant-based diet was far healthier.

    Overall, vegetarian and vegan diets were found to be strongly associated with lower blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index, which means a lower risk of developing gastrointestinal and prostate cancer as well as cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and heart disease, and stroke, diabetes and fatty liver disease. As recently as last month, scientists in California found that a diet high in fruit and vegetables can slow the progression of prostate cancer.

    The new study also found that pregnant women on plant-based diets faced no greater risk of high blood pressure or gestational diabetes – where the level of glucose in the blood is elevated during pregnancy – than those who ate meat.

    In terms of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, the two main leading causes of death and disability worldwide, the researchers said their study shows “how a vegetarian diet can be beneficial to human health and be one of the effective preventive strategies for the two most impactful chronic diseases on human health in the 21st century”.

    The findings are supported by another study from a few years ago that found meat eating contributed to the risk of nine serious illnesses, including heart disease, while even short bursts of plant-based eating has been shown to cut the risk of heart attack and stroke. Meanwhile, a 10-year Oxford University analysis found that Britons aged 40-70 have a 14 per cent lower risk of getting cancer if they are meat free eaters compared with those who ate meat more than five times a week.

    Read the study

  2. Red meat twice a week increases risk of diabetes

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    No longer the ruddy-cheeked bastion of roast beef and steak and ale pie, Britain appears to be going off its meat … which is good news for those concerned about diabetes. A new study has shown that just two servings of red meat a week can increase your risk of developing the disease, while choosing a plant-based alternative can lower it, as previous studies have shown.

    Researchers used the data of almost 217,000 people who had taken part in three health studies in the UK and the US asked them to fill in a questionnaire every two to four years about what they ate, when and how much. Over the course of 36 years, more than 22,000 people developed type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that leads to high amounts of sugar in the blood.

    For those whose appetite for red meat was greatest, the risk of developing diabetes was 62 higher than for those who ate the least amount – and the risk grows with each portion. The researchers calculated that every extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat – beef, lamb or pork – bumped up the chance of developing diabetes by 24 per cent, while extra servings of processed red meat – anything preserved by chemicals, smoking, curing or salting – was linked with a 46 per cent greater risk.

    But swap a Sunday roast for a nut roast, a bacon buttie for a bean burger, and it’s a different story. The study found that replacing red meat with a serving of nuts or legumes was associated with a 30 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

    The research, conducted by the department of nutrition at America’s Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to the growing body of evidence about the link between diabetes and red meat, which is also one of the worst in environmental terms.

    Lead author Xiao Gu, a postdoctoral research fellow, said: “Our findings strongly support dietary guidelines that recommend limiting the consumption of red meat, and this applies to both processed and unprocessed red meat.”

    Read the report

  3. Meat eating in Britain at its lowest point

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    Whether it’s turning away from takeaway curries or saying no to a Sunday roast, people in the UK are now eating less meat than ever before. Thanks to the efforts of campaigns such as Meat Free Monday and a growing body of evidence about the harms posed to people and planet by our appetite for animal products, not to mention the cost of living crisis, it’s fantastic to see greater numbers finding their way to a cheaper, healthier, more environmentally friendly diet.

    In the year to last March, the average Briton ate 854 g of meat a week – about the same as two sausages, three bacon rashers, three lamb chops and a chicken breast – compared with 976 g in the year to March 2021 and 949 g in 2019-2020. When records began in 1974, a year in which the country was still heavily reliant on coal, smoking was still widespread and the three-day week was in force, kitchen tables were groaning under the weight of more than a kilogram (1,023g) per person, on average.

    Compared with that meat-heavy heyday, consumption of red meat – which has since been shown to raise the risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke – has dropped precipitously: beef and veal by 54 per cent, lamb and mutton by 81 per cent and offal by 90 per cent.

    But although the country is moving in the right direction, there is still much further to go to mitigate the harmful effects being done to our planet by the meat and livestock industry.

    The government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends a 35 per cent reduction in meat consumption by 2050, which means the country is still eating too much. Dr Mike Clark, a senior research associate in food at the Oxford Smith school, said meeting that target “requires a doubling in the rate of meat reduction compared with the rate from the last 10 years”.

    The CCC said in a report to parliament in July that the government has “set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet”, and recent attempts to urge ministers to curb the nation’s meat eating – a key plank of our legally binding commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – have been kicked down the road.

    A well-received National Food Strategy, written by the government’s own food tsar, Henry Dimbleby, recommended the authorities reduce consumption of meat and ultra-processed food by 30 per cent over the next decade and increase out intake of fruit and vegetables by 30 per cent, arguing: “Our current appetite for meat is unsustainable.” The version that ended up being published was a disappointment that pledged only to develop and regulate “alternative proteins”. Dimbleby resigned in disgust. In June, the campaign group Feedback won the right for a judicial review of that decision, due any day now, arguing the government had a legal obligation to adopt the measures set out in the strategy to curb meat and dairy.

  4. Denmark leads world with plant-based action plan

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    If the longest journey begins with a single step, we owe Denmark a debt of gratitude for setting its size 10s on the path and beckoning us to follow, by publishing the world’s first national action plan for a plant-based food system.

    First agreed two years ago and sealed with an investment of 1 billion kroner (£116 million), the plan sets out how the government intends to boost plant-based food production and transition away from meat and animal products. As well promoting homegrown and planet-friendly alternatives, it will plough money into research and development and increase plant-based exports. The Danes’ political leaders, already MFMers and vegan-friendly, hope the 40-page document will see them become a beacon for the rest of the planet.

    As part of what US president Franklin D Roosevelt might have dubbed a “Green-Food New Deal”, chefs will be trained to work magic with alternative proteins, beans will bump burgers down the menu in schools and pupils will be taught the benefits of growing and eating more fruit and vegetables. (Not that young Danes appear to need any lessons: this month Copenhagen’s Children and Youth Committee decided to remove red meat, one of the most harmful meats for people and planet, from the menu in the city’s schools and daycare centres.)

    A Fund for Plant-Based Food, focused on research into new organic crops and what they can bring to the table, has been so overwhelmed with applications from startups, universities and other organisations that it could have spent its £7 million budget three times over.

    “Denmark is the first country to develop an action plan specifically for plant-based foods,” said Rune-Christoffer Dragsdahl, secretary-general of the Vegetarian Society of Denmark. “Therefore, the plan itself is internationally groundbreaking.”

    “It is also positive that there is focus on so many aspects – ranging from research, product development, and export of Danish products to the training of kitchen professionals. Both we and many other dedicated forces in the plant-based sector are determined to make the mission succeed, but it also requires further investments throughout the entire value chain.”

    Denmark’s decision to rewire the way the country eats, doubtless to the dismay of the meat industry, was triggered by a 2021 ruling by the country’s Council on Climate Change that it was on course to miss its 2030 goal of cutting emissions by 70 per cent compared with 1990 levels. Jacob Jensen, the minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, called it a “necessary transition” and wrote in the foreword to the action plan: “Plant-based foods are the future.”

    Environmental benefits aside, Denmark can see the business case for vying for the plant-based pound: Europe is the world’s biggest market for plant-based food and its action plan estimates being a global leader could net it £1 billion and create 27,000 jobs.

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