The way your dinner plate looks is changing – or at least it ought to be, according to the latest official dietary guidelines published in Britain and the Netherlands. Every year both countries produce a “plate” graphic, divided into segments, illustrating how much of each food group their citizens should be eating to achieve a balanced diet. And this year fruit, veg and sustainability are on top.
While MFMers are already be clued in to the need to eat less meat and more plant-based foods, the British and Dutch governments have finally updated the Eatwell Guide and Wheel of Five respectively to show a greater focus on fruit and vegetables, as well as on starchy, ideally wholegrain carbohydrates.
The 2016 Eatwell Guide (the artist formerly known as the Eatwell Plate) recommends that people: “Eat five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day” – a consistent refrain from health bodies since the five-a-day drive was launched by the government in 2003, a repackaged version of the World Health Organisation’s advice to consume 400 g of fruit and veg a day – but now gives over more plate space to the fruit and veg “segment” than last year.
Recommendations on meat consumption fall into the far smaller “protein” segment, within which are listed: “Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins”. PHE’s decision to highlight the beans and pulses first gives weight to their greener, more sustainable credentials and the fact they are a healthy source of protein, compared with meat, which languishes at the end of the list – last year it was first. And the 2016 Guide also advises: “Eat more beans and pulses … Eat less red and processed meat.”
The Dutch are slightly more open about the sustainable, less-meat message. The Wheel of Five explicitly states that people should eat less meat and more plant-based products, such as beans, pulses, nuts, tofu and tempeh. It also recommends that consumption of dairy products should be kept within a recommended limit to ease pressure put on the environment by dairy and livestock farming.
Both sets of guidelines chime not only with the meat-reducing aim of the Meat Free Monday campaign but also with the seven-word green-eating mantra coined by journalist and food activist Michael Pollan in his 2009 book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
It remains to be seen whether the way food is piled onto plates will change – these are only government recommendations, after all – but it’s an important acknowledgement by the authorities that the way we eat needs to change, for the sake of our health and that of the planet.