Diet debate – for personal and planet health

Much less meat, much less dairy – I’m hearing this a bit now. It is supposed to be better for personal health as well as being better for the planet, but it also has serious implications for a country reliant a lot on it’s meat and dairy production.

There has long been debate about diets for personal health, ranging from money-making fads to common sense. There is now growing debate about changing personal diets for the good of the planet.

Newstalk ZB:  New diet hailed as ‘life-saving’ but comes with a catch

That’s a stupid headline.  There have been so many diet variations promoted over the years ‘new diet’ needs to be taken with a grain of wheat. Or rice, as long as it is not processed.

‘Life-saving’ is a meaningless claim – any diet could enhance your chances iof continuing to live, or not. Supposedly life enhancing and life saving diets have been dished up and debunked for decades.

A new diet is being hailed as “life-saving” by experts, but there’s a catch…you can only eat red meat once a week.

There’s another catch – ‘experts’ have a wide variety of opinions on diets.

That’s as much red meat people should eat to do what’s best for their health and the planet, according to a report seeking to overhaul the world’s diet.

The report from a panel of nutrition, agriculture and environmental experts recommends a plant-based diet, based on previously published studies that have linked red meat to increased risk of health problems. It also comes amid recent studies of how eating habits affect the environment. Producing red meat takes up land and feed to raise cattle, which also emit the greenhouse gas methane.

Associate professor at Massey Universty, Carol Wham, told Tim Dower this will be a real reality check for people.

“What it is doing is saying globally this is what we might need to reach by the year 2050.”

“For us in New Zealand, it’s about moderating our meat, it’s about primarily reducing excessive consumption and what it says instead, is that we need to double our consumption of fruit, vegetables [and] things like legumes and nuts which we really eat insufficient amounts of.”

“Our dietary fibre intakes are woefully low so eating a more plant-based diet has huge benefits for us.”

She said it’s all about “moderation over time” and getting creative with how you cook.

Moderation is generally good advice with diets – whatever diet you follow. But you don’t need to be creative – often simple food is as good as anything.

Wham said while New Zealand isn’t the focus of the study, it’s still important we do our bit.

“This is just looking globally at what it has to look like if we are going to have a sustainable system in the future and health of people and the planet.”

“We can’t keep going the way we are, we have got such an epidemic of obesity. In the US for example, they produced twice the amount of food than they need to eat.”

But there are a lot of variabilities with diets with personal preferences, seasonal and in different parts of the world. And diet advice is an evolving thing.

John Ioannidis, chair of disease prevention at Stanford University, said he welcomed the growing attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health.

“The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be,” Ioannidis said.

There is a lot of variable and conflicting evidence. Diet is a very complex thing.

The report was organized by EAT, a Stockholm-based nonprofit seeking to improve the food system, and published Wednesday by the medical journal Lancet. The panel of experts who wrote it says a “Great Food Transformation” is urgently needed by 2050, and that the optimal diet they outline is flexible enough to accommodate food cultures around the world.

Overall, the diet encourages whole grains, beans, fruits and most vegetables, and says to limit added sugars, refined grains such as white rice and starches like potatoes and cassava. It says red meat consumption on average needs to be slashed by half globally, though the necessary changes vary by region and reductions would need to be more dramatic in richer countries like the United States.

And New Zealand.

Convincing people to limit meat, cheese and eggs won’t be easy, however, particularly in places where those foods are a notable part of culture.

Also because diet advice keeps changing. Who to believe?

My diet has changed considerably over the past couple of decades, bot what I eat and the quantity I eat. I already eat considerably less meat than I used to. Will I eat even less? I don’t see a pressing need.

Diets are for other people. Eating a variety of things in moderation just seems like common sense, without getting too swayed by the latest diets and campaigns.


More die of too much food than too little

“More die in the United States of too much food than of too little” 
 John Kenneth Galbraith

The same will apply in New Zealand too. This is one of the ironies of so much attention being given to poverty in New Zealand.

Perversely some claim obesity is partly due to poverty – poor people can’t afford healthy food so they eat cheap fattening food. That doesn’t address an obvious question – why do they eat so much?

New Zealand is fat and getting fatter.

International Business Times: New Zealand May Overtake US And Mexico As ‘Fattest Nation’

New Zealand is on track to become the fattest country in the world.  A bariatric surgeon from Canterbury wrote in The New Zealand Medical Journal that the country was about to overtake the United States and Mexico in terms of obesity rates.

But alternate views are express on in No surgery silver bullet for New Zealand’s obesity epidemic – GP

In the New Zealand Medical Journaltoday, Christchurch bariatric surgeons Steven Kelly and Richard Flint call for more weight-loss surgery, saying New Zealand is on track to be the fattest nation in the world in five years.

They say the surgery – most commonly sleeve gastrectomies or gastric bypasses – will pay for itself within a few years, in terms of savings on treatment for diabetes and other obesity-related health problems.

“Patients can expect an average of 50-70 per cent excess body weight loss that is maintained over several years,” the authors say in an editorial.


Bariatric surgery may not be the solution to New Zealand’s growing obesity problem, warns an Auckland GP who specialises in weight management.

Anne-Thea McGill from Herne Bay Medical Centre says GPs are picking up the pieces when bariatric surgery causes complications or patients regain weight lost after surgery.

Dr McGill says she has seen patients who are still vomiting years after surgery, who may be slim but have nutritional problems or who have a gastric band that has slipped.

Also, she says, there’s a big difference between obesity and metabolic problems such as diabetes and fatty liver, which gastric surgery may not solve.

I know from experience that weight management is a daily challenge but it’s possible for most people.

Dr McGill, who is also a senior lecturer in general practice and primary care at Auckland University, leads a Ministry of Health-contracted programme Supporting Weight Management in Primary Care in the Bay of Plenty.

She believes the answer for most is still weight management through diet and exercise, although she does support some increase in the number of weight-loss surgeries each year.

With good support and information surgery can work well and diabetes can be reversed but patients need to follow sound dietary advice, rather than simply eating smaller portions of bad foods, Dr McGill says.

It’s easy for me to say but I don’t like the idea of my healthy stomach being meddled with surgically.

One of the authors, Richard Flint, told New Zealand Doctor patients are given yearly follow-up appointments for the rest of their lives but inevitably the rate of attendance drops away over the years.

He says there are few complications with the modern weight-loss procedures, unlike the stomach-stapling operations of 20 years ago. After three years of follow-ups, now, very often, there is nothing to follow up.

He would be disappointed if GPs stopped recommending surgery on the basis of one or two cases where complications had arisen.

I’d still be concerned about both short term complications and long term effects (which we simply can’t know about yet).

Eating less and/or exercising more is safer, but unfortunately for an increasing number it’s too hard.

We live in a quick fix society – where people expect others to fix their problems.