Friends of the Earth: Healthy Planet Eating continued

by L Matthews on October 20, 2010

Continued from a previous post

Friends of the Earth also seemingly bemoan the lack of a term for people who eat ‘less meat’ in their latest report highlighting the need for a reduction in meat consumption for the sake of the evironment. That would be an omnivore guys. They still eat animals. Just as a vegan wouldn’t be a vegan if they just ate a bit of dairy say, three days a week, and a vegetarian wouldn’t be vegetarian if they ate bits of a chicken every Tuesday.

I know it’s a question of vocabulary, but are we really concerned with coming up with a media-friendly term for low level animal consumers? Is that really going to help the environment or will it simply give those continuing to eat meat another level of support and satisfaction for their way of living. Can you imagine, the Guardian columnist smugly telling us that he is no longer an omnivore, he’s a fair-less-meat-eater? Maybe a green-protein-eater? That way you get away with having the dead animals entirely absent as referents in the debate, how handy.

Getting back to the nutrition angle, the report, perhaps controversially, reiterates the World Health Organization’s view that Western populations actually eat considerably more protein than is needed for optimal health (WHO, 2002). The protein myth is perpetuated regularly in the debate on veganism, and yet the response of ‘plant-based protein is more than adequate’ is rarely heard.

The other key point to make in the plant vs animal-based protein is that the animal carcass consumed is rarely replete with anything other than protein; there is no carbohydrate in there, a few vitamins and minerals, no fibre, and the fat that is present (whilst there are some of the ‘good fats’) is often saturated. Just like we have the concept of empty calories, perhaps we should also have the concept of empty protein. Plant-based proteins are generally consumed in the form of, ah, plants, which have a plentiful supply of other nutrients, such as fibre, vitamins, healthy fats, minerals, phytonutrients, and little in the way of saturated fats, or inflammatory compounds.

The Friends of the Earth Healthy Planet Eating report also notes the differences in protein content of an average chicken nowadays with one from the 1970s. London Metropolitan University found that a modern supermarket chicken has 2.7 times as much fat as a 1970’s chicken, and 30% less protein (Wang, 2010). A 2010 chicken carries just 16% protein compared with 25% just a few decades ago. This is most likely due to changes in feeding practices, exercise patterns (i.e. keeping the chickens literally cooped up), and also the selective breeding of chickens that bulk up much quicker (warping their leg bones in the process), for that quick and efficient growth-death cycle. So the calories have increased by 50% and the quality decreased (Wang, 2010).

Perhaps the same is true of plant-based proteins, as the nitrogen in the ground may be reduced compared to the 1970s due to overzealous farming practices, making the amino acid (protein) content potentially compromised. I’d be interested if anyone has found a study on this, as a quick scan of the databased didn’t turn anything up.

Those who continue to eat meat and feel particularly enlightened over their consumption of ‘white’ meat rather than ‘red’ may find this report disappointing in another way. Some of the supposed benefits of white meat (chickens, and maybe fishes?) include a lower level of toxicity from things like heterocyclic amines compared to red meat (cows, pigs, baby sheep).

These heterocyclic amines are compounds that are produced by high temperature cooking of animal flesh (and other proteins in some cases). They act as carcinogens and have actually been found to be more concentrated in grilled chickens than in cow-meat, with subsequent association (a threefold increase) with colon cancer in those who fastidiously avoided red meat but consumed chickens regularly (Sinha, 1995, Singh, 1998, Thomson, 1999). Not so white and virtuous then after all.

Back to the London Metropolitan University study and the levels of essential fatty acids have also changed substantially over the years. Omega 3 (the DHA component specifically) fell by a staggering 85% in the years between 1984 and 2005. The omega 6 (GLA component) actually rose by 260%, further contributing to the over-consumption of this fatty acid in modern diets. As the body can make omega 6 from omega 3 but not the other way around, it is clearly not a good thing to have the balance tipping this way.

Vegan Omega-3 DHA with Lycopene Lycopene 2 OZ

Eat some hemp seeds, flax, goji berries, and even algae if you want your vegan omega 3, the omega 6 will generally take care of itself. High omega 6 levels are associated with increased cardiovascular disease, faulty immune responses and myriad conditions.

What other interesting nutritional info can be gleaned from the Friends of the Earth Healthy Planet Eating report? Well, apparently the UK government can’t add up. The current standard of visual guidance on meal-planning is the EatWell Plate (FSA, 2007), which gives us proportions of meals made up of specific categories:

  • 33% from bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, and other starchy foods
  • 33% from fruit and vegetables
  • 15% from milk and dairy foods
  • 12% from meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  • 8% from foods high in fat and/or sugar.

Now, clearly this is a guideline to help those who have little interest in food, and limited knowledge of how to balance their diets, but did anyone bother adding up those percentages… hmmm.

Maybe they were too busy concentrating on the high fat/sugar foods. I’d love everyone to have the knowledge, and the time to discover that knowledge, to make educated food choices, and appreciate that people have different priorities, and very difficult lives preventing them from making consistently healthy food choices. However, these guidelines have not changed significantly since 1994. That would be when some chickens still had a bit more protein, a bit less fat, and not so many weird antibiotics and hormones in their systems then. Great. Current dietary trends appear to show an increase in meat consumption, particularly in younger age groups, with the latest NDNS (National Dietary and Nutrition Survey) figures for 2008/2009 reporting levels of 17-18% of daily calories coming from meat in those 11-18yrs old (Defra, 2010). So the message clearly isn’t getting through. Let’s all now assume that children only read twitter and facebook and have the attention spans of, well, those who read twitter and facebook, and can you see the likely way this message will be targeted at teens? No assumption of intelligence or the growth of enquiring minds, oh no, it’ll be ‘here’s an interactive game about eating meat’, share it with your friends, everyone with loads of followers on twitter is doing it. Now I sound grumpy and old, and possibly hypocritical (anyone reached this article from twitter? Sorry).

So, to close, for now as there will be more analysis of this report at a later date, let me leave you with another interesting finding exposed by Friends of the Earth; All groups in the EPIC Oxford study (Davey, 2003), including meat-eaters, pescetarians, and vegetarians, had dietary intake levels of iron below recommended values. All groups that is, except vegans. And how is that deficit recommended to be made up? By eating a 4oz serving of spinach, and 8oz serving of beans, or a handful of pumpkin seeds ( Pasty anaemic vegans indeed.

Sunfood Nutrition


World Health Organization, Protein and amino acid requirement in
human nutrition
, (WHO Technical Report Series no. 935), WHO, 2002,
page 230.

Sinha et al, High concentrations of the carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-
6-phenylimidazo-[4,5-b] pyridine (PhIP) occur in chicken but are
dependent on the cooking method
, Cancer Res, 1995, 55: 4516.

Thomson, Heterocyclic amine levels in cooked meat and the
implication for New Zealanders
, Eur J Cancer Prev, 1999, 8: 201.

Singh & Fraser, Dietary risk factors for colon cancer in a low-risk
, Am J Epidemiol, 1998, 148: 761.

Wang et al, Modern organic and broiler chickens sold for human
consumption provide more energy from fat than protein
, Pub Health
Nutri, 2010, 13: 400.

Food Standards Agency, The Eatwell Plate, FSA, 2007. Online.

Food Standards Agency, 2010, op cit.

Defra, Family Food 2008, London Office of National Statistics, 2010.

Davey et al, EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes
in a cohort of 33,883 meat-eaters and 31,546 non meat-eaters in the
, Pub Health Nutri, 2003, 6: 259.

MyPyramid, Appendix B-3. Food Sources of Iron.

Healthy Snacks with NutsOnline!

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Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

fico January 8, 2011 at 14:33

Great article, a wuality discussion of the issues, which is rare to see in the instant world of blogs! Thanks for the analysis, let’s hope some people take this advice on board and more turn vegan for the environment, animals, and themselves!

Gokkasten January 28, 2011 at 07:46

I like your site plain and simple. Keep up the good work and I will keep coming back.

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