Doubts about the universal diet EAT Lancet

The EAT-Lancet “universal diet” is not complete

A new study estimates all micronutrient deficiencies of the EAT-Lancet universal diet proposed for human health and the planet.

Doubts about the “universal diet” proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission are not new. Nutritionists, doctors and nutrition experts have expressed concerns about this diet. This model is more sustainable in the intentions of its promoters than is mainly based on the limited intake of highly processed foods and animal-source foods, significantly increasing the intake of plant foods.

According to experts, however, meat and animal-source foods would be too low and insufficient to cover the population’s needs. Especially the need for essential micronutrients, which are in a greater extent and more bioavailable forms in animal-source foods. Now, doubts and criticisms multiply thanks to a new study that evaluates all the nutritional deficiencies of the universal diet, highlighting its too many limits.

According to the researchers, the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet is insufficient in several micronutrients, especially those generally deficient in the most fragile population groups. In particular, the gaps concern the intakes of vitamin B12, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron and zinc. Significant dietary changes are needed to fill the gaps, increasing the percentage of animal-source foods and reducing plant foods with a high phytate content.

Experts recall that excessive consumption of plant foods increases the share of anti-nutritional substances, such as phytates, which abound in plants and hinder the absorption of nutrients. The study shows that to obtain an adequate diet in micronutrients without resorting to supplements or fortified foods, meat and animal source foods should be increased from 14% to 27% of total kcal, and phytate should be reduced from 1985 mg to 1021 mg, to improve the absorption of iron and zinc, and allow a ratio of 3:1 between whole and refined cereals.

As healthy as #vegetables are, if consumed in excess at the expense of #AnimalFoods, they do not ensure adequate intake of key #nutrients. Click To Tweet

This modified diet would therefore increase the daily intake of starchy tubers and vegetables by 161 kcal (according to CREA data, corresponding to about 200 grams more of raw potatoes); fish and crustaceans by 105 kcal (the data is very variable as fish and crustaceans have very different kcals, so according to CREA, it ranges from 45-150 grams more of fishery products); 60 kcal of eggs (46 grams, that is less than a small egg, weighing about 53 grams); 45 kcal of beef (according to CREA data corresponding to about 30-40 grams of raw beef extra per day, that is almost 300 grams more per week); 30 kcal of poultry (about 20-30 grams more of chicken per day, that is about 200 grams more per week); 15 kcal of pork (around 10 grams of pork extra per day, that is 70-100 grams more per week). In addition, the modified and thus improved diet would add an average daily intake of refined cereals of 100 kcal (30 grams more of raw durum wheat semolina); 100 kcal of seeds (missing data in the CREA tables) and 8 kcal of offal (5-7 grams of heart or liver, that is about 50 grams extra of offal per week). At the same time, the daily intake of whole grains would be reduced by 511 kcal (155 grams less of raw whole grain pasta per week); 136 kcal of legumes (42 grams less of raw and dry beans or lentils); 124 kcal of nuts (17-20 grams less of walnuts or pistachios per day); 117 kcal of peanuts (18 grams less of roasted peanuts per day), and 12 kcal of soy foods (here, too, the products in the CREA tables have a very variable kcal content and range from 3 to 37 grams less of soy foods per day).

Thanks to these changes, it is possible to achieve nutrient adequacy without the help of fortified foods or supplements. According to experts, it is much better from a nutritional point of view to fill the gaps in micronutrients through real and simple foods that are intrinsically rich in nutrients. Not relying on fortification and supplementation is preferred because food is not just an aggregate of nutrients. Still, it is a complex matrix of thousands of interacting compounds, some of which are unknown, that affect metabolism and health and therefore can never be replaced artificially.

These results are important because they provide new evidence that, although vegetables are healthy if consumed in excess at the expense of animal-source foods, they do not guarantee an adequate intake of fundamental nutrients. Questions are also raised about how much priority should be given to the environment at the expense of nutrient adequacy and human health. Undoubtedly, we need to produce all animal and plant food in a more sustainable and regenerative way, possibly in harmony with local ecosystems.

The #EATLancet #UniversalDiet is not complete: according to experts, the amount of #meat and #foods of animal origin would be too low. Click To Tweet

The authors suggest that, rather than a “universal” diet, it would be better to recommend appropriate diets at a local level that meet different nutritional needs and local dietary guidelines within different cultural contexts and very different environmental conditions. Healthy and sustainable diets are possible for everyone, but more effort and unity are needed between society, governments and academia. Human health and environmental protection are two of the greatest challenges of our time and are closely linked, but neither should be left behind at the expense of the other.

“The so-called Eat-Lancet “Health” Diet, after many criticisms, has been definitively buried by this work”, comments Giuseppe Pulina,¬†Full Professor of Ethics and¬†Sustainability of Livestock of the University of Sassari and President of Sustainable Meats Association: “Having appeared in the same scientific journal, it reinforces our belief that the errors of science, and the Eat-Lancet diet is a real blunder, can and must be corrected by the scientific community. The advantage of the paper is the clarity in declaring that the so-called “Health” Diet is not healthy as it is nutritionally unbalanced. And to balance it, the scientists used animal source foods, including meat.”

Researchers dispute with scientific evidence the nutritional non-salubrity of the Eat-Lancet diet, Professor Pulina recalls, “and they destroy its universal value by restoring the task of adequately feeding populations to local food cultures, avoiding, whenever possible, supplements and ultra-processed foods, the real perpetrators of obesity and cardiovascular diseases that afflict the poorest. Our Mediterranean diet is the best answer to the wrong diet proposed by Eat-Lancet”.

The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.