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Dietary guidelines should consider the environment, emphasize a plant-based diet, recommended Dr. David Jenkins

Toronto, July 28, 2016

By Kaitlyn Patterson

Dr. David Jenkins
Dr. David Jenkins

Dietary guidelines should address environmental concerns and encourage people to adopt a vegetarian diet, recommended Dr. David Jenkins, director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael’s Hospital, during a recent medical grand rounds.

“Red meat consumption has been linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and diabetes,” said Dr. Jenkins. “However, plant-based diets and plant food components have potentially useful roles in the control of diabetes and heart disease risk factors.”

The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that dietary guidelines should consider environmental factors and also proposed limiting red meat in the American diet. Instead, Congress approved guidelines that Americans should eat more lean meat and rejected the recommendation to address environmental concerns in the guidelines.

The approved guidelines failed to address the adverse consequences of increasing the consumption of meat, said Dr. Jenkins. He also said edible animals such as cattle, pigs and birds can increase the risk of zoonotic infections, which are viruses, bacteria, parasites or fungi spread between animals and humans.

But the impact of people’s diets extends beyond their health. What they eat also affects the environment and contributes to a reduction in resources, said Dr. Jenkins.

“The failure to direct humans toward plant food diets has major health and environmental consequences,” said Dr. Jenkins. “Fourteen per cent of greenhouse gases currently come from cattle, which contributes to global warming. Dr. Boris Worm, a biology professor at Dalhousie University, also estimated that there could be a total collapse of wild fish stocks by 2050 due to overfishing.”

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee ranked both healthy American and Mediterranean diets together with a vegetarian diet as the preferred dietary patterns. All of these diets would reduce overall meat consumption.

Dr. Jenkins said one way to adopt a vegetarian diet is to replace the Atkins diet with an Eco-Atkins diet, by choosing vegetable proteins and oils instead of animal proteins and fats. Another way is to follow the portfolio diet – created by Dr. Jenkins – that includes viscous fibre foods such as oats and barley, vegetable proteins such as soy and legume proteins, plant sterols and nuts.

“We urgently require a comprehensive strategy of dietary change, agricultural diversification, technological innovation and global family planning,” said Dr. Jenkins. “We can start by eating less meat and addressing environmental concerns in dietary guidelines.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.