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The shift to plant-based diets: are we missing the point?

Our healthy and sustainable diets team at the WHO NCDs Office has a new paper out!

There is increasing consensus that limiting consumption of meat and dairy products can contribute to lowering the environmental impact of diets. At the same time, the market for ultra-processed plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy (ie. ‘milk’, ‘cheese’ and ‘yoghurt’) is expanding to meet changing consumer demands. This shift far outpaces the revision of dietary guidelines and other nutritional guidance. Here, we identify significant knowledge gaps in the nutritional composition of meat and dairy substitutes as well as the extent to which they comprise modern diets in many countries in the WHO European Region. We also highlight that most dietary models are not based on real-life dietary patterns.

Recommendations

● Carry out studies based on modern, real-world dietary patterns in order to develop a knowledge base on which to build strong, effective policy to guide industry and consumers.

● Improve labelling and restrict marketing of UPF (both plant-based and ASF), in general.

● When recommending a shift towards a plant-based diet, provide consistent, explicit and culturally appropriate information about what kinds of foods can replace meat and dairy. Recommend the consumption of whole foods or minimally processed foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes (e.g. lentils), and healthy oils (e.g. olive oil). Consider collaborating with chefs and other food professionals to develop recipes and tips that are culturally appropriate and easy to prepare.

● Compare meat and dairy substitutes to their animal-source equivalents when conducting analyses of nutritional content.

● Develop reformulation targets that not only cover meat and dairy but also their substitutes.

● Develop and improve databases such as foodDB (Centre on Population Appr, 2020) to ensure that there are clear and transparent mechanisms to monitor the food supply and industry.

Link to the paper in Global Food Security.

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