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Irish diets too full of red meat, says charity

Colin Gannon

Irish people living the UK should consider cutting the amount of red meat they eat to improve their health, a leading charity has said.

Last week, a study showed that pivoting to a plant-based diet and cutting the amount of red meat one eats by almost 90 per cent will help tackle climate change.

An international team of experts has put lower meat consumption at the heart of a “planetary health diet” to stave off catastrophic damage to the environment.

People should think of meat as a treat and have “a burger once a week or a steak once a month”, scientists say.

Under the guidelines set out in the report, a person should eat only 7g or 15 calories worth of beef or lamb a day. For Irish people, that would require an 89 per cent reduction.

Marie Dillon, Irish In Britain’s Health Officer, welcomed the recent study but warned that the advice is not a “one-size-fits-all solution” and that “sensitivity around cultural and demographic considerations” is necessary going forward.

“The extent of the recommendations are in dramatic contrast to our typical Western diet. But with the 820 million people still lacking enough food, and many more consuming poor-quality diets, I welcome a stark call-to-action, based on evidence, for a multi-departmental parliamentary response,” Ms Dillon said.

“The report’s stance on food, in particular the recommendations around increased consumption of plant-based protein over animal-based sources, isn’t a new concept in health. Heart disease is prevalent in the Irish population and we know that our diet, particularly excess consumption of red meat and animal fats, can play a significant role in its development.”

Dr Aisling Hillary volunteers for Irish in Britain’s Green Hearts campaign

The recommendations allow for 50g or 39 calories of potatoes per day, which is about a quarter of a medium-sized potato. Dairy consumption would be confined to 250g or 153 calories a day. The allowance for fish, 28g, is about half a fish finger.

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The calories, the study states, should be replaced by doubling consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

The Eat-Lancet commission of 37 experts from 16 countries concluded that the global food system needed urgent transformation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use while feeding a population of ten billion by 2050.

Global adoption of their recommendations would prevent about 11 million early deaths a year by improving personal and planetary health, scientists said in the report/

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, said.

Food production is among the largest drivers of global environmental change, the report stated, adding that food waste must at least be halved and prices would need to rise to reflect production and environmental costs.

Researchers stressed that healthy foods should be affordable. They also called for policies to encourage healthy and sustainable diets, including advertising curbs, education campaigns and taxes on red meat.

“Many of Irish in Britain’s member organisations provide meals to the most vulnerable members of the Irish community. The challenge facing the third sector is resourcing health initiatives,” Ms Dillon added.

“Often, small charities deliver vital services that have an impact on the health of its users, but they’re already stretched to their limit and keeping their head above water is the priority. It’s critical that policy and commissioning bodies suitably support and incentivise health and sustainability initiatives within third sector organisations.”

The report is expected to draw criticism from those within the Irish dairy and agricultural sector. Ireland exported more than €4 billion worth of dairy products in 2017 and €3.9 billion worth of meat and livestock.

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