More Diet Opinion

In a piece at Bloomberg Faye Flam covers a lot of the same territory I did yesterday:

A team of 37 scientists has designed a diet for the long-term future, and the good news is that it doesn’t require anyone to eat insects or soylent green. There’s nothing dystopian about it, but some nutrition experts are still turning up their noses at the plan, which was designed to minimize environmental degradation while still feeding the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050.

The main complaint: The EAT diet, published in the Lancet last month, is padded with lots of corn and soy, and would ask Americans to make a drastic cut in our average consumption of meat, dairy and eggs. There’s a bitter aftertaste of the 20th-century government-recommended diets high in carbohydrates and low in fat, which are now considered a factor in skyrocketing obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Critics quickly blasted the Lancet authors’ claims that meat is harmful to our health, or that vegan diets are better for the human body. They point out that scientific studies to date give mixed results, and are based on hard-to-interpret evidence rather than controlled experiments

She takes note of the historical record:

Historically, advances in food quantity went along with degradation of quality. By studying ancient skeletons, archaeologists have found that as grain farming expanded, people deteriorated — their skeletons became shorter, with more signs of disease, and their teeth went from healthy to rotten. Nobility remained tall and healthy — eating more varied diets, including meat. It was the peasants who suffered.

Scientists eventually figured out that it takes more than just adequate calories to feed humans. We evolved to need the right combination of amino acids and particular forms of fat, as well as vitamins and minerals. Science has made great strides in preventing vitamin deficiencies, but we still don’t know what’s optimal — just what’s good enough.

and finally arrives where I began:

It might look arrogant for anyone to claim to have designed a perfect diet. What’s perfect for weight-conscious Americans may not coincide with what’s necessary to ensure proper brain development of every child in Africa. It’s also smart to be looking ahead to our more crowded future — so we can keep eating food and never have to resort to dystopian mystery substances.

There are other issues. A significant amount of the data on which they rely has been derived from Chinese studies which have come into question and, even if true, may be more relevant for Chinese people than for Norwegians. And concurrent with the environmental warnings are other warnings that the population of humans is likely to peak around 2050. China’s population may already have peaked.

A more benign future may be realized by educating women, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. Those are the places where fertility rates are still sky-high and the available evidence suggests that fertility rates decline as women become better-educated. Rather than preparing for a Stand on Zanzibar or Soylent Green future we might want to start thinking about the implications of a stable or even declining human population.

7 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    It’s taken me a long time to ignore all the “expert” diet advice. Quackery. Now I just use a rule of thumb – I try to eat a wide variety of minimally-processed foods and I try not to overindulge. I’m a lot happier and am probably healthier as well.

  • PD Shaw Link

    “. . . as grain farming expanded, people deteriorated”

    Is this the part derived from Chinese studies? The agricultural package that was brought into Europe for example included cheese and yogurt, though I don’t believe they could drink milk yet, it must have been a stepping stone to lactose tolerance. Milk is an efficient source of protein and one of the best predictors of height difference btw/ ethnic groups. (Though I think Northern Europeans are taller because they also have steppe ancestry, presumbably groups that consumed milk longer than early European farmers)

  • Gray Shambler Link

    A more stable population will be an older one. I’m sure it’s not news here but I’ve found as I age I need MUCH less food than as a teen.
    I’m also open to meat substitutes, like soy protein, but they are not there yet, doesn’t mean they won’t get it right. Indoor, industrial farming, year-round, 24 hour artificial sunlight. Sort of hi-tech greenhouses. We may yet get to the point where we can co-exist with nature and not just gobble it up.

  • Guarneri Link

    Two thirds of your plate should consist of plants. Your sugar intake should be dominated by complex carbs. Eg fruit. Add just enough lean protein (4-6 oz) and healthy fats and you are done.

    No potato’s, chips, fried foods, salami, sugared colas (very sparingly, after all God himself invented cream soda) ……easy on the salt etc. Portion control. Splurges are OK as long as they are just that – splurges. it’s common sense really.

    Thank god I like broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, beets, onions, scallions, Brussels sprouts, spinach, dandelion, grapefruit, apples, blueberries, celery, tuna, grouper, snapper, radishes….. I eat radish chips like candy. And if you live in N Carolina, you learn to eat cole slaw (read: cabbage) and more slaw, and more slaw. Skip the biscuits. They are everywhere. And eggplant was the idea of the devil himself……… and who is the criminal who invented cucumber?

  • who is the criminal who invented cucumber?

    One of my favorite quotes is about cucumber. When asked how cucumber should be prepared, Samuel Johnson responded that it should be thickly sliced, well-dressed with vinegar, salt, and pepper, and then thrown out as good for nothing.

  • steve Link

    I still think that nearly all diet studies should be considered as suspect. Have yet to see much that has changed my mind. Agree that minimizing processed foods is a great first step.


  • Guarneri Link

    Mr Johnson was a gentleman and a scholar.

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