What makes a sustainable healthy diet?
This simple question can often incite outright dissent from diet fanatics choosing to passionately wear the badge of their tribe; veganism, paleo, keto, pescatarian, vegetarian, flexitarian... the list goes on and on.
We take no sides when it comes to which flag to fly, however there is one unifying message that we do passionately believe we should all be championing, that rarely makes the headlines. The conversation should not be about which diet to follow, we should instead be all be focussed on one main enemy; processed food.
With around 56% of the calories in UK diets coming from ultra-processed foods, and as a country which needs to cut its industrialised meat consumption, it is easy to assume that going ‘plant-based’ puts you on the road to healthy and environmentally friendly eating. But that is far from the reality – much ‘plant-based’ food, just like many junk foods containing meat, are ultra-processed.
Henry Dimbleby, independent lead on the National Food Strategy, has called for a junk food clampdown as part of a 'radical' overhaul of the food system.
He said that he had been lobbied constantly by vegan groups and corporations processing 'plant-based junk food' while preparing the strategy to try to get him to say that meat was unhealthy. He resisted their efforts because he believed that meat, just like (real plant foods) vegetables, are good for health.
Despite the pressures, in Dimbleby's strategy he rejected the idea of a tax on meat but recommended a levy of £3 per kilogram on sugar and £6 per kilogram on salt sold to food companies and restaurants. He said processed food was the largest concern for the health of country and that the move would encourage companies to reduce salt and sugar, which could in turn reduce obesity by cutting average daily intake by between 15 and 38 calories, helping the average person to lose up to two kilograms a year.
"Given evidence that countries with the highest levels of obesity have fared the worst during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is absolutely right that our National Food Strategy should come up with robust new levers to shift our whole nation towards a healthier and more nutritious food culture. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has now demonstrated how a change in tax system can successfully trigger product reformulation whilst raising much needed revenue for the Exchequer. It's almost five years since that was first announced, so high time we look to go further, and explore where and how further fiscal and tax measures could disincentivise junk food culture, and instead make it more appealing to produce, sell and purchase healthier food and drink." says Barbara Crowther, co-ordinator of the Children's Food Campaign.
"Good, real food must be accessible, affordable and promoted." says Dimbleby.
Recently a British Medical Journal study found that those with a high level of ultra-processed foods in their diets were 62% more likely to be obese or have cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, cancers, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, frailty and even premature mortality.
With 'Big Corporates' playing on the concerns of the public desperate to find the silver bullet that reverses the climate crisis, it's easy to see how our shelves have become swollen with processed foods, and more recently the tactic to use 'plant based' substitutes as a way of connecting with the consumer.
This is why we believe no matter what diet you choose to follow, whether that is; vegan, vegetarian, carnivore or other, we should unit against harmful processed foods made by those who value profits over planet - and our own health.
We're reminded of the sage advice from American author and real food campaigner Michael Pollen that is applicable to us all:
1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients.
3. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot.
So, steer clear of the supermarket’s central aisles and go for the fresh fruit and veg. Choose meat that has not been processed. Fish that is unfussed. And try and included diversity in your diet.