Vegan advocate praises dietary recommendations report

Advocates of a vegan diet are praising the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report for pointing to vegetarianism as a way to prevent obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. 

“The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet,” the report said.

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will use the recommendations of the report, released Thursday, to update the new dietary guidelines.  

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The report goes on to name a vegetarian, a Mediterranean and a U.S.-style diet — one that is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol intake; and lower in red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods, drinks and refined grains — as three diets that garner the best health affects and have the lowest impact on the environment.

“Previous advisory panels have noted the value of vegetarian diets, but these recommendations have been expanded to specifically demonstrate how a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of many types of chronic disease,” the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said in a news release.

“The current language recommending vegetarian dietary patterns is the strongest to date.”

But the nonprofit organization, a vegan advocate, said the report failed to warn consumers about the dangers of cholesterol and lean meat.

Unlike past reports, the independent committee this year said cholesterol is no longer listed as a nutrient of concern for over consumption.

“Telling Americans that ‘cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption,’ could encourage consumption of meat, dairy products, and eggs — foods high in dietary cholesterol — which have other serious health risks,” Dr. Neal Barnard, the Physicians Committee president, said in a news release.

“Meat and dairy products are strongly linked to our country’s deadliest epidemics: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Meanwhile, meat advocates are upset that the report failed to discuss the health benefits of lean meat in detail, resorting instead to a footnote that says “lean meat can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.”

“Lean meat’s relegation to a footnote ignores the countless studies and data that the committee reviewed for the last two years that showed unequivocally that meat and poultry are among the most nutrient dense foods available," North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter said in a release.

“Nutrient dense lean meat is a headline, not a footnote." 

Other meat industry groups called the report misleading for leaving lean meat out of a healthy dietary pattern while endorsing a Mediterranean style diet, which calls for the moderate consumption of red meat. 

“Lean meat is red meat,” Dr. Shalene McNeill, a registered dietitian and nutrition Scientist with National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a news release.

The beef association claims that lean beef is one of the most nutrient-rich foods, providing high levels of essential nutrients such as zinc, iron and protein, as opposed to empty calories.