Is vegetarian food as healthy as we think? Animal food contains important micronutrients

A new United Nations report says that meat, dairy products and eggs are important sources of nutrients that are difficult for us to absorb through plant foods. “Everything depends on the parts,” says Loes Neven of the Vlaams Instituut Gezond Leven vzw.

Barbara Debuschier

What news does this report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), based on 500 scientific papers and 250 policy documents, bring?

“The most important message is not to simply write off animal food sources. It is true that some important micronutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12 and protein, are found in animal foods in forms that are easier for the body to absorb. This is why our Food Triangle is not intended to diet.” Completely vegan.

This report appears to want to balance the trend towards promoting plant-based food plants due to climate and environmental concerns. As if they were warning that we should not go too far.

Does the Food and Agriculture Organization say “eat more meat” or “don’t become a vegetarian”?

No. The differences in populations and between countries and regions are too great for this. The conclusion is that there are still significant problems worldwide with growth retardation, low birth weight, iron deficiency in pregnant women and other nutritional deficiencies that have a significant negative impact on health. Animal products can help with this.

There are two important nuances: what target group are we talking about and what is the current consumption? For example, we know that women who are breastfeeding or pregnant, children, and the elderly should consume minimal amounts of animal products, but adults can be healthy vegetarians if they follow certain advice. We also know that a lot of animal products are consumed in some countries and very little in others.”

For example, the Congolese consume about 160 grams of milk per year and the Montenegrins 338 liters.

“It varies greatly from region to region. In our country, consumption of red and processed meat among adults is very high, as reported in this report. This is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The Supreme Council of Health recommends We eat a maximum of 300g of red meat per week and eat about 115g of meat per day (including poultry). That is why red meat is in the food triangle and is among the products it is better to eat less of.”

What about dairy, fish, eggs and poultry?

“There is still very little research on the latter two, which the FAO also points out. In our food triangle, they are in the neutral category, which means they are best eaten in moderation. Eating fish, which is good for health but less so for the environment, which We eat very little of it, which is also present in this place.The same applies to dairy products, which we also eat in less than recommended quantities.

What about the environment and climate?

“Based on the science out there, flexibility appears to be the perfect compromise between health and the planet. With more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grain products, and less red meat and processed products. Eat vegan regularly, but leave room in your diet for dairy, poultry and fish.”

This report states, among other things, that dairy can help prevent obesity and that beef boosts cognitive skills.

“I would take that with a grain of salt. Interest groups were also consulted for this report. This makes such claims less credible. Everything also depends on the parts.”

FAO particularly emphasizes what plant foods lack. What is your advice on a vegetarian diet?

“We don’t want to explicitly convince people of this, but we explain on our website how you can handle it in a healthy way. This mainly concerns the complete replacement of animal products.

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Megan Vasquez

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