The governmental Netherlands' Nutrition Centre [Voedings Centrum] updated its dietary advice and launched a national healthy eating campaign last week.
The revised recommendations advise up to 500 g of meat per week, which can include up to 300 g of red meat. This is because red meat is higher in saturated fats but also because beef, pork and veal have the highest environmental impact, it says.
Given that Dutch men currently eat around 930 g of meat per week, the new advice calls for their intake to be almost halved. Women consume about 615 g of meat per week.
Consumers should be replacing meat with more sustainable protein sources: fish, pulses, nuts, eggs and vegetarian products, said the Centre which is 100% government-funded to provide consumers with science-based and independent information about healthy, safe and sustainable food choices.
According to sustainable food specialist at the Centre, Corné van Dooren: “All these five high-protein products have a lower environmental impact than meat. The advice to eat a weekly serving of legumes and daily a handful of nuts, contributes to a more sustainable diet,” he said, adding that the reduction in recommended meat portions was “a breakthrough”.
The guidelines urge consumers to only choose sustainably sourced fish and to favour whole and raw foods over processed products with the recommended daily amount of vegetables rising by 50 g to 250 g.
Health concerns are also taken into consideration for the eating guide that was compiled using dietary guidelines as well as input from the National Institute for Public Health and Environment, external scientists in the fields of nutrition and sustainability, as well as consumer feedback.
Sausages, burgers, marinated meats and kromeskies – a Dutch specialty consisting of a minced meat croquette that is rolled in bacon and fried – do not appear in the 'Wheel of Five' infographic at all due to the link between eating processed meat and a higher risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
Nor do processed meat spreads such as pâté, which consumers are advised to replace with nut butters, hummus or dairy spreads such as soft goat cheese.
But plant-based alternatives have not escaped the scrutiny of the Centre’s nutritionists who warn against processed meat substitutes, such as veggie burgers or sausages, that may be high in salt. They advise people to search out tofu or tempeh products that contain less than 1.1 g of salt per 100 g.
How often is too often?
The guide is also intent on clearing up consumer confusion over ‘not too much and not too often’ by providing clear cut guidelines.
Small snacks such as a few slices of salami, a small biscuit, piece of chocolate or a tomato ketchup condiment should be eaten a maximum of three to five times a day.
Bigger unhealthy snacks such as a croissant, a slice of pizza, a frankfurter sausage, a glass of soda or a bowl of sweetened cereal should be eaten a maximum of three times a week.
A step in the right direction
The Centre emphasised that just because a food does not appear in the 'Wheel of Five', does not mean it should never be eaten.
“Consumers decide what measures they can and will make toward the 'wheel of five',” said the Nutrition Centre which has released a tool called My Eat update to provide personalised eating suggestions. “Remember that every step in the right direction is good for your health. It is not exactly perfect.”
The move comes in the wake of the UK’s drive to align healthier diets with food choices that are healthier for the environment. It advised people to swap animal proteins such as meat and dairy for plant-based ones, a move which was not well-received by the meat and dairy lobbies.
Dr Emma Derbyshire, a nutritionist on the Meat Advisory Panel, said: "I have concerns about the low levels of animal foods and the impact this may have on vitamin and mineral intakes. (...) Despite this, the new Eatwell Guide suggests that people should eat less red meat which is puzzling."
Trade group Dairy UK called the advice to cut the recommended amount of dairy by almost half as "baffling and disappointing.”
But it was lauded by sustainability campaigners. Mark Driscoll, head of food at global sustainability non-profit organisation Forum for the Future said: “Sustainable nutrition should be the goal of all food businesses. Businesses will have to innovate and collaborate in order to achieve sustainable nutrition outcomes in the future."
Back in 2009 Sweden became the first country in the world to build a national set of dietary guidelines that took on board sustainability as well as health.
Research in 2015 showed that 92% of Dutch consumers were familiar with the Wheel of Five image.