Food is a topic of nearly obsessive conversation and amazingly fraught. Someone who casually passes up a plate of dinner rolls at a party might be confronted about whether they have a gluten sensitivity — or if they just think they do. A meat-based lasagna could precipitate a clash with a vegetarian housemate. Or an important professional meeting at a Chinese restaurant, where every dish is made with either pork or shellfish, could permanently offend a Jewish business partner.
The controversies surrounding meat eating are no different. Extensive evidence shows that eating meat increases our risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer and contributes substantially to climate change. Still many of us cling to any excuse to continue eating one of our favorite foods.
So when Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, a Stanford professor of medicine who directs the Program on Prevention Outcomes and Practices, wrote a letter to JAMA last week protesting the failure of the latest federal dietary guidelines to more clearly promote a plant-based diet, he wasn’t surprised by mild blowback from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the form of a rebuttal.
Meat is bad for health and bad for the planet, says Stafford, and federal guidelines should be unambiguous about that.
When I interviewed Stafford for a Q&A for Stanford Medicine, he told me:
These guidelines have been long-awaited and there are many aspects that are improvements, but I was very disappointed by the way the guidelines dealt with recommendations about the consumption of meat.
People who consume meat generally have worse health outcomes, particularly in terms of heart disease, stroke and cancer...
The USDA guidelines clearly state that saturated fats should be reduced. We know most of the saturated fat in our diets comes from animal sources, and yet the guidelines don’t take that next logical step and tell consumers to eat less meat.
The time is ripe for this guidance, Stafford says: "I think Americans are more ready than ever to hear a simple recommendation to eat less meat. The dietary evidence is stronger today than it’s ever been."
Previously: Stanford preventive-medicine expert: Lay off the meat, get out the sneaks; Stanford biochemist aims to stop people from eating meat; The die-off within us: Are our low-fiber diets ruining our descendants’ lives?
Photo by vedanti