More plants on the Eatwell plate

By : Elena Salazar
Mar 17, 2016

The UK government has updated its official dietary guidelines. The newly revised EatWell Guide recommends that people eat more plants, get more of their protein from beans and pulses and cut down on processed and red meat. It's a good step forward towards encouraging healthy, sustainable diets. 

Eating Better welcomes the revision of the UK's official dietary advice released by Public Health England today. The Eatwell Guide is a policy tool used to define government recommendations on eating healthily and achieving a balanced diet. For the first time today, it also explicitly aims to help people choose food that is more sustainable. Key points on the update include: 

  • Eat mostly plants. The guidelines now advise to eat much more fruit and vegetables and a little more starchy foods, like bread and rice, than previously recommended. The balance of foods as proposed by the visual guide would mean that at least 76% of our food comes from plants, every day. 
  • In terms of protein advice, the guide recommends eating more beans and pulses as well as less red and processed meat. People who consume lots of red meat should aim for the UK's average of 70g/day, the guidance says. 
  • The guide includes less dairy overall. Plant-based alternatives appear alongside milk.
  • As part of the sustainability messaging, plant-based options feature prominently in all food groups. The names of some of the food group segments have also been updated to place emphasis on foods that are considered more environmentally sustainable i.e. plant-based.

Clare Oxborrow, Chair of Eating Better, has said:

“We welcome the steps PHE has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from diets in its revision of the Eatwell Guide and its recommendation to reduce processed and red meat consumption and eat more beans & pulses. More could be done to fully integrate sustainability into the UK's dietary guidelines – but this is a good start.” 

“With 6 out of 10 men and 1 in 3 women already consuming more processed and red meat than is good for their health, there are win-wins for health as well as for the planet in providing the public with this advice.”

The new guidance acknowledges that eating a diet that is mostly made of plants is good for both people and the planet, in line with our 2016 Policy Recommendations. However, more needs to be done to integrate the full picture of sustainability into healthy eating advice. Meat is typically the most green house gas intensive part of our diet, but the guidelines fail to explicitly recommend eating less of all types of meat. It's production is also a leading driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss, and issues of land and water use cannot be sidelined if we are to feed a growing global population healthily and sustainably. Equally, the guide makes no attempt to promote more sustainable farming methods, when promoting a farming sector fit for the future should be a priority.

When it comes to sustainability, the Eatwell Guide is a good start– but advice to eat less and better meat should be the natural next step.