Americans must broaden their use of plant-based protein and rethink how they view animal protein if they wish to live healthier lifestyles and support a policy of sustainability, say the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department, joint presenters of the Menu of Change conference in June.
“What we as chefs and operators choose to offer as a plate of food has enormous consequences, for the health of our customers and our planet,” says CIA president Tim Ryan.
That message reflects a growing mindset among culinary and health experts who say Americans need to move away from the traditional Western-style diet based on the consumption of large portions of animal-based protein. And, observes Adam Busby, the CIA’s director of special culinary projects and a conference presenter, “It starts with recognizing that getting enough protein for most people in the United States is not a problem. People here eat enough.”
In fact, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted in 2007-2008 found Americans consume more than twice the recommended daily protein allowance as suggested by national dietary guidelines.
What is more problematic, Busby notes, is that the demand for animal-based protein is expanding as the Western diet spreads in popularity around the globe. “As the planet’s population grows, eventually we’re going to run out of corn and soy used to feed these animals,” he says.
At the same time, livestock production creates large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that many say contributes to global warming.
However, Busby says, “If we switch our protein focus to plant-based — even slowly — we believe we could produce enough protein to support all future protein needs.”
In addition to negatively impacting the burgeoning movement toward sustainability, our tendency to consume large portions of red meat can affect the population’s health. “We’re overdoing it on meat and cholesterol,” says Neil Doherty, Sysco’s senior director of culinary development. “And that can lead to heart disease and diabetes.”
Proponents of a less meat-heavy diet urge a greater use of plant-based proteins that are nutrient-dense. Among the foods they cite are vegetables like avocado, spinach and kale; legumes such as soybeans, garbanzo beans, lentils and kidney beans; nuts and seeds like cashews, sesame seeds, pistachios and almonds; and grains like quinoa, amaranth and oatmeal.