Knowledge for better food systems

11 Points of consensus on what we should eat: Top scientists reach consensus on nutrition

Over 75 top nutrition scientists and medical experts gathered in Boston in October 2015 at the Finding Common Ground Conference, convened by the non-profit Oldways to try to agree on principles for a healthy diet (primarily aimed at a U.S. audience). Oldways is a food and nutrition education organization aiming to inspire healthy eating through cultural food traditions and lifestyles. The meeting was attended by a diverse range of experts, many vocal proponents of particular types of diets (vegan, paleo, low-fat, Mediterranean etc.) and is described to have led to some heated debates.

It seems however that the prevailing theories of nutrition and healthy eating actually have more in common than many think. With the aim of providing an antidote to the many diverging reports and recommendations presented based on dietary research, participants managed to create a document outlining 11 principles. 

The group was led in a two-day debate by scientific co-chairs Dr. Walter Willett, Nutrition Chair of the Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. The participants dissected scientific studies and compared diets to arrive at a clear outline of what healthy eating entails, agreeing on standards and sources of evidence, and the need to base judgments on the weight of evidence.

The conference participants importantly also agreed on the need to include planetary health when discussing diets. Their recommendations included strong support for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, sustainability of our food systems, and greater food literacy. In their consensus statement the representatives at the meeting wrote:

“We emphatically support the inclusion of sustainability in the 2015 DGAC report, and affirm the appropriateness and importance of this imperative in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans because food insecurity cannot be solved without sustainable food systems. Inattention to sustainability is willful disregard for the quality and quantity of food available to the next generation, i.e., our own children.”

As stated by Dr. Willett: "the foods that define a healthy diet include abundant fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes and minimal amounts of refined starch, sugar and red meat, especially keeping processed red meat intake low.

Read the full list of principles (and the list of participants) see here. A video with Walter Willet and further coverage can be found here and here. Below the headline: Food fight erupts as top nutritionists gather to define healthy eating it is described how agreeing on the principles entailed some heated arguments. More on controversial issues around food advice can be read in this science summary on dietary fat by Vox which you can read here.   

Read more about Sustainable Healthy Diets, Dietary guidelines, food and agriculture policy, nutrition policy.

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North America is the northern subcontinent of the Americas covering about 16.5% of the Earth's land area. This large continent has a range of climates spanning Greenland’s permanent ice sheet and the dry deserts of Arizona. Both Canada and the USA are major food producers and some of the largest food exporters in the world. Industrial farms are the norm in North America, with high yields relative to other regions and only 2% of the population involved in agriculture.

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