On average, people in Switzerland eat 110g of meat every day. New Swiss guidelines suggest eating a third of this amount – an average American eats around 270g of meat a day.
The new Swiss guidelines also recommend eating far fewer sugary and salty snacks and sugary and alcoholic drinks. On average four portions of these, four times the recommended level, are consumed daily in Switzerland.
Unsurprisingly, the report recommends eating far more fresh fruit and vegetables. The average is only 3.6 portions per day. The recommendation is at least 5 daily portions – one portion is 120g.
Confusingly, fruit juice is included in fresh fruit. In its sugar guidelines, the The World Health Organization recommends avoiding fruit juice, which it defines as containing unhealthy free sugar.
In addition, the new guidance presents a narrow unscientific view on protein. Protein is in most whole foods we eat – peas are 5% protein. However, when talking about protein, the guidelines mention only meat, eggs, dairy and highly processed foods such as tofu and seitan, leaving out many other protein sources such as whole grains, beans and pulses.
A study of more than 70,000 people in the US found that even people living purely on plants get as much protein as everyone else.
There is also a stubborn old idea that plants contain incomplete protein. Protein is made up of various amino acids. Nine of these are essential, meaning the body cannot make them itself. Protein lacking some of these essential amino acids is considered incomplete. Like meat, whole oats and kidney beans, for example, contain all of these essential amino acids. But, unlike meat, they are low in saturated fat and high in fibre – an FAO database shows the protein content of foods down to the level of amino acids. Plenty of online apps, such as chronometer, do too.
The new guidelines also recommend increasing dairy consumption by 50% to three daily portions. This is controversial. Some dairy products contain high levels of saturated fat, and others, like yogurt, can contain plenty of sugar.
In addition, a question mark hangs over the benefits of dairy. Science has not found a consistent correlation between bone health and dairy consumption in adults. Some of the highest hip fracture rates, a proxy for bone weakness, occur in countries where dairy consumption is high. For example, Danes consume 296 kg of dairy p.a. but have the highest hip fracture rate of 853 per 100,000. In China, where they consume 29 kg of dairy p.a. the hip fracture rate is 97 per 100,000. Swiss, who consume 316 kg of dairy p.a., are in the middle with 413 hip fractures per 100,000 – see study on worldwide geographic hip fracture variation and a table showing the lack of correlation between dairy consumption and hip fracture rates.
Geography seems to show the most consistent correlation. Populations further from the equator tend to have higher hip fracture rates, something that may be linked to vitamin D levels.
The Harvard School of Public Health has a healthy eating plate that does away with the glass of milk found on many similar illustrations. Here the advice is to limit dairy to 1 or 2 servings per day. It also cautions against fruit juice consumption: limit to 1 small glass per day.