Late last year the Health Council of the Netherlands presented an official report containing new recommendations for the nation’s health and nutrition. Their report was presented simultaneously to the Dutch Ministry of Health, Wellness and Sports, as well as to the Secretary of Economic Affairs. I find the guidelines provided by the Council just as interesting as the recipients of their research. It demonstrates very adequately the awareness in this country that a population’s health has a direct effect not only on the wellness the nation, but on its general economic situation as well.
The Health Council departed from previously accepted national guidelines dating from 2006 and 2011 in a few interesting and significant ways. Firstly, the Council chose to shift their focus from a survey of nutrients, to a broader overview of individual foods. Furthermore, the Health Council also analysed the country’s ten most prevalent chronic diseases directly related to inadequate or unhealthy eating patterns. In doing so, their research was meant to shed light on the importance of a changing diet in the nation’s future, while making it clear that national health can be changed for the better in many cases by a simple change of eating pattern.
In March of this year, the Dutch National Nutrition Board published its new dietary guidelines based upon the Health Council’s findings. The Nutrition Board is the central opinion maker in the country, as well as a general consumer and professional resource on health issues. Their new dietary guidelines are taken seriously by educators, parents and health professionals.
The single most important change in their newly recommended dietary guidelines are to be found quickly: the Dutch Nutrition Board makes a clear statement towards a decrease of meat in general, and processed meats specifically. Their recommendation for a healthy diet is largely plant-based is in fact, largely plant-based. In a country where meat and dairy have always been considered essential sources of daily protein, the nation’s new nutritional guidance is in fact nothing short of revolutionary.
The Dutch Nutrition Board’s guidelines are available on-line in a comprehensive, one hundred page document. Essentially they provide the information needed for good health as visualised in a circle called the “Schijf van Vijf” (literally translated in English as the Five-faceted Circle). The published guidelines include a comprehensive view not only on nutrition and health but also on the importance of sustainability in the general scheme of things. Although it could be quite easy to miss the importance of including sustainability in general health guidelines, food influentials and the press have most definitely taken notice that the Board has recognised that environment has an influence on a population’s eating patterns.
The essence of the new food-based dietary guidelines in the Netherlands
The Circle of Five is divided into the following groups :
- Bread, grains and potatoes
- Dairy, nuts, fish, eggs, pulses and meat
- Fats and oils
- Vegetables and fruits
- Beverages with a focus on water and tea
Each section of the circle includes a variety of food choices. The Nutrition Board explicitly states that those foods not included in the dietary circle of things, are not considered to be a part of a healthy diet. To name a simple example, whole wheat bread is included in the circle, white processed bread is not.
The Nutrition Board specifies their general recommendations for a healthy diet based upon the Circle of Five, specifically with the thirteen details to follow, namely :
- Eat the quantity from each part of the circle, as advised
- Eat vegetables on a daily basis
- Eat fruit on a daily basis
- Choose healthy fats
- Eat dairy on a daily basis, whether from milk, yoghurt or cheese
- Choose vegetable-based proteins on a regular basis
- Eat unsalted nuts on a daily basis
- Eat fish, preferably fatty fish, on a weekly basis
- Eat pulses and beans on a weekly basis
- Limit the consumption of meat to no more than 500 grams weekly
- Eat whole grain brown bread on a daily basis, and choose whole grains as well
- Drink water, green or black tea and choose for freshly filtered coffee
- Add sugars and salts as little as possible to food or drinks
Although many nutritionists are not amused by the new guidelines, claiming for example that both dairy and breads should be limited if not excluded in the daily diet in order to ensure good health, the new Dietary Guidelines provided by the Dutch Nutrition Board are true food for thought!
The average Dutch family meal has not as been turned upside down since the March 2016 introduction of new guidelines; neither have the average restaurant menus. However, I am utterly convinced that the general population is becoming more and more aware of the importance of a plant-based diet and of the negative effects to health created by processed foods. Last but not least, a a very rapid rate the importance of drinking water rather than soft-drinks, is becoming a part of generally accepted opinion.
What do you think, should we be cutting back on the meat? Share your thoughts below and on social media using #foodrevolution.