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What about Protein foods?

Protein in a Healthy Diet

Protein is essential to the body as it is used for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells. There are many ways that you can get enough protein in your diet. The current Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that adults consume one serve of protein per day (more for breastfeeding and pregnant women), where a serve is equivalent to:

  • 65-100gm cooked meat/chicken (e.g. ½ cup mince, 2 small chops, or 2 slices roast meat)
  • 80-120g cooked fish fillet
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 cup cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas or canned beans, or 1/3 cup peanuts/almonds. (1)

This recommendation is likely to change when the revised Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is released later this year. The new (draft) Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a maximum of 445g per week (or 65g per day) should come from lean meat to enhance dietary variety and reduce the health risks associated with consuming meat. (2) However, Australians’ daily mean consumption of meat, poultry and game is 200g for men and 120g for women. (2) The Heart Foundation suggests adults eat two to three serves of oily fish or seafood every week and at least two legume meals each week. (3&4)

Making a greener choice

Beef and sheep

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation's (FAO) landmark report, Livestock's Long Shadow, provides detailed informProtein Bites Image 1ation on the environmental impact of livestock throughout the World. This document, however, has been criticised by some groups regarding its methodology, especially for including land clearing for livestock in the calculations. In Australia, there has been concern about whether the calculations are representative of our livestock industry because of the differences between our production methods compared to those of other countries.

Debates also rage as to whether lot fed beef is more environmentally friendly than grass fed cattle because it is more efficient (i.e. it takes less time to produce a kilogram of beef) and because less methane is produced when cattle are fed grain. (5) At the same time grass fed beef advocates argue that the methane produced by cattle can be offset by the extra carbon stored in the soil (sequestration) due to better pasture growth and a build up of organic matter in the soil. (6) Dung beetles may also help to store the carbon contained in manure deep in the soil.

Overall, caution is needed when reviewing published documents in this area because of the vested interests involved. It is often difficult to understand what environmental features are being considered (e.g. just carbon emissions, water use, land degradation, biodiversity) and if the methodology is sound (e.g. should data be taken over a number of years and averaged, should a ‘standard’ year be used (and how should that be defined?) or should years with extreme weather be excluded from the data collection?).

Chicken and eggs

The production of chicken and eggs is a very energy efficient process, and more environmentall friendly is organically grown feed is used.  However, you may also want to consider ethical considerations around the production of these foods in relation to animal welfare.

Fish and other seafood.

There are serious concerns as to whether Australia’s fish supplies are sufficient to meet the Heart Foundation’s recommendation of two to three serves a week. Australia is now a net importer of fish products (2). Fish and other seafood can contribute to a tasty and healthy meal; however future generations may not have the privilege of having the same supply and variety of seafood depending on our choices. Choosing farmed fish over wild caught fish may not always be the answer because fish farming can also cause environmental problems depending on how and where they are farmed and what the fish are fed. To find out what seafood choices are more sustainable visit the Australian Marine Conservation Society's website and check out the online Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide.

Variety of legumesLegumes

A range of legumes are grown in Australia and organically grown produce is becoming easier to purchase. Organically grown legumes are an environmentally friendly choice because petro-chemical based farm chemicals are not used, less fossil fuel is used for cultivating the land and more carbon is sequestered into the soil. For some fun legume recipes go to our Beans Around the World Cookbook.

 

Protein Bites Image 2

What to eat for your health and the environment

  • When choosing to have red meat, make sure you choose small serves. Meatless Mondays is one way to reduce your meat consumption if you are eating more than 65g/day – Remember, the average rump steakweighs at least 200g) Find out more about Meatless Mondays here.
  • Choose sustainable fish and seafood
  • Eat meals based on legumes, especially those that are organically grown
  • Try meals that mix legumes and meat. A good rule of thumb is that red meats go well with red beans (e.g. mince and kidney beans) while white meats go well with chickpeas and white beans (e.g. chickpeas and chicken).

References

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council. 2003. Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults [internet]. 2003 [cited 2010 July 5]. Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/synopses/n33.pdf
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council (2011). Australian Dietary Guidelines incorporating the Australian Guide to Healthy eating. Draft for consultation. 2011 [cited 2012 March 7]. Available from: http://consultations.nhmrc.gov.au/files/consultations/n55draftaustraliandietaryguidelinesconsultation111212.pdf
  3. Heart Foundation. Food and Nutrition Facts: Fish and Seafood. [cited 2012 March 7]. Available from: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition-facts/Pages/seafood.aspx
  4. Heart Foundation: Food and Nutrition Facts: Egg, legume, pulses, nuts and seeds. [cited 2012 March 7]. Available from: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition-facts/Pages/egg-legumes-pulses-nuts-seeds.aspx
  5. Peters GM, Rowley HV, Wiedemann S, Tucker R, Short MD, Schulz M. 2010. Red meat production in Australia; life cycle assessment and comparison with overseas studies. Environ Sci Technol. 15;44(4):1327-32.
  6. Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries. 2009. Net carbon position of the Queensland beef industry. [cited 2012 March 7). Available from http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/documents/AnimalIndustries_Beef/Net-carbon-beef-industry.pdf
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