North & South

IN DEFENCE OF MEAT AND DAIRY

Our confidence in what we eat and grow is, if not broken, then seriously undermined. “Too much information, too little knowledge,” says frustrated nutrition scientist and Distinguished Professor Paul Moughan. “We need to re-establish some simple dietary principles and patterns, based on the best science, which you don’t have to overthink and that take into account local food supply, environmental constraints and the limited time people now have. A dietary regimen that will also, combined with exercise, free people from constant worry about their weight.”

Fifty years ago, he says, Pākehā New Zealanders followed a variation of a traditional British diet. “It was flawed in many respects – not very flavoursome, often lacking in fibre and variety, with vegetables seriously overcooked – and then, as now, we had too much sugar. But at least people didn’t struggle as much with their weight… eggs and porridge for breakfast, sandwiches and fruit for lunch, and meat and three veg for dinner. Prepared well, it was actually a very good diet. But let’s not go back to those days. We all relish today’s new ways of cooking and tastier foods from other cultures.

“The problem has been that the loudest voices on diet and weight often have vested interests. Those voices are then amplified by sound-bite media, constantly confusing everyone by alternately vilifying and extolling single diet components,” says Moughan, fellow laureate of the Massey University, Palmerston North-based Riddet Institute, a national centre of research excellence comprising more than 120 scientists around New Zealand, mainly in universities and crown research institutes. They specialise in food science and technology, human nutrition, digestion and how to get the best from our food.

It’s time to take stock. In 2011, Moughan was appointed chair of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Expert Consultation project to review recommendations on protein quality in human diets, and in 2014 he was appointed to an international think-tank on world food security. He sits on numerous international bodies concerned with food, nutrition and food production sustainability.

Protein is the obvious place to start in evaluating diets. We are largely made of proteins of one kind or another; they also play many critical roles in the body. Moughan begins his “nutrition 101” interview by emphasising that not all proteins are equal. They are made up of different amino acids – often described as the building blocks of proteins – in different proportions. Nine of the 21 amino acids that are found in foods are called “essential” because our bodies cannot make or store them, and so we need to eat them every day.

All proteins from

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