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The Great Veg Debate

Collectively, we have a lot of work to do around the sustainability of the Earth and how this and human biological health interact.

06/10/2017 03:57 SAST | Updated 06/10/2017 03:57 SAST
Rodger Bosch/ AFP/ Getty Images
Tim Noakes during an interview about the Noakes eating plan, or Banting diet, in September 2015.

Professor Tim Noakes was recently quoted in an article published by The Huffington Post SA, titled Tim Noakes: Eat More Meat To Save The Environment, as saying that a plant-based diet is not necessarily good for the environment.

This topic is indeed a loaded one with many alternative views, emotions and beliefs. The Noakes Foundation has taken a clear position on which foods are healthy and which are not. We maintain that a balanced plant and meat-based diet will provide a human with all the essential nutrients for good health. This is supported by research into human health.

Although we recommend including animal products in the diet, we do not support the factory farming meat production model. Rather we encourage consumers to select pasture-raised meat and to be aware of the source of their produce. Collectively, we have a lot of work to do around the sustainability of the Earth and how this and human biological health interact.

There are certain nutrients crucial for human life that are found in animal foods but not in commonly consumed plant foods. We therefore affirm that a purely plant-based diet, without proper supplementation, will risk nutrient deficiency in humans. One would struggle to get vitamins A, B12 and D, iron, zinc et cetera in sufficient amounts from a purely plant-based diet.

It is possible for a vegetarian or vegan to follow a low-carb lifestyle, and we are familiar with many people who have done so successfully. However, it is extremely difficult to satisfy the daily nutritional requirements. Medically supervised supplementation is often required and we therefore do not recommend this lifestyle.

Prof Noakes shared his concerns on the matter. "My worry is that plant-based diets are nutrient-poor and should only be attempted by those who have expert support and advice. Not something anyone should do unless they have researched what they should be eating and have the support of professional experts."

We want to drive home the message that meat itself isn't bad, it is perhaps the way in which it has been farmed (factory farming) and prepared (breaded, processed and deep fried) that is the problem.

In terms of the environmental impact of eating meat, the statistics often quoted for meat production are referring to the factory farming model. There is no denying that this method of meat production is cruel and unnatural, and the foundation does not support this in any way.

Cattle should not be fed grain, they are designed to live and graze in healthy environments, well cared for, on grass, replenishing the soil with their manure throughout their lives, and eventually with their bodies when they die. Agriculture, by turning the little arable land that the world has into grain and soy fields, is destroying the quality of the topsoil.

Large-scale mono-crop farming withdraws nutrients from the soil, which need to be replenished. With all the land cultivated for vegetarian food, which was once home to free-roaming animals, there is also no natural process by which the topsoil can be rejuvenated.

Conventional agriculture does this poorly with chemical fertilizers, often made from fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gas emissions. We are aware this is a massive emerging research area, one that we are looking for proposals and dialogue around.

We therefore maintain that eating a diet as close to how we used to eat as hunter-gatherers, tens of thousands of years ago, taking into consideration modern-day practices, is the healthiest and most sustainable way to live and flourish. We want to drive home the message that meat itself isn't bad, it is perhaps the way in which it has been farmed (factory farming) and prepared (breaded, processed and deep fried) that is the problem.

"We need to find practical and biologically sound ways of being both healthy and sustainable. This means having conversations and dialogues, being inclusive and working together towards understanding what is best for humans and the environment. The modern farming of animals and the current mono-crop and carb-laden diets and agricultural systems are killing us and the planet -- they both need work" –- Jayne Bullen, COO of The Noakes Foundation.

Per-Anders Pettersson via Getty Images
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 10: Tim Noakes, a South African scientist and an emeritus professor in the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine at the University of Cape Town, eats breakfast at his favorite restaurant at Alphen House on August 10, 2016 in Constantia, outside Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

The Noakes Foundation respects that people may choose to not eat meat for moral or ethical reasons and does not wish to denounce a vegetarian or vegan diet in any way, but firmly advises that this is done with careful caution and proper supplementation.

Note: The Noakes Foundation and Prof Noakes do not offer paid endorsements and are in no way funded by the meat industry. Every cent received from Prof Noakes' work into the low-carbohydrate eating science has been donated to various charities and foundations.

This post originally appeared onThe Noakes Foundation Blog.