Scrutinise the small print of Eat-Lancet

The much-promoted Eat-Lancet report fails on nutritional grounds and has a vested interest in switching us to plant-based eating, writes food journalist Joanna Blythman  

The Eat-Lancet report commanded the airwaves recently with its proposal for a new, global, one-size-fits-all diet, which it grandiosely calls ‘The Great Food Transformation’. It is without precedent because it advocates a dramatic shift away from the time-honoured omnivore diet, based on all food groups, including animal foods, to “plant-based” eating.

But Eat-Lancet isn’t a vegetable rich diet: it tells us to get only three per cent of our calories from vegetables while recommending that half of what we consume should come from wheat, grains, and soya. It drastically restricts animal foods. We’re allowed an egg and a half each week, not more than a daily mouthful of red meat.

Eat-Lancet actually permits us to consume more sugar than red meat. This alone should alert us to what is, in essence, a processed food diet reinvented as saviour of planetary and human health.

A number of authoritative nutrition experts warn that it is a recipe for nutritional deficit and ill health. As Dr Georgia Ede points out, Eat-Lancet admits that its diet doesn’t provide adequate nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, ageing adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished. Even able-bodied adults who adopted it would have to take vitamin B12 supplements.  And analysing it using the US reference values for micronutrients, Dr Zoe Harcombe concludes that anyone who followed it would become deficient not only in B12, but also in vitamins D3, K2, potassium, sodium, calcium, heme iron, and essential fatty acids. 

Planetary diet
Eat-Lancet claims to have a diet for ‘planetary and human health’. Image Eat-Lancet.

How did a diet that can’t sustain healthy human life get such airtime? Mainstream media have let citizens down here by reporting Eat-Lancet as though it were incontrovertible, scientific truth, when this initiative is driven by a small group of self-appointed academic ‘experts’ who do not represent the wider scientific community. Four out of every five of them is on record as being supportive of a plant food perspective and the fashionable anti-meat narrative; many of them are vegans or vegetarians.

The Eat-Lancet report itself was funded by The Wellcome Trust, whose founder, Henry Wellcome, was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist (a Millennialist Christian group) that preaches vegetarianism and shuns red meat. Furthermore, Wellcome made his wealth in the pharmaceutical industry. Cynics would say pharmaceutical companies stand to benefit from illness, not health, while Wellcome comes from a set of a values already favourable to vegetarianism. 

But how has Eat-Lancet managed to finance all its slick promotional launches in no fewer than 40 countries? While the report was solely funded by the Wellcome Trust, the costly propaganda offensive appears to be bankrolled by the Eat Foundation, spearheaded by a Norwegian supermodel turned medic who is married to a billionaire. Eat has a partnership with Fresh, a body made up of 40 of the world’s most powerful corporations, a roll call of the big names in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, GM, and ultra-processed food. They include Bayer, which now owns Monsanto and its infamous Round-Up (glyphosate) pesticide, Big Sugar (PepsiCo), Big Grain (Cargill), palm oil companies, and leading manufacturers of food additives and processing aids.

Environmental champion Vandana Shiva, who has challenged the “plant-based is best” mantra, refers to them as, “the Poison Cartel”, companies “who have together contributed up to 50 per cent greenhouse gases, leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.”

Shiva rightly accuses Eat-Lancet of “evading the glaring chronic disease epidemic related to pesticides and toxics in food, imposed by chemically intensive industrial agriculture and food systems.”

So before you swallow Eat-Lancet, as with any other commercially-driven food product, you might want scrutinise the label more closely. Caveat emptor: it might put you off.


Leave a Reply

  1. I am sorry but some of the points you mention are inaccurate and based on personal opinions, not facts:
    -The EAT Lancet diet recommends 500 grams a day of fruits and vegetables so not equivalent to 3% but at least 10% of daily calories although it represents. the calorie number seems low but that is because fruits and vegetables are not very calorie dense.
    -It recommends 500 grams of fruits and vegetables compared to only 232 of grains so not true that half of what we consume would be grains
    -It seems like you are cherry picking to try to destroy the study but the fact is that there were 37 scientific experts from 20+ countries that participated in it so mentioning the religion of the Wellcome Trust founder seems irrelevant.

    I don’t work for EAT Lancet and also I don’t work for big food but I do work in public health and understand the value of nutrition policy that is based on science, not on just opinions. I am a Riverford customer and try to eat a local, balanced diet of mostly plants and would appreciate if the content posted here is of quality, especially when it regards to scientific publications.

    1. Scientists designed an obesogenic rat chow to get rodents as fat as possible. The theory is to combine carbohydrates and fats. Insulin from the glucose shuts off fat burning and all fat you ingest just goes into storage.

      Their macros are the following:
      Protein: 15%
      Fat: 45%
      Carbs: 40%

      The EAT Lancet recommendations are almost IDENTICAL:
      Protein: 14%
      Fat: 35%
      Carbs: 51%

    2. My three per cent calories from veg figure is correct: 78 out of 2500 calories. If anything, when I say “half” I have actually understated the proportion of the diet coming from wheat, grains, and soya. The report states “total gains- should be grains-0-60% of total energy”. JB.

    3. The figures in the article, as stated, are correct. See the table on page 5 of the report “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems”. (Table 1: Healthy reference diet, with possible ranges, for an intake of 2500 kcal/day).

      I’m unsure about the source or validity of your own claims, but I’d like to see you reference them in support of your own factual research – else you only have a personal opinion yourself.

    4. I would suggest that those criticising journalists for not using scientific evidence fully declare their own interests or rather the interests and links of the organisation they work for.
      Everyone ( scientists included) has their own agenda and bias whether they like to admit it or not

  2. I’m sorry but there is zero science attached to nutrition policy, only money. The developed world has been in one big nutritional science experiment since the 70s, following a low fat, calorie counting view of nutrition with no thought of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K which unsurprisingly need fat to be absorbed. Are we any healthier? No, we’re facing ever increasing chronic disease and obesity epidemics. Growing vast amounts of grains as mono cultures is not sustainable. We need to rebuild the soil and that involves animals to fertilise it. We can not continue eroding the soil and stripping it of all life. The Eat Lancet diet would be a disaster for the ecology and the sustainability of feeding ourselves. Thank you Joanna Blythman for this great article.

    1. The EAT-Lancet would be a disaster as opposed to what? Current guidelines which stipulate that we should eat double the animal protein? There is science. It’s not perfect because nutritional epidemiology is complicated but the biggest threat to nutrition is science deniers who just post opinions without any evidence.

  3. I don’t care for the Eat-Lancet diet, but I care even less for bad journalism such as this. I’m particularly perplexed by the outright archaic undermining of vegan/vegetarian diets – as if the author of this article is providing some sort of wild exposé by stating that 4 out of 5 are on record supporting the plant based diet/movement. This shouldn’t be surprising in any way, given that cutting meat and dairy consumption down is the single biggest way we can as individuals cut down our carbon footprint and thus contribute to the longevity of the planet – there is very little excuse for any responsible person not to play a part in this ‘fashionable’ anti-meat narrative where they possibly can, even if just avoiding consuming meat with every meal. I’m a big supporter or Riverford which is a fanstastic resource, and similarly agree with the author that the Eat-Lancet diet is not ideal. However, this article provides an archaic perspective and as per another commenters point, is poorly researched. Disappointing!

    1. I am also a big supporter of eating less meat and organizations like Riverford that work with local farmers, but fully agree with you that the issue here is posting an article that is poorly researched and just trying to grab headlines and make personal attacks (ex: the attack she makes on the religion of the Wellcome Trust founder, who cares is the founder of EAT was a supermodel before she became a doctor?). It seems like her views of the world are very black and white. Reality is more nuanced.

  4. The point here is what is behind EAT Lancets motives for suggesting on the whole an inadequate diet that allows processed foods and sugars to take precident over having a balanced diet that, yes, like it or not includes animal proteins. We eat too much meat globally but limiting meat intake to a few grams a week is an opinion and not a diet. Eat a better more varied diet, remove the sugars and processed rubbish, eat raw and eat whole fats. I personally feel EAT Lancet have been nothing less than irresponsible suggesting such a poor diet. Eat slower grown and better quality meats, less of them but pay a bit more. It’s like I said – it’s whats behind the EAT Lancet diet in terms of funding and drive. The motives are obvious…

    1. Do you have any evidence that it is feasible to feed 10 billion people slower grown and ‘high quality’ meats? Remember that 80% of the world lives in developing (mostly poor) countries where there is no Riverford equivalent. Always easy to give opinions but without evidence or science behind them, they usually stay as uninformed opinions.

  5. This article’s position seems to reflect a lack of knowledge of the scientific process as well as an unreasonable bias. The Wellcome trust funds an enormous amount of incredibly valuable and objective research (and no, I’m not attached to them in any way): some of this research will turn out to have a pro-vegetarianism message and there’s a good chance some will say the opposite. A board of scientists at Wellcome (not the founder of the original company) funds research projects at the start, before the answer is known, and only if the research plan is objective and well thought out. They have no involvement in shaping the results or in their publication. Secondly, having research published in The Lancet means the work has gone through multiple rounds of objective scientific scrutiny to ensure its conclusions are sound, based on the data. My understanding of the Eat study is that it’s not trying to devise the ideal global diet, but rather to look at the reality of what we actually have right now in terms of global ecology, agricultural systems, nutritional knowledge and increasing overpopulation, and ask “what could we do that would avoid complete collapse of our planet’s ability to support our species?” I don’t see anyone involved in the study claiming that the conclusions are the perfect diet, or aspirational for the long term future, but rather form the basis of a practical plan for survival.

  6. Great article – thanks for posting. The author has included links to analyses by Drs Zoe Harcombe and Georgia Ede and these are also worth reading in my opinion – especially as they draw attention to the report authors’ admission that the diet may be unsuitable for young children, pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, the sick, or the elderly. So who would benefit from this way of eating? Certainly not me – and I I am not in any of these categories!

    I gave up eating ALL GRAINS – as well as all highly processed foods – last year as a weight loss experiment and in doing so – to my great surprise – unlocked the key to curing myself of the constant misery of heartburn and reflux disease, from which I had been suffering for 25 years and for which I had been prescribed daily medication. (PPIs – which, according to my doctor, is one of the most widely-prescribed drug groups in the western world. Undoubtedly one of Big Pharma’s ‘bestsellers’.

    I don’t actually miss bread and cereals at all these days, as I have a very tasty and satisfying diet. As a long time Riverford customer, I eat plenty of veg – though not too much of the starchy ones – and moderate amounts of good organic meat, including bacon. I also eat generous amounts of healthy fats such as butter, olive oil and coconut oil, as well as most dairy products. In addition to the huge benefits of being heartburn and medication-free, I have lost 3 stone and no longer have blood sugar highs and lows, or food cravings for sweet things.

    My response to the Eat Lancet report? Thanks, but no thanks. Your heavily grain-based diet would be downright bad for me and quite possibly for many other ordinary people just like me. You have to come up with a plan that is healthier for humans as well as the planet.

  7. I am sorry to disillusion those who have complete faith in the Lancet and similar medical journals of high standing. It is acknowledged within the scientific and medical communities that sometimes studies of lesser quality slip through the peer review net. The article published in the Lancet by Wakefield linking MMR vaccine with autism is a classic example. Ok this was 20 years ago but it is always worth analysing journal artcles very carefully and not accepting their conclusions at face value.

  8. Let me just point out “the author” was not blinded by the light of bias as all of those who have currently commented are. No one can take to task the Global Authority on diet as it relates to mental health

    As Dr Georgia Ede points out, Eat-Lancet admits that its diet doesn’t provide adequate nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, ageing adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished.

    Any other questions? Go eat a ribeye and improve your cognition.

  9. Great article, Joanna. Gluten doesn’t agree with me and so I certainly won’t be following the EAT-Lancet diet. Looking around the web, the EAT-Lancet diet has been condemned as nutritionally inadequate and politically motivated. It may not even have been properly peer-reviewed but instead reviewed by the authors themselves, see:

    The EAT diet is a great example of what Thomas Sowell described in his book: “The Vision of the Anointed”, ie: a small elite telling the rest of us what we should be doing and getting it badly wrong, and if we should have the temerity to disagree we must be bad people. Or just stupid.

  10. I was surprised by the part about Vandana Shiva, so I went and looked it up. It’s not only surprising, it’s also false.

    Here’s Vandana Shiva saying “The vegan diet puts the smallest footprint on the planet for sure”:

    In the piece you link, she’s not challenging plant-based diets as such, she’s challenging the use of that *term* as a cover to divert attention from the methods used to produce food (poison- and chemical input-intensive vs. organic).

    Notice too her appearance in the trailer for this documentary on veganism, where she says “*We were made to believe* that meat-based diets are superior to plant-based diets”:

  11. In fact, Joanna, you seem to have made a habit of putting out misleading hit pieces on plant-based diets. Of course there’s plenty of appetite for that kind of thing in a world where people are intensely devoted to meat and dairy, particularly as the evidence on impacts is so clear and this creates a disagreeable sense of inner conflict that people are eager to see relieved. Eating less (or no) meat and dairy is nowhere near being a full solution to our ecological crisis, but it’s transparently necessary, and making a point of attacking people who advocate for it is no credit to you and no contribution to the protection of the living world.

  12. Most research pretty much accepts that a healthy and balanced vegan diet is best for the planet and our own health. It is also, without doubt the most ethical, with the proviso that everything is grown in a sustainble and non-polluting manner, preferably organic and obviously not on cleared rainforest land. It would be relatively easy to do this if the land being utilised to grow crops to feed and house livestock was used to grow food directly for ourselves.
    A while back, the biggest nutrionist organisation in America stated that a balanced vegan diet was the healthiest there is for avoiding disease. This statement was later watered down to read that a balanced vegan diet was (merely) acceptable for humans of all ages. It isn’t difficult to work out why they had to change the truth to something that was more palatable to the meat and dairy industry and their lawyers. Big corporations mostly behave in a sociopathic manner and their tame governments and media are pretty much the same. I will increase my support for Riverfood fruit and vegetables, because they are one of the most ethical companies, but it’s a shame that they sell meat, dairy and eggs, all of which involve the premature deaths of sentient creatures.

  13. Although there are some good points in this artice, particularly about pesticides and other toxins, but there are too many assumptions and inaccuracies and the choice of language betrays the writer’s predilictions. If you want to be healthy, ethical and do what’s best for the environment and animal welfare, the answer is very simple: choose a wholfood-based vegan diet. Some fortified foods or supplements may be desirable, but that’s true of most people’s diets and vitamin D cannot be suficiently absorbed from food anyway: it is manufactured by the body using sunlight, so in the Northern hemisphere supplements are usually necessary in winter, particularly for the elderly. The Vegan Society can help and recommend a few books on nutrition that enable a vegan diet to be more than adequate for all ages. Given the major preventable chronic diseases and fatalities caused by the malnutrition (=bad diet, not insufficient calories) of most Westerners who eat a “traditional” diet, I would say a positive change is desirable and well overdue. Incidentally, vegetarianism is irrelevant, because it is no healthier than eating meat, only slightly less damaging to the environment and equally as cruel to animals as meat eating. I only belatedly found this out half a dozen years ago, but better late than never.

  14. Wierd that we should be reading dietary advice from a psychologist and amateur dietician, who clearly doesn’t understand the value of properly conducted epidemiological studies.
    I note that this award-winning journalist has received accolades from such high ranking medical bodies as Glenfiddich and Good Housekeeping.
    It seems her genuine medical credentials are in line with ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith’s.
    Genuine advice comes from those with NO conflict of interest, not the authors of books on diet, including such gems as How to avoid GM Food – written and published before the conclusion of any scientific studies on the subject. Still at £1.99 or £0.01 for a used copy it seems the market value is probably correct.


In case you missed it

Read the latest edition of Wicked Leeks online

Issue 12: Fairness and five years.

Learn more

About us

Find out more about Wicked Leeks and our publisher, organic veg box company Riverford.

Learn more