I write on behalf of a growing number of health professionals in the UK who advocate a predominantly plant-based diet for optimal health. We are disappointed to read the inaccurate statements made by Michael Gove suggesting that ‘fresh dairy produce and protein sources such as fresh fish, offal and properly sourced meat [are] critical to human health and flourishing”. This position is not only unsupported by current scientific evidence but is dangerously misleading to the UK population, which is in the midst of an epidemic of diet-related diseases.

​The ‘Western’ diet, high in animal and processed foods, is the leading cause of illness and death contributing to high rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension. We know from many scientific studies that the longest lived, healthiest populations are those eating a predominantly plant-based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

The term Blue Zones refers to five regions of the world where you find the highest numbers of centenarians, who remain healthy and vibrant despite their age. The diet of these regions is predominantly whole food plant-based with an emphasis on legumes. Meat is eaten around five times per month. Vegetarians and vegans experience reduced rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity; consequently, they live longer. The major dietetic associations have confirmed that vegan and vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally complete and suitable for all stages of human life, but are associated with reduced rates of chronic disease.

​The World Health Organisation undertook an extensive scientific review of the impact of processed and red meat on health. The report, published in 2015, concluded that processed meats are a group 1 carcinogen i.e. they cause cancer, and red meat is a group 2a carcinogen i.e. probably causes cancer. Cancer Research UK estimates that 21% of colon cancer cases in the UK are caused by eating red and processed meats alone. That adds up to a startling 41,700 new cases of colon cancer caused by meat consumption every five years.

While Mr Gove is correct in stating that our diet is the leading cause of the rise in non-communicable diseases, his focus on “wrong fats” while simultaneously promoting animal foods as part of a healthy balanced diet reveals his lack of understanding on this issue. ”Wrong fats” are mainly found in animal foods. Meat, eggs and dairy are high in saturated fat, which contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Similarly, Mr Gove’s suggestion that animal foods are required for protein again reveals his lack of knowledge in this area. We do not need to eat meat or any other animal foods for protein. In fact the protein in meat has been shown to cause inflammation in the body, which then leads to chronic disease and accelerates the aging process. The ‘sourcing’ of meat will have no effect on the adverse health impact of animal proteins. Plant proteins are nutritionally complete and more balanced in terms of the amino acid content than animal protein. Replacing animal with plant protein reduces the risks of multiple chronic diseases and early death.

We are only commenting on the health aspects of animal foods in the diet because as health professionals we are best placed to give a balanced, scientific and unbiased view. However, it is now well known that eliminating animal foods from our diets will have immense benefits for the environment and of course for our fellow non-human animals.

​If Mr Gove is interested in educating himself on the latest scientific evidence related to nutrition and health there are plenty of plant-based health professionals who would be happy to help him.

Dr Shireen Kassam, Consultant Haematologist King’s College Hospital, London

​Cosignatories: Dr Rebecca Ellen Jones, Dr Manmit Kaur, Dr Cathy Mason, Dr Elyse Baril-Guérard, Dr Anna Borek, Dr Gemma Newman, Dr Robert Ayto, Dr Alan Desmond, Dr Hanna Shiels, Dr Michael Hooper, Dr Hannah Short, Dr Sue Kenneally, Dr Yoginee Gokool, Dr Giuditta Sanna, Dr Victoria McCormack, Dr Katharine Cartwright, Dr Amy Phillips, Dr Jenny Hall, Dr Aryan Tavakkoli, Dr Luke Vano, Dr Alison Prime, Dr Meg Pryor, Dr Keval Shah, Dr Josh Cullimore, Dr Hilary Binns, Dr Mahesh Shah, Dr Claire Marie Thomas, Martin Ashby, Shandeep Momi, Anna Draper.

References:

1) Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116:1970-1980

2) The potential health and economic effects of plant-based food patterns in Belgium and the United Kingdom. Nutrition 48 (2018) 24–32

3) Lifestyle Medicine: A Brief Review of Its Dramatic Impact on Health and Survival. Perm J 2018;22:17-025