NZ’s updated Eating and Activity Guidelines allow for “totally plant-based” eating patterns

The Ministry of Health of Aotearoa New Zealand has recently announced an update to its national Eating and Activity Guidelines, including a number of meaningful changes that Doctors For Nutrition is encouraged to see.

The Ministry of Health of Aotearoa New Zealand has recently announced an update to its national Eating and Activity Guidelines [1]. While the central ‘Eating and Activity Guidelines Statements’ for adults remain the same and were not reviewed, several meaningful changes have been made that are welcomed by health-promotion charity, Doctors For Nutrition.

1. Kiwis have a new ‘plate model’ with a focus on whole plant foods

Figure 1. Eating and Activity Guidelines image: ‘Choose a Balance of Healthy Food Every Day’

The tools used to describe what a healthy eating pattern looks like have changed and the Ministry of Health has created a plant-centric image [2] that looks somewhat similar to Canada’s Food Guide.

This updated image makes it clear that if an adult chooses to eat red meat, chicken or fish, these components should be a small segment of overall food intake.

As the nutritional guidance developed in 2015 was not reviewed, the ‘milk and milk products’ segment remains. However in 2019 the NZ Ministry of Health recommended ‘reducing dairy’ within its ‘Sustainability in the Health Sector’ report [3], so chances are high that the ‘milk and milk products’ segment will be reconsidered in future.

When Canada’s Food Guide was updated in 2019, a strong emphasis was placed on plant-based eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability. Dairy no longer has a stand alone segment, instead becoming a minor part of the ‘protein foods’ segment, alongside a statement to ‘choose protein foods that come from plants more often’.

2. The guidance is “largely plant-based” and explicitly allows for “totally plant-based” eating patterns

While the flexible guidelines do allow for moderate amounts of animal-based foods (eggs, dairy, poultry, seafood) and small amounts of red meat, it’s now clear that fully plant-based eating patterns are covered by these guidelines too.

Official recommendations are made for plant-forward changes to the eating practices of New Zealand adults, including limiting processed and red meat and increasing consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Will Kiwis get on board with putting this advice into action? Research by Colmar Brunton shows over 1.5 million New Zealanders are already eating less meat and that interest in ‘flexitarianism’ is growing fast. [4]

Despite this progress, there is much work to do to implement equitable policies that ensure all individuals and households have reliable access to healthy, affordable and sustainable food.

Health professionals are making their voice heard on these key issues, including OraTaiao: New Zealand’s Health and Climate Council, an organisation representing over 700 health professionals, who have called for Government Ministers to establish a Tiriti-based food system that is equitable, improves health, and reduces climate pollution. At a regional level, health advocates in Nelson are urging their City Council to adopt C40 Good Food City policies to make it easier for everyone to access healthy, sustainable food.

Table 1. Recommended dietary changes for New Zealand adults, from the 2020 Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults.

3. For those that choose to include meat in their diets, the recommended standard serving size for cooked lean meat has decreased to 65g