How do you balance nutritious & sustainable diets?

The global syndemic, a term encompassing both the challenges of malnutrition, including underweight, overweight & obesity and micronutrient deficiency, along with the degradation of environmental and natural resources, has become one of the most critical issues of our time. With food production accounting for the use of 48% and 70% of land and fresh water resources respectively at the global level, and approximately 34% of the Greenhouse gases (GHGs) contributing to climate change coming from food production & consumption it is clear that food has a vital role to play in the resolution of our global nutritional and environmental crises. A shift towards diets and food systems that are both healthy and sustainable is critical.

What is a healthy and sustainable diet? 

The FAO (Food Agriculture Organisation) have defined Sustainable Healthy Diets as dietary patterns that promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and wellbeing; have low environmental pressure and impact; are accessible, affordable, safe and equitable; and are culturally acceptable.

The aims of Sustainable Healthy Diets are to achieve optimal growth and development of all individuals and support functioning and physical, mental, and social wellbeing at all life stages for present and future generations; contribute to prevention of all forms of malnutrition; reduce the risk of diet-related Non-communicable diseases (NCDs); and support the preservation of biodiversity and planetary health.

It cannot be assumed that a healthy diet will have a low environmental impact or that an environmentally sustainable diet will be healthy so careful consideration across the parameters of both healthy and sustainable diets are needed with impacts and consequences weighed against each other to find the best balance. 

How can diets benefit both people and the planet? 

Changes in dietary patterns have shown the potential to benefit both human health and the planet. Studies suggest that reducing meat consumption, particularly from ruminant sources, can significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions while remaining nutritionally adequate 

Many studies have shown that reducing meat consumption can reduce GHGs while remaining nutritionally adequate. For example, global adoption of a low-meat diet that meets nutritional recommendations for fruits, vegetables, and caloric requirements is estimated to reduce diet-related GHGs by nearly 50%, and premature mortality by nearly 20%.

In addition to dietary changes, other changes to the food system could further reduce its environmental impact, including reductions in food loss and waste; implementation of new technology; changes in management to improve crop yields and reduce fertiliser and pesticide run-off; and changes in food formulation, processing, and preparation. 

Regulatory & Policy Intervention 

Regulatory changes are essential to ensure that diets and food systems shift to patterns that are both healthy and sustainable.The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal, aims to establish fair, healthy, and eco-friendly food systems. Key objectives include reducing pesticide use, stimulating dietary changes for improved health and lessening environmental impact. The European Commission proposed a legally binding target to cut food waste by 30% by 2030 across the EU. 

Regulations have the ability to  improve food systems through enhanced standards and can empower consumers in making healthier and sustainable food choices. Proposals for EU-wide mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and nutrient profiling aim to aid consumers in selecting healthier options. Environmental labelling schemes, such as Foodprint are gaining traction. 

At a global level, 159 heads of state and governments endorsed the COP28 UAE declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action to address food’s high vulnerability to climate impacts as well as contributions to emissions. Along with this declaration, the first ever Global Stocktake, which assesses progress on climate action and sets a roadmap for the future, recognised Food as playing a vital role in the global response to climate change.

What we learned at COP28 and how Nutritics can help

COP 28 was used to showcase the impact of climate conscious catering with a focus on the provision of 1.5oC aligned menus that are climate friendly, tasty and nutritious

With insights powered by Nutritics, 50% of the food served by caterers at COP 28 met sustainable carbon, water intensity and UAE macronutrient guidelines. With ⅔ of all food options being vegetarian or vegan. 

Research and innovation are key drivers in accelerating the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems from primary production to consumption. Technology and advances in software that supports the translation of science to practical applications is crucial for enabling transformation of our food systems, supply chains and consumption patterns. 

In conclusion, the interconnectedness between nutritionally adequate and sustainable diets is pivotal for addressing the global syndemic. Regulatory interventions, informed consumer choices, and technological advancements, as exemplified by Nutritics, are essential in steering our food systems towards a healthier and more sustainable future.