A growing number of the world’s population requires higher food production. Nevertheless, millions of people are affected due to an inadequate calorie intake resulting in diet-related non-communicable diseases (e.g. diabetes, obesity). Many people suffer because of a poor-quality dietary intake causing hidden hunger (micronutrient deficiencies). Recently there is an increasing interest in the development of concepts related to eating patterns under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement so that win-win diets (environmentally sustainable and optimising health) are achieved. Transformation to healthy and at the same time sustainable dietary patterns by 2050 requires rapid changes in global food production, right energy intake involving the variety of plant-based foods, reduced consumption of animal-based food sources, refined grains, processed foods, saturated fats and added sugars. The dietary shifts should account for a 100% increase in consumption of healthy foods including vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts and a 50% reduction in consumption of red meat and sugars. The healthy dietary patterns must also address a reduction in food losses, waste, be local and culture-friendly. Application of these nutritional patterns might improve intake of some micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, folate and vitamin A. On the other hand, it might limit the intake of vitamin B12 and possibly riboflavin with plant-based foods, so the food fortification or dietary supplementation of these microelements be considered. The figure below (Figure 1) represents the diet gap between dietary patterns in 2016 and the reference diet intakes of food.
Figure 1. Diet gap between dietary patterns in 2016 and reference diet intakes of food (Source: Global Burden of Disease database, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28919119). The dotted line represents intakes in the reference diet (Source: https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2818%2931788-4).
Why not start from smaller changes today? One of the well-established diet which has proven a beneficial effect on health and rely on biodiversity of plant-based foods consumption including unrefined grains, vegetables and fruits, meals preparation from scratch and reduction in use of red meat, poultry, butter, refined grains, processed foods and sugars is a Mediterranean dietary model (Figure 2). The Mediterranean diet provides ~35g/day of red meat and poultry together and is high in fat ~40%, which mainly comes from olive oil.
Other examples of the traditional dietary patterns which involve plant-based model with little meat include countries like Mexico, West Africa, China and India. Larger amounts of nuts (~100g/ day) are consumed in West African countries, e.g. in Nigeria. Moreover, larger quantities of soy-derived foods are consumed in Asian countries, e.g. Taiwan and legumes in Mexica, India and Rwanda. Adaptation of this nutritional pattern into the local biodiversity of foods, seasonality and accessibility is the point to consider. Furthermore, the culinary experience of different regions gives opportunities to learn new ways of preparing meals which are enjoyable, healthy and environmentally-friendly.
Examples of meals fitting into the proposed dietary models:
- Barley and roasted tomato risotto
- Tuscan white bean stew
- Feta Garbanzo bean salad
- Mediterranean-style grilled salmon
- Butternut squash dal
More examples and recipes can be found on the following websites:
Marta Kozior is a postgraduate research in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Marta’s current areas of interest include sports nutrition, clinical nutrition and nutrition education. Contact Marta via email at Marta.Kozior@ul.ie or view her research profile on Researchgate