Why nutrition matters in sustainable diets

Infographic courtesy of Arla Foods

Arla Foods has released a new survey of more than 8,000 consumers in the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Germany, where the majority of the consumers (66%) do not see nutrition as part of sustainable diets. What a worrying idea.

While the majority of the consumers in the four countries say that they try to make sustainable choices wherever they can, their attention is mostly on carbon footprint, biodiversity, packaging and animal welfare. The nutritional value of the food product is to a much lesser extent being considered when choosing a sustainable diet. Only one in three (34%) consumers say that they associate nutrition with sustainable diets.

This lack of insight means that while more than half the European population is overweight and every sixth person is obese, according to the World Health Organization, the hidden problem of low intakes of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is compounded by the focus on carbohydrates and fat, resulting in what is called “hidden hunger.” WHO estimates that more than two million globally suffer from this issue, with 20 per cent being Europeans. Again, suffering from deficiency in a geographical area of plenty.

In the UK, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey has documented a general decline in intake of some vitamins and minerals over the period from 2008 to 2017, particularly in adolescents. For example, the survey shows that about every fifth teenage girl and approximately every seventh teenage boy in the UK has a low intake of calcium, vitamin B2 and iodine.

The consumers also said they would like more information, and half are confused about eating sustainably. Can’t say I blame them.

Lea Brader, nutrition scientist at Arla Foods, suggests a good place to start is one’s national guidelines. More countries have started looking at foods’ climate impacts as well as food waste issues. Brader adds, “Basically, we should include much more vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains and complement it with dairy, eggs, fish and smaller amounts of meat. If everyone decided to live by these guidelines, we would be well on our way to eating sustainably as a nation.”

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