If everyone in the world wanted to eat healthy they simply would not be able to, shows a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE.
The global agriculture system overproduces fats, grains, and sugars, but does not produce enough fruits and vegetables, according to University of Guelph researchers.
In a press release supplied to ScienceDaily, study co-author Professor Evan Fraser said the following.
“We simply can’t all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system. Results show that the global system currently overproduces grains, fats and sugars, while production of fruits and vegetables and, to a smaller degree, protein is not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population.”
Previous research suggests that feeding the next generation will be one of humanity’s greatest challenges. This study confirms previous findings, and builds upon them.
University of Guelph researchers compared global agricultural production with Harvard University nutritionists’ recommendations, the so-called “Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid.”
Created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, the guide recommends that 50 percent of one’s plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, one fourth of it should consist of protein, and another fourth of healthy vegetable oils.
Professor Fraser and his colleagues calculated how much land is currently used for farming around the world, and how much land humanity would need to use to maintain the current diet, or alternatively to follow Harvard nutritionists’ recommendations. Those numbers were then projected for 2050.
There exists a discrepancy between global agricultural production and expert recommendations, researchers claim.
In part, this phenomenon is due to the fact that developed countries subsidize corn and grain production, and invest in research for these crops, rather than for healthier alternatives such as vegetables and fruits. Carbohydrates are easier to produce, so developing countries focus on producing them as well.
Furthermore, according to University of Guelph researchers, people have a “real hunger” for sugar and fat, and simply crave those foods.
Unless humanity changes its diet, feeding the world in 2050 will require 12 million more hectares of arable land and a billion more hectares of pasture land, so adopting a healthier diet would not only be good for the world’s health, but also for the environment. In order to do this, the global agricultural system would need to produce more plant proteins, and the people would need to eat less meat.
“The only way to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, save land and reduce greenhouse gas emission is to consume and produce more fruits and vegetables as well as transition to diets higher in plant-based protein,” Professor Evan Fraser concluded.
According to Our World In Data, although the number of undernourished individuals around the world has been steadily falling, 821 million were found to be malnourished in 2017.