Scientists are currently investigating the profile of a healthy and sustainable diet. One thing is certain, it is more complicated than just replacing a product with a more sustainable option.
Due to the growing world population the demand for food will increase in the future. On the other hand, the production of food also has an impact on the environment. For this reason it is becoming increasingly important that food optimally provides all the nutrients that humans need with a minimum impact on the environment. Health factors and sustainability factors are both taken into account when considering the diet of the future, but how can health and sustainability be combined? Researchers (Mertens et al. 2016) propose the SHARP diet:
- (environmentally) Sustainable
- Preferable (from consumers’ perspective)
The SHARP model helps in composing a diet that takes both sustainability and health factors into account. The model is broader, though. The availability of products to consumers is studied and it is important that sufficient food can be produced in a safe way. Above all, the diet must fit in with the eating cultures and food preferences of consumers.
Replacement is too simple
The SHARP model goes further than just replacing products with more sustainable alternatives. Practice shows that replacement of one product (group) often changes the nutrient intake. For instance, the researchers explain that replacing meat with vegetable-based substitutes is a better choice for environmental reasons. However, meat and other animal products make an important contribution to the required amount of vitamin B12, iron, zinc and selenium. Also the eating behaviour of consumers is difficult to change and replacing a product group is not really easy.
It will help in the short term when consumers start bringing their food consumption behaviour more in line with the dietary guidelines. However, what will be the impact of this SHARP model for the future? According to researchers it is important to first formulate a clear research question and to use this as a basis for determining how to measure sustainability and health. Defining a healthy and sustainable diet has interfaces with various social themes. Therefore cooperation between scientists in the areas of nutrition, sustainability, agriculture and economics is required. In short, this research area is still developing and the diet of the future is not easily determined. For now, this teaches us that dietary advice in line with the nutrition guidelines is the best option.
Publication on healty and sustainable dietsA sustainable diet provides sufficient nutrients and energy with a low impact on the environment. The food is available, affordable and fits in with the eating habits of the population.
Mertens, E., Veer, van ‘t, P., Hiddink, G.J., Steijns, J.M.J.M., and Kuijsten, A. (2016). Operationalising the health aspects of sustainable diets: a review. Public Health Nutrition. doi:10.1017/S1368980016002664