Dear food system

Dear food system

Today, October 16, is commemorated, as every year since 1979, World Food Day, promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This year, the FAO makes a special call to achieve healthy food for all corners of the planet and, especially, for the most disadvantaged places, even more so at the moment due to the pandemic that is devastating us. In addition, people who cultivate the land, collect, fish or transport our food are honored in a special way. They are today the #HeroesofFood.

World Food Day has been celebrated every October 16 since 1979, promoted by the FAO. This year it does so under the motto “2020; cultivate, nurture, preserve, together “

Changes in nutritional habits in Europe are becoming more and more evident. The increase in diseases related to malnutrition – and the impact of this fact on the health system – which we already talked about in a previous post (Malnutrition due to excess), translates into more than 70% of the adult population with overweight and 30% obesity, while 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger (FAO Data, 2020).

On the other hand, the current food system – which includes cultivation, animal husbandry, transformation, packaging and transport – is responsible for 37% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are generated annually, and that food losses and waste also contribute 8-10% of the total (IPCC Data, 2019) as we also commented in another post (Tell me what you eat … and I’ll tell you if it’s good for the planet).

A large part of Europe’s food systems produce unsustainably and display unhealthy consumption patterns. It is necessary to align the objectives related to production, with those related to nutrition and health.

Sadly, with these data, we can say that if our current food systems are characterized by something, it is by unhealthy and unsustainable diets from an environmental point of view.

In summary, it can be said that, despite the growing interest of the population in food, nutrition and food quality and the benefits that a healthy diet has on health, the European Union has been experiencing a negative transition for years marked by the increase in these non-communicable diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer or chronic respiratory diseases).

For this reason, food systems need to face great challenges such as feeding a growing population, also concentrated in urban centers, while reducing the pressure on natural productive systems in the context of climate change. By achieving this transformation, we will improve our diet, our health and the health of the planet.

We all have a relevant role in making our food systems more resilient and robust so that they can adapt to each situation and climate change by offering healthy, affordable and sustainable diets in a fair system for all members.

In this context, the strategy of the Farm to the table arises to achieve a sustainable diet (From farm to fork). It is one of the initiatives of the European Union to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 within the so-called European Green Deal (European Green Deal). The Farm to Table strategy contemplates the production of food with a neutral or positive environmental impact while ensuring food safety, nutrition and people’s health within a framework of affordable and profitable prices. In it, European farmers, ranchers and fishermen are recognized as key actors to achieve climate change and preserve biodiversity, and a marketing environment is promoted through short channels, betting on the mitigation of climate change and the reduction or elimination of food waste.

The ultimate goal of this strategy is to achieve a fair, healthy and sustainable food system in which safe, nutritious and quality food is produced while minimizing the impact on nature. All of this aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Fig. Objectives of the European Union for the achievement of a sustainable food system

Maybe today is a good day to write our letter of wishes; Dear food system, I want to meet you more sustainable and healthy. To act in favor of change and reduce the impact on climate change, I am committed to making better choices about my food and to contributing with all the small actions that are in my power.

There is no doubt that by choosing a healthier and more sustainable diet we are consciously contributing to change. Choosing foods that have a lower footprint (carbon, water or ecological) contributes to a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases and, therefore, to slow down global warming. In addition to the lower impact on the environment, we get a greater benefit on our health since we obtain a more balanced diet. By eating a varied diet or choosing seasonal products or less processed foods, we can also reduce our carbon footprint. Small actions such as consuming tap water, planning the purchase, cooking in a traditional way or properly preserving food, contribute positively.

Tell me what you eat… and I will tell you if it is good for our planet

Tell me what you eat… and I will tell you if it is good for our planet

We are increasingly aware of the food that we eat, the nutrition intake that food brings and the impact of our shopping and consumption habits have on the planet. That is as it should be.

The food we consume, that is, our dietary habits, contributes in one degree or another, to our health, but also, to the planet health by leaving a climatic footprint. Specifically, food production contributes to the effect on global warming through cultivation system, how animals have been raised, how they have been stored, processed, packaged and transported to the different markets around the world.

The current world food production system is affecting the terrestrial and marine ecosystems in a significantly way, thus contributing to the obvious climate change. It is not about being an alarmist, but is about becoming aware of a reality that is already happening.

On 8 august, the new report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 107 experts from 52 countries) on “Climate Change and Earth”. The figures speak in this report and show that the current food system – which includes farming, animal husbandry, processing, packaging and transport – is responsible for the 37 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that are generated annually and that, food losses and food waste also collaborates with 8-10 % of the total.

The consequences of these emissions are directly related to the increase of the CO2 level in the atmosphere, the increase in the temperature of the planet, the climatic disasters or the rise in the sea level, which turn into a clear threat to the quality and quantity of current crops. Therefore, affecting food security for the population, for the inhabitants of the planet, for all of us.

It is necessary to address the risks that are already present and reduce vulnerabilities in food production and distribution systems and land management.

According to the data from the IPCC report, climate change will affect food security by limiting access to certain foods, reducing nutritional quality and increasing their prices. The effects will be much more marked in low-income countries.

The Report stated that is necessary limiting global warming to 1.5 oC instead of 2 oC … And yes, this difference of half a degree is crucial on the effects on the soil, marine species and ecosystems and, also about the benefits that this would bring in nature for all humans; fishery, water supply and food insurance, in addition to health, safety and economic growth.

To limit warming, a reduction in CO2 and other GHG emissions is required by 45 % by 2030 (compared to the levels of 2010) and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This requires a profound change and a rapid action in reducing these emissions in all sectors (energy, land, cities, transport, buildings, industry) so is necessary a greater investment in the application of new strategies and technology breakthrough.

With the focus on these actions aimed at adapting and mitigating the effect of climate change, the report indicates as better opportunities; an urgent change in human diet to achieve a reduction in GHG emissions linked to food production, an improvement in livestock and farming production systems to reduce the energy and water consumption currently used and, a reduction, to get eliminate, losses and food waste.

A healthy and sustainable diet includes foods with a lower carbon footprint so that, such diet, would be based on the consumption of vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and seeds as essential foods and foods of animal origin produced in resilient, sustainable and low GHG emission systems.

The report expressly states that, currently, livestock systems for meat and meat products production demand more water and soil and generate higher emissions of gases compared to those of cereal and seed production. This effect is greater in developed countries where breeding is carried out intensively and is urged to produce them in a sustainable manner.

In the study carried out by Poore & Nemecek (2018) it was also evidenced that the environmental impact of the production of food of animal origin exceeds that of plant production, highlighting the need to reformulate the practices carried out in this activity . They also showed that, although producers are a vital part of the solution to this problem, their ability to reduce environmental impact is limited. These limits mean that the same product can have a greater impact than another nutritionally equivalent and therefore, they also urge a change in the pattern of the diet.

The need to adapt our diet to the limits of sustainability aspects is evident and, so much so, that the IPCC refers to it as “low-GHG carbon diet”.

Low-greenhouse gases emission diets are balanced diets that require less water and less land use and cause less GHG. These are diets with more foods based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables nuts and seeds and foods of animal origin produced in a sustainable way.

Other actions aimed at diversifying the food systems proposed in the report in relation to the form of food generation are; the implementation of integrated production systems, the improvement of broad-genetic resources, more intelligent and integrated agricultural systems, best livestock production practices and the reduction of fertilizers use. All of them, in order to reduce the environmental impact through better soil management as a strategy to achieve sustainable use and, therefore, quality food production.

Regarding the reduction of food waste, it is aimed at curbing the need to produce more and, therefore, to reduce the overexploitation of the soil and the consumption of water and nitrogen-based fertilizers, deforestation of areas to convert them into agricultural land and, in the cycle in which we are currently, worse crops are getting worse, poorer in nutrients and the consequent and foreseeable increase in the cost of cereals.

There is no one ideal solution, but a sum of many different actions.

We need to rethink our current food system and find new solutions to feed ourselves on a planet that continues growing. We are facing the challenge of finding effective solutions to produce food in a sustainable way. The way we produce food matters, in other words how we select what we are going to eat matters since it can face climate change and with the reduction in the pressure we are exerting on the land.

What we eat has a story to tell us … and that story makes us responsible and complicit in those effects. It is important to take a step forward in our diet and start thinking about what we eat beyond the hedonic aspect, since our consumption actions affect the productive capacity of the soil and, therefore, the quality of what is produced and even to the nutritional value of food. On the other hand, raising awareness of a more sustainable diet, in addition to collaborating in mitigating the effects of climate change, probably offers significant positive benefits on human health in the medium term.

Spanish Food Industry: forced to improve the food composition

Spanish Food Industry: forced to improve the food composition

Food is a trending topic. It is known that a good diet is that which nutrients and food are properly combined, which allows a good state of health.

However, disorders in the diet are currently a real challenge for public health. The growing figures of obesity and diseases related to food in Spain and the rest of Europe, have promoted public administrations related to nutrition and health, develop agreements with the food industry.

Food and Beverage Industry, the first industrial sector of our country, with a turnover of more than 98 M € and with important growth expectations, is now facing new paradigms and challenges in food policy and nutrition.

Thus, new consumer demands and trends in health have promoted the generation of a strategy to improve the composition of food and beverages by the Spanish Ministry of Health through the Spanish Agency of Consumption, Food Security and Nutrition (AECOSAN) with the voluntary commitment of more than twenty sectorial organizations representing 500 companies of the food and beverages sector.

The so-called Collaboration plan for improving the composition of food and beverages and other measures 2017-2020, is aligned with the policy of reformulation promoted by the European Union through several frameworks created within the High Level Group on nutrition and physical activity with Member States, in which food groups and priority sectors were established.

The PLAN includes the reformulation commitments of the Manufacturing and Distribution sectors for more than 3,500 foods and drinks of habitual consumption in children, young people and families in relation to the reduction of added sugars, salt and saturated fats.

Food reformulation consists of improving the content of certain nutrients selected from food without this leading to an increase in energy content or other nutrients, maintaining food safety, flavor and texture so that the product continues to be accepted by consumers. Therefore, this entail a significant investment.

The most noteworthy commitments are, among others, the following measures that will be carried out on 13 food groups in a maximum period of 3 years:

  • Reduction of added sugars up to 18% in sauces such as ketchup and fried tomato, 10% in dairy products, soft drinks, meat products, breakfast cereals for children and fruit nectars and 5 % in pastries and cakes, cookies, ice cream and special breads
  • Reduction of salt up to 16% in meat products and sauces, up to 13,8% in salty snacks, 10% for ready-to-eat meals and 6,7% in vegetable creams.
  • Reduction of saturated fats; 10% in the case of for ready-to-eat meals and salty snacks and 5% in pastries, cakes and cookies

This voluntary commitment of the Food Industry to the reformulation of certain foods has been associated with an important effort on innovation for the identification of new raw materials and ingredients, reformulation and production processes in order to achieve food according to sensory specifications and quality that consumers expect, topics in which we have worked intensively in CARTIF with a large number of companies in the sector.

This PLAN also includes agreements with sectors such catering or retail industry, with which commitments have been made to increase the offer healthier menus and meals, with an increase in the offer of dishes that include vegetables, greater presence of lean meats and fish accompanied by garnishes of vegetables, vegetables and/or legumes and to minimize the offer of fried precooked dishes. Meals will be prepared with griddled, baking and oven and sauces or stir-fry dressings will be avoided. Olive oil will be promoted as the best dressing option. Bread will be whole grain and the main dessert option will be seasonal fruit.

Regarding the Modern Restoration or HORECA sector, commitments have been made related to the reduction of the amount of sugar contained in single-dose sachets to 50 % and 33 % in those of salt, as well as the use of low-fat milk in breakfast services.

Finally, vending or automatic distribution sector commits to reduce the maximum amount of sugar added in hot beverages and to increase the number of balanced foods, water and soft drinks without added sugars of the total of products and beverages included in the machine.

With this PLAN, is intended that the different sectors work synergistically to contribute to a more balanced diet with high nutritional quality. The PLAN also wants to promote R & D aimed at creating healthier products, strengthen the collaboration of companies and promote the coordination of these measures with the administrations, as well as impact, from the health and social point of view, the shopping basket and promote good practices to improve the diet from the nutritional point of view. Through all these measures, it is also intended to contribute to improving the scientific base and collect data that drives these initiatives and their monitoring at European level.

These actions, undoubtedly, represent an advance and we will find food products with a composition, in certain nutrients, improved compared to the current ones. However, it is necessary to continue taking steps on behalf of all the actors involved in promoting health and reducing the appearance of food-related diseases by creating new strategies.

With M of Microbiome

With M of Microbiome

In recent years the definition of the human microbiome has been postulated as an essential tool for medicine, pharmacy, nutrition and other disciplines in order to understand the role of microorganisms present in the body on health and immunity. In fact, the microbiome affects aging, digestion, immune system, mood and cognitive functions.

But, what is the microbiome?

There are different definitions for this term. Generally speaking, we can say that the human microbiome is the set of microorganisms in each person (microbiota)and the genes these cells harbour.

Microbiome research area comprises a field of science associated primarily with advances in DNA / RNA sequencing and computational biology. Thus, the microbiome can be defined as the genomic content of all microorganisms recovered from a habitat or ecosystem (eg saliva, feces or skin).

The study of the microbiome started in the 17th century with the development of the first microscopes and the beginnings of the science of microbiology. However, it has been in recent years when the development of rapid sequencing methods, the reduction of the costs associated with these techniques and the development of data management techniques have been developed which has enabled the microbiome and its constituents.

And why is it important?

Taking into account that the number of microorganisms that we harbour is between 10 and 100 billion (ten times higher than our number of cells), that we can have more than ten thousand different species and that the types of microorganism vary greatly among different people, we can think that the microbiome has a special role in our health. In fact, the knowledge of these microorganisms, the functions of their genes, their metabolic and regulatory pathways is already allowing them to develop strategies to prevent diseases and improve general health.

However, the microbiome of each person is not something static. Nutritional imbalances, lifestyle, use (and abuse) of antibiotics, low exposure to pathogens (or excess of hygiene) permanently modify our microbiome.

And what is your relationship with the diet?

There is a clear relationship between what we eat and the balance of our native flora that has a direct impact on our health status. Indeed, is interesting that changes in diet are always accompanied by changes in the microbiota and the enrichment of their corresponding genes.

Balanced diets can promote a proper and well-structured microbiota and conversely, alterations in the composition of our microbiota or reduction of some of the microorganisms that make up the diversity of the microbiota, increase the risk of suffering from diseases related to lifestyle such as allergies, diabetes, obesity and / or irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, a prolonged state of these situations has been related to metabolic alterations.

Recent studies have shown that there are notable differences in the microbiota of people who follow rich meat diets versus those who follow more ancestral life-styles and diets based mainly on vegetable consumption. There are studies that suggest that a type of diet rich in proteins and animal fat is associated with a particular kind of flora while carbohydrate-rich diets are associated with the prevalence of another type of flora. These differences have been linked to the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as atherosclerosis.

Over and undernutrition malnutrition has a direct impact on the microbiota that favours alterations of the same that, finally, lead to problems associated with an increase in inflammation and metabolic problems. A strong influence has been observed in nutrient-poor diets, especially those deficient in certain amino acids, in the positive incidence of intestinal inflammation. Likewise, the pathogenesis of various diseases is associated with certain components of the diet that promote disorders in the microbiota.

Therefore, the better balanced the diet, the more diverse the microbiota. Thus, intervention through personalized diets improves the response in individuals with low microbiome richness.

And then, can it be improved?

Of course we can! The importance of food, nutritional balance and life-style have a direct influence on the composition of our microbiota and its activity and, therefore, directly on our health. From this relationship arises the interest to develop new strategies to personalize our diet.

With the M of microbioma and the M of malnutrition of which we spoke in our previous post, we have to say, also with M, that …we can do MORE: improve our diet and our way of life.

Malnutrition and the need of an optimal nutritional balance

Malnutrition and the need of an optimal nutritional balance

The term “malnutrition” refers to a state in which a deficiency, excess or imbalance of energy, proteins and other nutrients. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) more than 2 billion people on the planet suffers some form of malnutrition. When we think about malnutrition, children or adults with undernutrition come to our minds. However, malnutrition can occurs either due to a lack of certain essential micronutrients, e.g vitamins and minerals (dietary deficiency), insufficient calorie intake to ensure normal growth and life (undernutrition) or an excess of consumption of calories (overnutrition).

Nutrition-related diseases are becoming more prevalent in the world and are a serious problem, and overweight and obesity that were related to food abundance, are now a reflection of a clear malnutrition.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), since 1980 obesity has doubled worldwide. Specifically, by 2014 more than 1,9 billion adults (aged 18 and over) were overweight, more than 600 million of them were classified as obese. In the same year, it was established that 41 million children under 5 were overweight or obese.

The global cost of malnutrition is about $3,5 billion per year due to associated public health costs and lack of productivity.

Overweight malnutrition is a prevalent problem and increases the risk of developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke, atherosclerosis, and is linked to several cancers due to excess of calories or lack of nutrient balance from the diet.

Economic crisis, political and social factors, cultural and biological conditions are some of the factors that influence the evolution of this problem. In our developed world, the causes that characterize malnutrition are directly related to low nutritional quality diets characterized by an excess in consumption of fat, carbohydrates, low consumption of good quality proteins, vitamins, minerals and fibre and a decrease in physical activity.

New busy life style, increased intake of high-calorie foods (in some countries healthy foods are more expensive than processed food) or inactivity are factors that have contributed to the emergence of this problem.

During the last decade, a boost has been made on nutrition as a key to the development of countries. In 2015, however, the goals for sustainable development were to achieve the end ALL forms of malnutrition by 2030, challenging the world to think and act differently on malnutrition and to end all forms of malnutrition.

Nutrition begins with what we eat. Good nutrition gives us the energy we need to live and is the first defense against diseases. Adequate nutrition is essential for good health and, likewise, poor nutrition can affect the occurrence of diseases or physical and mental underdevelopment, especially in the case of children.

Food is the way to promote health. Recently the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition (SENC) has presented the dietary guidelines and the new nutritional pyramid on which basis, of course, includes daily exercise and emotional balance.

The nutritional pyramid should be our spiritual guide to achieve an adequate nutritional balance. However, the new pyramid also raises some issues such as the presence of sausages or coldmeats as part of daily servings of protein sources, or the presence of the scary industrial pastries, sweets and sugary drinks, or salty snacks as an “optional and moderate consum” and especially the appearance of the nutritional supplements flag waving at the top of the pyramid…

Undoubtedly, there are actions that have long been necessary to eradicate this problem associated with food and that require the full involvement of the competent authorities. For example, the urgency in defining nutritional profiles that would limit food producers’ ability to make use of nutritional claims in low-nutrient products, or limiting children’s advertising of calorie foods (action, of course, which WHO has already taken with “fast food” companies) or pressure on the food industry to reformulate certain products (part of this road is already under way).

On the other hand, the necessary (I would say even mandatory) empowering of consumers on nutrition education in order to choose healthy food and diets to obtain an adequate nutritional balance. Internalize the importance of a proper nutrition, choose fresh seasonal products (and if possible, local food), limit (or do without) the consumption of foods that are not necessary (they are almost certainly calorie-rich and very cheap food), check nutritional labels and practice some regular physical activity.