NutriScore, is a nutritional traffic light intended to help consumers make healthier buying decisions by providing information on nutritional quality at a glance. It does this by using a algorithm that gives a lower (healthier) score for protein, fibre, fruit, nuts and vegetables and a higher (less healthy) score for kilocalories, saturated fat, total sugars and salt. Based on this score, the product is given a letter with the corresponding colour code, from the healthiest which would be green (letter A) to the least healthful which would be indicated by the colour red (letter E).
But not everything is perfect in the world of the colourful algorithm. Since its birth in France (2017), it has been the subject of numerous criticisms arguing that the NutriScore not only fails to meet the objectives for which it was created but is even misleading for consumers. As expected, we are facing a divided Europe. On the one hand, the governments of France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany have adopted the Nutriscore label on a voluntary basis. However, Italy considers that such labelling poses a risk to products “made in Italy” and to the Mediterranean diet, and has even presented to the Commission an alternative to NutriScore called NutrInform (which has also been widely criticised). Major food multinationals such as Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Danone have already implemented NutriScore in their own brand lines and some of the largest retail chains such as Carrefour, Erosky, Aldi and Lidl have also included NutriScore in their own brand products.
The pro-NutriScore group argues that it is an easily interpreted tool that can encourage healthy food choices and motivate industry to reformulate its products. By contrast, another group sees the NutriScore as an unfair system, which may discriminate against certain categories of food, as it does not include comprehensive nutrient information and is not based on the reference intakes of the average consumer, leading to an unbalanced diet.
The NutriScore also fails to convince the European Commission. In fact, in its Farm to Fork strategy published in March 2020, the Commission faces the challenge of implementing a single mandatory labelling system across the EU, by the last quarter of 2022, but has so far not committed itself to the NutriScore. In fact, it has proposed to launch an impact study on the different types of front of pack labelling.
Despite all this variety of opinions, today the NutriScore is one of the most widely accepted front labels in Europe and the one chosen by Spain for implementation during the first quarter of 2021.
In this situation we must not forget that the most important thing is to inform (not influence) the consumer. This situation is reminding me of what happened with Regulation 1924/2006 whose initial objective was also very worthy, as it was published to protect consumers on nutrition and health claims on food. That was a Regulation under strong pressure from the food industry which did not take the consumer into account. In fact, to this day, consumers are still not aware of the difference between a “fat-free”, “low-fat” or “reduced-fat” product, to name just one example. It was a regulation made “for” and “by” the food industry and which in my opinion has not guaranteed consumer protection either. At the very least, the NutriScore would expose a regulation that is allowing a fried roll filled with vitamin D enriched cream to claim that it “contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system”. However, the NutriScore is also being used as a marketing tool by the food industry, and the algorithm has even been modified to improve the rating of certain products.
One of the main criticisms of NutriScore is that products with low nutritional value may give the impression of being healthy after reformulation. In my opinion, the NutriScore would actually be continuing a situation that Regulation 1924/2006 has not been able to resolve. We should focus on health policies by reformulating those products with too much salt, saturated fat and sugar so that consumers can actually make healthier choices.
We already know that NutriScore is not perfect, in fact no labelling system will ever be perfect in isolation. In parallel, complementary nutrition information systems will need to be put in place. Nutrition education will of course be essential for any labelling system to be effective, but here the food industry really needs to lose its fear of being more transparent. Marketing departments must understand that including “sodium palmitate” (Latin name) or “elaeis guineensis” (name of the plant) as an ingredient instead of “palm oil” is not transparent and can confuse even a PhD in nutrition.
In the food area of CARTIF during 2021 we are preparing business initiatives related to the improvement of the nutritional profile of certain foods and actions aimed at improving nutritional labelling so that consumers can make more informed choices.
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).
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.
Microalgae here, microalgae there. It is so rare not to have come across any news about the exploitation and the thousand uses of these microorganisms that a few years ago we simply knew as those that dye salty and sweet waters green.
Microalgae are a very beneficial source for humanity, extending their application to fields such as food, agriculture, aquaculture, pharmacology and cosmetics, among others. They can also generate clean energy and second-generation biofuels, thereby contributing to the development of the circular economy.
They can grow autotrophically or heterotrophic. In the first, they use sunlight as an energy source and CO2 as an inorganic source of carbon, consuming nutrients and producing oxygen. While in heterotrophic growth mode the only source of energy or carbon is organic compounds.
Heterotrophic microalgae have great potential to remove organic carbon and various types of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds from wastewater, which use it as a source of carbon and energy without the need for sunlight. It is, therefore, a great opportunity to purify wastewater without requiring large areas, as in the case of autotrophic conditions.
LIFE ALGAECAN Project
With the LIFE ALGAECAN project, coordinated by CARTIF, a new sustainable treatment of residual effluents from the agri-food industry is proposed through the cultivation of heterotrophic microalgae, obtaining a high-quality by-product as raw material and of commercial interest. This by-product aims to be useful as a biofertilizer and / or animal feed.
Microalgal biomass contains micro and macronutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, which can be considered as a biofertilizer, a product that can help improve soil fertility and stimulate plant growth.
The pilot plant has been installed and operating for six months at the Huercasa company facilities, in Segovia (Spain), carrying out a treatment of its residual water from the washing and processing of vegetables and achieving the profitable growth of heterotrophic microalgae in closed tanks .
This demonstration plant is capable of carrying out a treatment of 2m3 a day through the cultivation of microalgae; a separation by centrifugation of the algal biomass and clean water and, lastly, a spray drying of this biomass obtaining microalgae powder as the final product.
Is this treatment environmentally and economically beneficial?
The project consortium has designed and developed this prototype treatment, powered by renewable energies, specifically solar energy and with the support of biomass, with the aim of minimizing the carbon footprint and operating costs.
On the other hand, an economic benefit will be obtained with the sale of the microalgae obtained as a biofertilizer.
The results obtained have been favorable so far, given that a purified water is being achieved within the legal parameters of discharges, in addition to the complete elimination of the sludge that is generated in the traditional process of purification of this type of water in conditions aerobics. This translates into a good option as a treatment for companies with this type of effluent and its possible escalation at an industrial level.
The ultimate goal of the project is to replicate its results elsewhere and for the next six months the plant will be operating in the second demonstrator at the VIPÎ company facilities in Slovenia, where the environmental conditions are different.
The project consortium is made up of the CARTIF Technology Centers (as coordinator) and AlgEn (Slovenia), the companies HUERCASA (Spain) and VIPÎ (Slovenia), and the University of Athens (Greece).
April 7 is World Health Day. It is paradoxical that this year we will celebrate it confined due to a global pandemic. However, although #Istayhome, life goes on and we cannot let our guard down when it comes to health.
Each of us associates the fact of being at home with different habits: some to tranquillity and rest, others to domestic tasks, others to family. Whatever your situation, there are no excuses to do it in a healthy and active way.
Let’s put ourselves in situation with some data from the 2019 health profile in Spain published by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development):
Spain is the EU country with the highest life expectancy: 83.4 years in 2017, which is 2.5 years above the EU average. Spaniards today can expect to live an additional 21.5 years after reaching the age of 65, 1.5 years more than the EU average. This increase in life expectancy was mainly caused by a considerable reduction in mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases, although mortality from Alzheimer’s disease increased as a consequence of the increase in life expectancy.
Spain has some of the lowest mortality rates from preventable and treatable causes, indicating that public health and healthcare interventions are, in some cases, effective. However, much remains to be done as estimates suggest that more than a third of deaths in Spain can be attributed to risk factors associated with behavioural habits, including tobacco use, poor diet, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle (see figure).
In the case of smoking, an anti-smoking law was adopted in 2005 and was strengthened in 2010. The 2010 law strengthened the rules on the retail and advertising of tobacco products; increased protection for minors and non-smokers by expanding smoke-free zones to all public places; and promoted the application of smoking cessation programs, especially in primary care. At the same time, taxes on cigarettes were increased, by 3% per pack of cigarettes in 2013 and by 2.5% more in 2017, along with a 6.8% increase in taxes on rolling tobacco. All these measures have contributed to the fact that smoking rates have decreased in the last fifteen years. However, more than one in five Spanish adults (22%) continued to smoke daily in 2017, representing a higher proportion than the EU average (19%).
Regarding overweight and obesity, the data is even more alarming. In 2005, the NAOS Strategy, managed by the Spanish Agency for Consumption, Food Safety and Nutrition, aimed to curb the increase in obesity in the Spanish population. This was reinforced by the Food Safety and Nutrition Law adopted in 2011, also with the aim of reducing overweight and obesity in children, prohibiting foods and beverages with a high content of saturated fatty acids, salt and sugar in schools and, more broadly, tightening the regulations on children’s menus. Recently, work has been carried out to establish a set of indicators that allow evaluating progress in their application and for the execution of health promotion activities in the area of nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention (AECOSAN, 2019). In 2018, the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare announced new measures to reinforce the NAOS Strategy and, among them, an initiative on a new labelling on the front of packages using the Nutriscore model. Using an easy-to-understand colour code (based on a “traffic light” approach), this initiative aims to provide citizens with more accurate information on the nutritional quality of food, although this measure has not yet been applied. In early 2019, the Ministry also signed an agreement with almost four hundred food companies that committed to reducing the content of saturated fatty acids, salt and added sugars in their products. However, the effects so far seem modest. In fact, the obesity rate has increased among adults, which may hinder progress in reducing cardiovascular mortality and other related causes of death: one in six Spaniards suffered from obesity in 2017 (17%), a increase compared to the figure of one in eight in 2001, also above the EU average (15%). This increase is related to poor physical activity among adults, as well as unhealthy nutritional habits: only about 35% of adults reported eating at least one vegetable a day. The same situation is found in the child-youth population. According to the PASOS study (2019), 14.2% of the child-youth population is overweight and obese as measured by BMI and 24.5% have abdominal obesity. The prevalence of childhood obesity has grown in the last two decades: 1.6% according to BMI and 8.3% according to abdominal obesity.
We cannot ignore the data. A healthy and active lifestyle contributes to our quality of life expectancy. Some basic recommendations:
Move, live an active life: go up the stairs, go to work on foot or by bike whenever possible, choose games that involve movement to do with your children, dance, etc.
Eat calmly: follow your feeling of satiety and not your emotions (avoid eating due to boredom, anxiety, etc.). Limit ultra-processed food (you can read further in the post: Realfood, fad or is it here to stay?). Include fruits and vegetables in all your intakes. Give priority to whole carbohydrates over refined ones. Vary the food every day. Eat quietly and if possible, in company.
Hydrate yourself regularly throughout the day.
Exercise daily: dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to the physical activity that you like the most and vary it.
Rest and sleep between 6 and 8 hours a day.
Spend time on activities you like: reading, walking, writing, dancing, painting, photography, movies, meditating, talking to someone who inspires you, etc.
Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits should be an ever-present motto in our lives, but it becomes essential in difficult situations like the one we are experiencing. It is at these times when initiatives like #AlimentActivos from FIAB (Federation of Food and Beverage Industries) take on special relevance. It is a website where they give us tricks and ideas, pose challenges for us and provide us with scientific data and information to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.
Do not forget that, through social networks, you can follow a multitude of profiles that inspire us in matters of healthy eating and cooking, physical exercise at home, how to maintain good mental health, as well as stay positive and relaxed.
#ZeroHunger is the motto for the World Food Day that is celebrated on October 16 leaded by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) worldwide. #ZeroHunger is also part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Achieving #ZeroHunger is not only about feeding hungry people, but also about doing it in a healthy and sustainable way. Food safety in our times is not only a matter of quantity, but also of quality. Unhealthy diets have become the first risk factor for disease and death worldwide and that is why we need to reach the entire population a sufficient variety of safe, nutritious and affordable foods, while caring for the health of the planet on which we all depend. World Food Day asks us to take action in all sectors to reach #ZeroHunger, 100% nutrition.
But what is a healthy and sustainable diet? FAO itself determines that a healthy diet is one that provides nutritional needs to maintain an active life and reduce the risk of contracting diseases through the consumption of safe, nutritious and diverse foods. And a sustainable diet supports entrenched solutions to food production with a low level of greenhouse gas emissions and a moderate use of natural resources such as soil and water, while increasing food diversity for the future.
What is the current situation?
The high consumption of dishes rich in sugars, refined starches, fats and salt have become the basis of food for developed countries, limiting the consumption of traditional dishes made with vegetables, legumes, whole grains, etc. We cook less, move less and consume more prepared dishes. The result is that we are malnourished. Do you find it alarming? Don’t you think it’s for so much? Let’s see some figures:
Currently, there are already more people with obesity and overweight in the world than those who are hungry: almost 800 million people (672 adults and 124 children) in the world suffer from obesity and another 40 million children are overweight. However, it is estimated that there are about 820 million people who suffer from hunger (approximately one in nine).
Unhealthy diets along with sedentary lifestyles have overcome smoking as the main risk factor for disability and death in the world.
Approximately 2 billion euros are spent each year to treat health problems related to obesity.
These are some of the conclusions reached by FAO related to hunger and malnutrition but they are not the only ones. Our way of feeding ourselves is also having environmental consequences:
The environmental damage caused by the food system could increase from 50 to 90%, due to the higher consumption of processed foods, meat and other products of animal origin in low and middle income countries.
Of some 6,000 species of plants grown for food throughout the history of mankind, today only three species (wheat, corn and rice) supply almost 50 percent of our daily calories. We need to consume a wide variety of nutritious foods.
Climate change threatens to reduce both the quality and quantity of crops, reducing crops. Rising temperatures are also exacerbating water scarcity, changing the relationship between pests, plants and pathogens, and reducing marine resources.
The current food system – which includes farming, animal husbandry, processing, packaging and transportation – is responsible for 37% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions generated annually, and losses and food waste also collaborates with 8-10% of the total sum. Belén Blanco tells us in more detail in the post “Tell me what you eat… and I’ll tell you if it’s good for the planet”.
For all this, because they are realities, all together we must raise awareness of the problem of hunger, malnutrition, food waste, climate change, etc. FAO calls on all people to get involved in implementing some measure to achieve the #ZeroHunger.
Who are the actors involved in this change taking place? The answer is all. Modify the way of producing, supplying and consuming food. The involvement of the industry in limiting saturated and trans fats, added sugars and salt. Eliminate advertising and promotion in unhealthy foods and especially those aimed at children and adolescents. Implement educational programs on nutrition and health. Actions from all levels are necessary.
And I, as a consumer, what can I do? As a consumer, as a citizen, as a human being on this planet, you can. Think about how you consume, how you eat and act on your own, individual level and with the people around you. Here are a series of measures that can guide you:
World Food Day is not the only forum in which it strives to improve food security, but FAO also participates with WHO and other agencies in the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Nutrition Action (2016-2025). It aims to strengthen joint action to reduce hunger and improve nutrition worldwide and assist all countries in their specific commitments. The SOFI report is published annually to provide information on the progress made to eradicate hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition. The last one was published on July 15, 2019.
On World Food Day, FAO launches a strong message: we can end hunger and all forms of malnutrition to become the #ZeroHunger generation. But this will entail the joint action of all, from the commitment of each one of us in the change in the way we feed ourselves, to the cooperation between countries for an efficient transfer of technology, for example, through the correct decision-making of governments or by the involvement of private companies and the media.
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, ourdietary 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.