Sustainability in Nutrition? A holistic concept for science and seven principles for education
The Nutrition Society Paper of the Month for October is from the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and is entitled ‘Wholesome Nutrition: an example for a sustainable diet’. Authors: Karl von Koerber, Nadine Bader and Claus Leitzmann present the background and key findings to their paper below.
From the beginning of humankind, nutrition – including gathering, hunting, farming and cooking – has been an important part of our daily lives. Yet, our modern, fast-paced society often gives a lower importance to food production and eating culture.
“Sustainable Nutrition” is a concept that considers all food-related aspects – also beyond the individual health aspects. It was developed in the 1980s at the University of Giessen, Germany, at the beginning under the name “Wholesome Nutrition”. It is a largely plant-based diet, where minimally processed foods are preferred. If desired, small amounts of animal-based foods can be consumed. This concept includes five equally weighted dimensions: health, ecology, economy, society and culture.
Sustainable Nutrition is based on holistic thinking and considers the multi-dimensional interactions in the food supply chain at all stages: from input-production and primary production to processing, distribution, preparation, consumption and waste disposal. It is an effective communication tool that helps to put scientific knowledge into practice.
Sustainable Nutrition: an answer to global challenges
Sustainable Nutrition has the potential to cope with various global challenges in the field of nutrition, some of which are reinforced by our food habits. Examples are climate change, energy supply and increasing energy prices, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, problems due to livestock breeding and feeding, as well as the pollution of air, water and soil. Especially in low-income countries the challenges are persistent hunger, food insecurity, water scarcity, poverty, unfair economic conditions etc.
The seven principles of Sustainable Nutrition
1. preference of plant-based foods
2. organic foods
3. regional and seasonal products
4. preference of minimally processed foods
5. Fair Trade products
6. resource saving housekeeping
7. enjoyable eating culture.
Barriers for the transformation into practice
One of the biggest obstacles concerning sustainable eating behaviour is the higher price for sustainable products and the lack of willingness to pay more. But the real costs of non-sustainable products are hidden, so that sustainable foods are not expensive, but unsustainable foods are too cheap. In addition consumers have to overcome convenience considerations and longstanding food habits. The availability and the information about sustainable foods and the political and economic conditions are not always favourable. The economic interests of a growth-oriented society and policy can inhibit the change to a more sustainable lifestyle.
To break down these barriers all stakeholders should act jointly to support the realization of an increase in sustainability. Producers can provide more sustainable foods and retailers can increase the transparency of sustainable concepts. There are different political and economic instruments to promote sustainable products like tax incentives and the internalization of external costs which means honest prices. Clear labelling is also crucial to motivate consumers to develop more sustainable consumption behaviour.
Scientists, stakeholders, multipliers and consumers are asked to consider environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects as well as biological (health) aspects. In addition to the various benefits of Sustainable Nutrition, the implementation of this concept will increase the appreciation of our food.
The full paper Wholesome Nutrition: an example for a sustainable diet is freely available until the 17th November 2016.
Nutrition Society Paper of the Month
Each month a paper is selected by one of the Editors of the five Nutrition Society Publications (British Journal of Nutrition, Public Health Nutrition, Nutrition Research Reviews, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and Journal of Nutritional Science).