Environmentally sensitive, optimized diets related to location and season can help drive more sustainable eating habits, according to a new tool developed by researchers.
It is widely accepted that people’s dietary habits must change to improve our own health and the health of the planet.
Because the composition of an optimal diet changes depending on the combination of location, season and personal nutritional needs, researchers at the Institute of Environmental Engineering ETH Zurich, Switzerland, have developed a tool that uses an extensive database of foods, nutrients and associated environment.
impact to develop optimized diets specific to each individual in a particular country and month. The tool could be used to develop personalized, healthy, low-impact diets for people around the world.
Increasing rates of morbidity due to poor eating habits, with the concomitant increase in the cost of providing necessary medical care for the consequences of poor nutrition, could also be mitigated if more people were to monitor tailor-made food consumption.
The methodology behind the research was to build a database of more than 500 items, which also included different life cycle stages of each food product and calculated the environmental impact depending on the geographic location where each item typically comes from.
The researchers used their method to compare what low-impact diets would look like depending on the country (Switzerland vs. Spain); season (August vs. February); sex; the inclusion of food supplements, and for different diet types and environmental impacts (notably climate change and biodiversity loss).
The results indicated that although the diets optimized for the test were broadly similar, there were marked differences in the detailed composition depending on the country, season and impact considered, especially with regard to the choice of legumes.
The lowest impact diet included local and imported foods, as well as fish. Vegan diets had the lowest impact only when they added a supplement to meet nutritional needs.
“It can be overwhelming to consume a diet that meets your specific nutrient needs and reduces disease risk, while also considering the many environmental impacts associated with your food choices,” said Christie Walker, PhD, lead author of the study. research.
“This tool is designed to guide individuals in building their own personal diet that is both healthy and has a low impact on climate change and biodiversity, taking into account the many stages of a food’s life cycle.
” The researchers’ findings are published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Feeding the planter’s fast-growing population is becoming an ever-increasing challenge, bringing Earth’s existing resources to a breaking point. In 2019, Our World in Data reported that food production is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the livestock and fishing industries the largest contributor.
The idea of encouraging the population to eat a diet of locally produced, seasonal foods to reduce CO2 emissions is a recurring theme.
Tackling world hunger without also increasing the intensive agricultural practices and distribution logistics that cause environmental damage, resulting in the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and damage biodiversity, is one of the main concerns of humanity today and is a question addressed by engineering and technological solutions.
Possible solutions that are being explored to a greater or lesser extent include 3D printing of food (technical 2.5D printing) and adapting the science behind growing plants in space to help Earth’s population as well.
Robotics is also becoming an increasingly important aspect of food production and harvesting, and much research is being done on the development of agricultural robots that can increase the productivity of the human workforce, such as the delicate work of picking soft fruit.
and vegetables; planting cuttings; control disease and assist in the breeding process.