According to a report, in light of the need to produce high quality, varied and nutritious food to feed the growing population, our world is facing a major challenge in drastically reducing the environmental impact of the global diet. Published by Boldsky website, which includes quotes from Conversation magazine.
There are more than 7000 edible plants that can be eaten. But today, 90% of global energy intake comes from 15 varieties of crops, and more than half of the world’s population depends on only three grain crops: rice, wheat and maize.
Recent studies suggest that an increase in intensive processed foods may play a key role in this current shift. Therefore, reducing the global consumption and production of these foods will provide a unique opportunity to improve human health and maintain the ecological sustainability of the diet.
Effects on diet
Agriculture is the main driver of climate change because it accounts for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions and about 70% of freshwater use. It uses 38% of the world’s land and is the largest driver of biodiversity loss.
Research shows how Western foods that are high in calories and animal products can have significant environmental impacts, as well as environmental concerns associated with intensely processed foods.
The effects of intensely processed foods on human health have been well described, but their negative effects on the environment have not received much attention. Surprisingly, over-processed foods are a dominant component of the food supply in high-income countries (and sales are growing rapidly in low- and middle-income countries as well).
One of the latest scientific papers conducted by scientists in Brazil warns that globalized foods are becoming more and more over-processed at the expense of the cultivation, processing and consumption of “traditional” foods.
Ultra Processed Foods
Ultra-processed foods are defined as a group of foods that consist of “many contents and combinations of ingredients, exclusively for industrial use, as a result of ongoing industrial processes.”
They usually contain small or cosmetic combinations and whole foods. You might think of foods that are not easily prepared at home. Examples of ultra-processed foods include desserts, soft drinks, chips, ready-made foods and fast food items in restaurants.
In contrast, there are “traditional” foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, preserved legumes, dairy products, and meat that are minimally processed or prepared using traditional processing methods.
Although traditional processing such as fermentation, processing and packaging is essential to ensure food security and global food security, ultra-processed foods are produced in excess of what is required for food security.
Australians have particularly high rates of processed food consumption, accounting for 39% of total energy intake among Australian adults. It is also consumed in large quantities in Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico and Spain, but is lower than in the United States, where 57.9% of intensive processed foods are in the diet of American adults.
According to the Australian Health Survey, ultra-processed foods that provide the most nutritional energy to Australians aged two and over include ready-made foods, fast food, pastries, breads, cakes, breakfast cereals, fruit drinks, cold tea and sweets.
Ultra-processed foods rely on a small number of crop varieties, which put stress on the environment in which their raw materials are grown. Corn, wheat, soybean and oilseed crops (eg palm oil) are good examples. These crops are selected by food producers because they are cheaper to produce and have higher yields, which means they can be produced in large quantities.
Products derived from animals in intensive-processed foods are also derived from animals that rely on similar crops for fodder.
The advent of cheaper, more processed convenience foods has led to the conversion of less processed whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meat and dairy products, resulting in reduced food quality and diversified food distribution. .
In Australia, the most commonly used ingredients in the 2019 packaged food and beverage supply are 40.7% sugar, 15.6% wheat flour, 12.8% vegetable oil and 11% milk. Some ingredients used in intensely processed foods, such as cocoa, sugar and some vegetable oils, are closely linked to biodiversity loss.
The environmental impact of ultra-processed foods can be avoided because they are harmful to humans and are nutrient deficient. Foods rich in processed foods are associated with adverse health effects, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, depression and other diseases.
To counter the threat of ultra-processed foods, sources of food production around the world need to be diverted to produce healthier, less processed foods. Globally, for example, large grains such as wheat, corn, and rice are ground into refined flour to produce refined breads, cakes, donuts, and other bakery products.
They can be diverted to produce more nutritious foods such as whole wheat bread or pasta.
The move will contribute to improving global food security and provide greater protection against natural disasters and conflicts in key food basket areas.
Other environmental resources can be saved by avoiding the use of certain products altogether. For example, the demand for palm oil (a common ingredient in high-processed foods and associated with deforestation in Southeast Asia) can be significantly reduced by shifting consumers’ preferences towards healthier foods.
Reducing the intake of intensely processed foods on an individual level is one way to reduce each person’s ecological trail while also improving their health.
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