If everyone on the planet wanted to eat a healthy diet, there wouldn’t be enough fruit and vegetables to go around, according to a new University of Guelph study.
A team of researchers compared global agricultural production with nutritionists’ consumption recommendations and found a drastic mismatch.
“We simply can’t all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system,” said study co-author Prof. Evan Fraser, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and director of U of G’s Arrell Food Institute. “Results show that the global system currently overproduces grains, fats and sugars, while production of fruits and vegetables and, to a smaller degree, protein is not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population.”
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study calculated the number of servings per person on the planet for each food group based on Harvard University’s “Healthy Eating Plate” guide, which recommends that half of our diet consist of fruits and vegetables; 25 per cent, whole grains; and 25 per cent, protein, fat and dairy.
Researchers calculated how much land is currently used for farming and how much would be needed if everyone followed the nutritional recommendations. They then projected those numbers for 2050, when the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion.
They found that we now produce 12 servings of grains per person instead of the recommended eight; five servings of fruits and vegetables instead of 15; three servings of oil and fat instead of one; three servings of protein instead of five; and four servings of sugar instead of none.
“What we are producing at a global level is not what we should be producing according to nutritionists,” said Fraser, whose co-authors include Krishna KC, research scientist in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics; Profs. Nigel Raine and Madhur Anand, School of Environmental Sciences; and Prof. Malcolm Campbell, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
Because carbohydrates are relatively easy to produce and can feed many people, developing countries focus on growing grains, said KC, lead author of the study.
He said developed countries have subsidized grain and corn production for decades in order to become self-sufficient and to establish global leadership in their production. These countries have also spent far more money on research and innovation for these crops than for fruits and vegetables.
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