Culturally Appropriate Dietary Changes | UDaily
Photo by Kopo Oromeng and iStock
January 12, 2022
UD study identifies sustainable diets acceptable to local preferences and cultures
The foods we grow and eat are one of the main factors that determine the health of humans and the environment. Although there have been many efforts over the years to define sustainable diets and to try to provide people around the world with the proper nutrition they need, many of these efforts do not take dietary preferences into account. local conditions or the adverse effects that growing certain foods have on the environment.
A new paper by Dongyang Wei and Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware attempts to remedy this by examining how staple grains can be used as an effective food group for dietary changes that can be culturally appropriate and ecologically sustainable.
Wei, a doctoral student in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, was the lead author of the paper and said that although previous studies have focused on certain parts of this problem, such as considering foods having a lower environmental impact and providing higher levels of nutrition. — this study wanted to incorporate local dietary preferences to see if the proposed changes would actually be feasible.
“We wanted to take into account local preferences and cultural acceptance, because that would increase the chances that sustainable diets would actually be accepted,” Wei said.
In collaboration with Davis, assistant professor at the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment’s Department of Geography and Space Sciences and the Plant and Soil Science Department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and a resident faculty member at UD Data Science Institute, Wei examined how country-specific changes in the supply of grains, which currently account for more than 40% of the world’s dietary calories, protein, iron and zinc, could contribute to more sustainable diets.
While grains are not consumed as widely in the United States, Western Europe and Australia, they play a vital nutritional role in many other countries.
“Regions facing food security challenges include the Middle East, Africa and South Asia,” Wei said. “These areas are also the ones that consume large proportions of grains, so long-lasting dietary changes to grains may have greater impacts in these places.”
The researchers identified two changes in particular that would be locally acceptable and help increase nutrition while reducing the environmental impacts of agricultural production. This includes incorporating more drought-tolerant cereals – such as maize, sorghum and millet – and increasing the share of whole grains.
Wei said that unlike grains such as rice and wheat – which are widely consumed but offer fewer nutritional benefits – other drought-tolerant grains use water more efficiently, release fewer greenhouse gases during their production and are able to maintain their nutrient content in the face. of high CO2 in the atmosphere. These drought-tolerant cereals were once much more widely consumed.
There is also widespread consumption of refined grains, such as bleached flour, which is derived from grains but lacks many of the original nutrients contained in the crop. “Promoting an increase in whole grains in the diet while reducing refined flours and other processed products such as white bread can have significant nutritional and health benefits,” Davis said.
To conduct the study, Wei and Davis looked at historical data from 1961 to 2011 from the Global Expanded Nutrient Supply Database, which contains information on 225 food products. Data was available for 152 countries, which represent 96% of the world’s population.
They looked at national-level dietary scenarios to take into account each nation’s historical and current dietary habits to better understand what dietary changes would be locally acceptable and achievable.
They found that changing diets to include more drought-tolerant grains and more whole grains would lead to a substantial increase in dietary nutrients while helping to reduce the environmental footprint of agricultural production.
For example, the demand for freshwater resources used to irrigate crops could be reduced by up to 11% globally, and water-scarce countries like Yemen could reduce their water demand by up to 60%.
Since all of the crops considered in the study were and still are grown and consumed in each country, it is possible to identify locally acceptable dietary changes that can result in multiple environmental and human health benefits.