About this Research Topic
In order to reduce the environmental impact of our food system, which is directly linked to international health and our sustainability targets, dietary-change strategies are a possible solution to overcome this problem. Dietary changes towards more sustainable diets globally are projected to continue in the coming decades, and at the same time are expected to have a positive impact on human health.
Our current global challenge is to encourage and support healthy and balanced diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050. More recently, we have seen the increasing popularity of innovative and sustainable concepts including plant-based ingredients or ingredients from other alternative sources (e.g. algae, single-cell protein, and insects). To encourage the continued popularity of such ingredients, we must develop sustainable, healthy, and balanced diets that incorporate and imitate the sensory experience - taste, and consistency - of familiar products, like animal products for example. Dietary changes to healthier and predominantly plant-based diets will help us to meet our global environmental targets, but these changes need to overcome potential economic (corruption, infrastructure), political (ideology, values), social (technology, lack of community support, social norms), and cultural (tradition, culture, religion) barriers.
Nutritionists recommend increasing the consumption of healthier and predominantly plant-based or plant-rich diets, as a substitution for meat-based diets, as these diets have the potential to be beneficial in terms of public health and environmental impact. Meat-based diets have a larger environmental impact than plant-based diets, such as depletion of natural resources, particularly by the consumption of vast amounts of water for livestock production and huge amounts of natural resources, and pollution of water and air.
What actually is a healthy and balanced diet? A healthy diet as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) helps to protect against malnutrition in all its forms, as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Our health is closely related to our diet. People generally do not consume a life-long healthy diet, and our unfavorable eating habits are influenced by factors such as the increased supply of processed foods and our overall change in lifestyle. As part of the WHO priority actions (identified in May 2018, and approved the 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13)), WHO’s focus shifted to advocating for healthy livelihoods, and promoting well-being for all. Nowadays, WHO supports the promotion of a healthy food environment – including food systems that promote a diversified, balanced, and healthy diet. The aim of a balanced diet is to supply our body with all the necessary nutrients, and a good ratio between the different foods we consume is crucial for this.
Almost all “trend” diets have decisive disadvantages: they either completely dispense with a specific nutrient or they promote foods that are associated with an extremely low energy supply and are becoming more expensive. Health is an important factor when considering our dietary habits and changes. At the same time, demand for plant-based foods is increasing due to a growing awareness of the effects of meat consumption on the environment. Consuming a diversified, balanced, and healthy diet would mean securing people with a supply of food in a way that is sustainable ecologically, economically, and socially, according to FAO. More popular diets can include the following diets: Mediterranean diet (consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and seafood, dairy and olive oil, and coupled with physical activity), lower-meat/flexitarian diet, gluten-free diet, pescetarianism, and vegetarianism. Diets can be flexible and modifiable for consumers in order to accommodate individuals’ personal food preferences, availability, culture, and socioeconomic values. Some of the most popular trend diets of 2020 (according to UC Davis Health) include the Keto Diet (high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet), Pegan Diet (principles from paleo - supporters of the raw food diet and vegan diets), and plant-based meats (meat alternatives). It seems that these trends diets have an enormous positive impact on human health.
Still, the question remains: how can transitions to healthier diets help us to meet our global environmental targets, and how the adoption of healthy diets could contribute to sustainable and affordable food systems. Healthy eating is becoming more and more unaffordable, especially for people with lower incomes, leading to greater social inequality in terms of the health of citizens. However, due to the large price differences, there is still a risk that people will increasingly resort to unhealthy foods, as a healthy diet is often not feasible for households with low to average incomes. The increased price for healthy foods with a high nutritional value is disproportionately greater than that for foods with high energy but low nutrient content. Experts warn that this has potential negative consequences for the health of the population. What remains important is making sure people are able to afford to eat, and that they are able to afford to make healthy diet-related choices.
A sustainable diet would be a diet that was no longer measured solely by calorie or nutrient content, but by the quality of the ingredients used. Will these transitions toward more sustainable diets be associated with improved health and affordability? How can we balance a sustainable diet with one that the public can afford to buy – can the price of such foods be lowered to encourage their uptake?
In order to obtain an overview of the current dietary changes to improve health, affordability, and environmental outcomes, we invite researchers to contribute to this Research Topic.
Potential topics for submission include but are not limited to the following:
• Shift food choices toward sustainable healthy diets;
• Nutritionally balanced diets;
• Healthy eating guidelines;
• Changing dietary patterns;
• Affordable healthy eating;
• Improvement in food-energy imbalances.
Keywords: dietary changes, healthier dietary patterns, sustainability targets, shift food choices, low environmental impacts, dietary quality, human health, affordability
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.