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Fish and potatoes

How we are transitioning to healthy and sustainable food consumption

What should we really eat for both us and the planet to feel good? The answer may feel simple, but overweight and obesity are still on the rise. To overcome the problem, you need information, innovation – and finding your way back to the Nordic pantry and traditional cooking traditions.  

The number of people with overweight and obesity continues to increase. This in turn increases the risk of several future chronic diseases – not least among children and youngsters. The Public Health Agency of Sweden has pointed out healthy eating as an opportunity to prevent, for example, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and even mental illness. 

Diet is a complex issue 

What must we eat to feel good is something most of us know. But it's not quite as simple as just having knowledge of advice and recommendations.  

"There is a lot of information, and if we had eaten according to it, the incidence of the problems we see would have been lower. But what we eat and why is more complex than that. We are affected by so many factors, such as availability, portions that get bigger and bigger, advertising and the food messages we encounter – what we see advertising for is often not fruit and vegetables, but calorie-dense food,” says Maria Biörklund Helgesson, researcher in sustainable consumption and production at RISE. 

But then what is a healthy eating habit? Basically, it is about the food on our plate being fibre-rich and nutrient-dense, and for the most part coming from the plant kingdom. A diet that also contributes to a more sustainable food production. To find examples of that type of food, we don't have to look far away. The Nordic pantry contains a number of ingredients and cooking traditions that provide both a sustainable and healthy plate.  

The Nordic pantry shows the way 

In an EU-funded project, Switch, RISE and other partners are working towards a shift towards healthy and sustainable eating habits and dietary behaviour. With Denmark as the initiator, they have formulated the manifesto "New Nordic Food" – a gastronomic manifesto highlighting the Nordic ingredients and cooking techniques that have been developed over a long period of time, such as acidification and pickling. Methods that are a little forgotten but often are both sustainable and healthy.  

"But New Nordic Food is also about the raw materials, that we should eat more from the plant kingdom and more of what is around us, such as fish, shellfish, mussels, seaweed, wild plants and animals, root vegetables, berries, cabbage, peas, beans, rapeseed oil and meat that has been produced in a good way. Food that grows and is grown here. That food is both healthy and sustainable. We should become better at using what is around the corner, and which is also not dependent on a functioning import chain,” says Maria Biörklund Helgesson. 

We need to eat more vegetables but that doesn't mean everyone has to become vegetarians

Several actions interact – not least innovation 

In order to reverse the trend, a number of measures are required. It can be anything from political decisions such as subsidies for healthy food and higher taxes on unhealthy food, that commercial forces such as food companies, grocery stores and restaurants take greater responsibility for what they expose, clear labelling of food in stores or to start with the children. 

“What do we expose our children to in terms of food and food messages? Today they are met with soft drinks, fast food and various temptations every day. Not everyone can handle it," says Maria Biörklund Helgesson. 

New, innovative foods also play an important role in development. At RISE, research and projects are conducted on all parts of the food system, from primary production to product development. It can be about how to reduce salt in different products, how to develop meat substitutes or what our public meals should contain.  

Develop raw materials and products we are not used to eating 

An important part is about developing raw materials and products that we are not so used to using, such as seaweed, algae and insects. Or that the industry processes more of the animals that are raised for consumption and the consumer chooses to eat more parts.  

"In the past, you ate a lot more of the animal, you had a lot of respect for the animal you raised and followed until slaughter. They did not take the best pieces and threw away the rest, but there was pâté, slow cooking, broth and stews of all parts. But it must be done in a way that appeals to those of us who live now, and it must be good,” says Maria Biörklund Helgesson, who believes that we generally need to eat less meat, and when we do, choose meat such as naturally grazed.  

“We need to eat more vegetables but that doesn't mean everyone has to become vegetarians. In meat and fish there are many minerals and vitamins that are difficult to get enough of otherwise, especially for the elderly, sick, children during growth or pregnant women.” 

Maria Biörklund Helgesson

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Maria Biörklund Helgesson

Forskare, projektledare

+46 10 516 60 78

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