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What we should eat to stay healthy

The fact that a greener diet is good for both health and the environment is nothing new in itself. But to find out more about the correlation, RISE is involved in several projects on sustainable nutrition. The area recently received international attention when the EAT-Lancet Commission presented what our diet should comprise in 2050 if we are to be able to ensure a healthy life for the earth's 10 billion inhabitants that prevents lifestyle diseases at the same time as making the global production of food environmentally sustainable.

Sustainable nutrition, i.e. the research area in which you look at the relationship between a healthy diet and the environmental effects of the food, has grown significantly in the last five years.

"We look at patterns that are good for both health and the environment. This knowledge can be applied to both individual products and meals as well as complete diets, says Marta Angela Bianchi", researcher at RISE.

A transition to healthier food is needed

A notable result in this area is the EAT-Lancet Commission's Planetary Health Diet. The recommended diet is based on almost all of the collected studies on food and health that have been made. The overall goal has been to present food that is healthy and that in 2050 will be sufficient to feed 10 billion people within the planet's sustainable limits. In order to achieve this, we need to change our diet and food production.

Less red meat

In short, we in the Western world must eat less foodstuffs of animal origin, especially red meat. Instead, we must increase the amount of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes in our diet. This can be summed up as maximum health and minimal environmental impact.

"It may not be anything particularly new. But in Sweden we need to be reminded that many people eat far too much meat and need to shift focus to vegetable sources of protein such as nuts, beans and legumes that we currently do not eat so much of. That change is a big challenge, but would have positive effects on health and the environment", says Marta Angela Bianchi.

Red meat and processed meat products have been shown in epidemiological studies to increase the risk of intestinal cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease and should therefore not be consumed in excessive quantities.

A maximum of 500 g per week according to the Swedish National Food Agency.These products are also valuable from a nutritional perspective so a certain consumption is justified.

Limit the intake of dairy products

The health aspect of eating dairy products is a bit more complicated, but general advice from the Planetary Health Diet is that consumption should not exceed 250 grams a day. It is also good to reduce the intake of cheese with a higher saturated fat content and choose other options.

Eating fish rather than meat is better both from a health and environmental perspective. One of the positive health effects is that the long omega 3 fatty acids protect against cardiovascular disease. At the same time, it is extremely important that the fish consumed is fished in a sustainable manner and that the breeding of farmed fish is carried out in an environmentally sustainable manner.

"The epidemiological studies show above all that we can avoid diseases, by replacing a large proportion of the animal proteins with plant-based proteins",says Marta Angela Bianchi.

Nexus studies the relationship between food, health and the environment

To learn more about the links between food, health and the environment, RISE works with both Karolinska Institutet and the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in studies that follow a large population of people fora long time.

Since 1997, Karolinska Institutet has studied what 100 000 people eat, how they feel, what diseases they suffer from and, when someone dies, the cause of death. Nexus is a project based on this study and is supplemented with data on the environmental impact of production. The study was started in 2016, will last for five years and is supported financially by Formas.

"In order to increase understanding, we want to look carefully at how the diets that are best for health affect the environment. The results can also provide support for clearer dietary recommendations. Sweden is actually one of the few countries that includes the environmental perspective in its food recommendations, says Marta Angela Bianchi.

Symposium generates public opinion concerning sea food

An example of what RISE does to generate public opinion and interest when it comes to healthy and sustainable food is the symposium on seafood that was held in early February this year as part of the Seawin project. It highlighted issues such as:

  • How can we eat more sustainably produced seafood in Sweden?
  • What are the health benefits and the risks of eating more fish and how can they be communicated?

Many researchers at the symposium agreed that replacing the meat on a plate better for both the environment and health. The only exceptions apply to herring and wild salmon and trout from the Baltic Sea, wild salmon, trout and whitefish from Lake Vänern and Lake Vättern and wild trout from Lake Vättern. These fish should be avoid ed by children, young people and women of childbearing age due to high levels of dioxin and PCBs.

More fish gives better health

The Swedish National Food Agency recommends increasing fish consumption in Sweden to an average of 2-3 times per week, since fish is better for both health
and the environment than other animal foods, due to fish production being environmentally and resource-efficient.

"Otherwise, our basic advice is that we should eat more fish. Because we do not actually eat as much fish as we should. Eating more fish gives better health", says Emma Halldin Ankarberg, toxicologist at the Swedish National Food Agency and one of the participants at the symposium.

Friederike Ziegler, researcher in sustainable seafood at RISE, agrees:

"Yes, swapping meat for fish is generally good for both health and the environment. And for those who eat a lot of vegetarian food it is nutritionally valuable to supplement this with some fish or algae that also has a high nutrient content of, among other things, vitamin B12, which can be difficult for vegans to get enough of. But we need to be better at making it easier for consumers to make the right choice".