Complementarity of Plant and Animal foods

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Sustainability considerations are increasingly featuring in dietary recommendations from official sources. The detail of these recommendations varies, but a recent review argues the need to take a holistic view of sustainability.

The paper highlights the complementary and synergistic benefits of consuming both plant-sourced foods (PSF) and animal-sourced foods (ASF) as part of a sustainable diet, and the false dichotomy that PSF are good and ASF are bad – sometimes propagated in dietary recommendations. A holistic approach is recommended when broadening guidelines, such that multiple dimensions of environmental and socio-economic factors are considered.

The authors provide comprehensive tables on the macronutrient, micronutrient and bioactive components found in PSF and ASF. They also make the obvious, but often neglected point, that not all PSF and ASF have the same nutritional content, environmental or sociology-economic impacts and that variety and redundancy (overlapping nutrient profiles of different foods) will be required for nutritional adequacy, food security and sustainability.

Also covered is the impact of food composition and structure – the food matrix – on nutrient bioavailability. Broader factors such as food processing and meal preparation, waste, impact of and on the microbiome and food synergy: the improvements in nutrient bioavailability as a result of nutrient interactions, are also included in the analysis.

Although fruit, vegetables and dairy food groups are most prevalent in dietary recommendations, they are under-consumed throughout the world. At a global level the most commonly under-consumed nutrients are calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin A. From the DELTA Model® we know that not only is calcium under-consumed but it is also under-produced by the global food system.

When guiding consumers, clear and simple messaging is often retained. However, sustainable nutrition is far from simple, so we must ensure clarity of guidelines if we are to help individuals make sustainable, healthy choices.

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