15 Aug Fortified foods to bridge nutritional gaps in environmentally sustainable diets
The need to provide nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate diets to an increasing global population, while also maintaining environmental sustainability, is an ongoing challenge. Plant-based diets could provide potential resolutions, but the poorer provision of certain bioavailable nutrients from plant foods is a conundrum that needs to be addressed.
A recent study in Nutrients examined the value of fortified foods in bridging nutritional gaps when transiting to plant-based diets for the Dutch adult population. Current diets had a shortfall of fibre, vitamin A, some B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Women had poorer iron intake than men, while the intake of saturated fat and sodium was elevated for men. Three increasingly fortified diet scenarios were introduced that included breads and oils fortified with iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as meat and dairy alternatives fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and vitamin D. Fortified diet scenarios eradicated shortfalls in vitamins B2 and B6, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Upon optimisation for both nutrition and the 2030 Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGE) target, the effect of food fortification resulted in smaller dietary changes from current diets, indicating higher cultural compatibility of the diet, which may minimise risks of poor acceptability.
Fortified foods allowed for the possibility of reducing animal contribution to total protein intake. To replace nutrients provided by meat and meat products in diets optimised for GHGE, consumption increases of over 1000% were required for fortified plant-based alternatives. This could drive excessive energy intake and may not reflect the population’s preferred food choice. Individual requirements matter here as a higher meat intake was retained for women than for men, due to higher daily iron requirements. While some concerns have emerged over the nutrient density of plant-based alternatives, this discussion should consider the type of ingredients used in the products, and the intended quantity of replacement. This study found important contributions of calcium, zinc, selenium, iron, and vitamins B2, B6 and D from plant-based alternatives. However, it is important to address the bioavailability of nutrients and the changing ratios of macronutrients, especially in fortified foods such as cereal products, which provide higher carbohydrate to protein content. Cost and cultural acceptability across different countries would likewise be crucial factors to consider if fortified foods were to become significant contributors of nutrients in environmentally sustainable, plant-based diets.
This SNippet was written by Patricia Soh, a PhD Fellow in the SNi team.