A recent article highlighting the correlation between environmental and health sustainability suggests that healthy diets in low- and lower-middle-income countries are less expensive than western diets.
A westernized diet is characterized by a high dietary intake of sucrose and saturated fats with a low intake of fiber.
Taiya R. Bach, a faculty member in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, said the makeup of westernized can be seen through many different perspectives.
“In fgeneral, [the westernized diet is] higher in calories, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you talk to and it’s generally higher in protein,” Bach said.
In high- and upper-middle-income countries, dietary change is easier to implement than in low- and lower-middle-income countries, according to the Dietary Patterns Modeling Study. This is attributed to ingenuity – being more efficient with food waste.
High-income countries also have access to more knowledge, which helps reduce food waste, about which foods are better for you and how to access those foods effectively.
The main takeaway from this study is that healthy foods themselves are not more expensive, but the cost and access to knowledge of them are. This affects public health spending as well as national climate change commitments.
The article by Springmann et al. reported that healthy and sustainable dietary patterns cost up to 22-24% less in upper-middle-income and high-income countries, but 18-29% more expensive in upper-middle-income countries lower than low income. These models consist of reductions in food waste, food-related costs of climate change, and health care and socio-economic development.
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According to the Lancet modeling study, the agricultural food system is facing increasing environmental challenges. It is responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and its environmental impacts are likely to exceed ecological limits. These include carbon emissions, land and water use, and applications involving fertilizers.
Recently, an increase in dietary changes is resulting in a shift from animal products to nutritionally dense plant-based foods such as vegetables, nuts, legumes, and fruits.
Devika Suri, a global health program advisor and researcher at UW, offered her insight on what explains the differences in the cost of certain diets in different parts of the world.
“The change in cost of the flexitarian diet decreases in high income countries and increases in low income countries and I guess that [it’s] because [high-income countries] would reduce [their] consumption of animal feed and [low-income countries]on average, would increase their consumption of animal-source foods and their dietary diversity would increase,” Suri said.
This change aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improve nutritional status and dietary health.
load capacity — the earth’s ability to support a number of people—from a region—was found to be generally highest for the less-meat scenarios and highest for the lacto-vegetarian diet. The evidence presented in this article supports the argument that farmland producing less meat has a higher carrying capacity. But the carrying capacity is strongly influenced by the initial assumptions regarding the percentage of cropland available for cultivation.
“On the one hand, the argument is that there’s a lot of land that’s not arable and you can’t farm and that’s where the animals are useful,” Suri said.
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Generally, veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism are the most sustainable diets from a health, environmental and cost perspective. Avoid animal products is one of the best ways to reduce environmental impacts on the planet.
“There’s also the argument that for every pound of beef you can feed 100 people with a piece of bread and there’s this argument that we grow a lot of food to make meat and that’s not effective,” Suri said.
As some farmland requires expansion into wilderness areas, the loss of wildlife is a growing concern. Without meat and dairy consumption, global agricultural land use could be reduced by more than 75%, according to the Guardian.
during this timefood products of animal origin use 83% of agricultural land and produce 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
According to the Guardian, low-impact meat and dairy products always cause more damage to the environment than the least sustainable plant-based products.
“There are a lot of reasons why people are vegan or vegetarian, it’s a matter of ethics and morality,” Suri said in reference to understanding how people choose different types of diets.
But sustainability goes beyond environmental impacts and also involves dietary considerations. This specifically includes access to enough calories, as well as enough nutrients.
The most common nutritional deficiencies contain vitamin A, iron and iodine. These problems appear most often in low-income countries that depend on staple foods such as rice and other grains as their main source of calories.
Although nutritional value is an important factor, most individuals are also concerned about the overall price of their food.
Pescatarian diets have proven to be relatively expensive, with fish having one of the highest prices per calorie. In comparisonprotein sources from grains and plant-based products had lower costs than vegetables and most animal products, making grain-rich vegan and vegetarian diets increasingly affordable.
“In general, the percentage of staple crops in your diet is higher in lower-middle-income countries, with the most common being rice, wheat and maize,” Suri said.
staple crops had one of the lowest costs of any food, making deviations from current diets dominated by staple crops less affordable.
Here it becomes clear that unless these circumstances are complemented by reductions in food waste, consideration of diet costs and socio-economic changes, the shift to healthier diets will become increasingly more less affordable.