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Cutting food waste could feed the world, but not nutritiously

In a new report from the American Society for Nutrition, experts report that reducing food waste will not be enough to fulfill the world’s nutritional needs. 

To solve the problem of feeding the growing human population, attention must be urgently focused on essential vitamins and minerals, according to the researchers.

By 2050, the global population is projected to reach 9.7 billion. According to the study, the world already produces enough protein and energy to feed this many people if food waste were cut in half.

At the same time, however, global food production will fall short in terms of the micronutrients that we need to stay healthy, including calcium, iron, vitamin E and others.

“Reducing food waste would give us enough protein and food energy to feed the 2050 population today – but not enough of the essential vitamins and minerals we need,” said study lead author Dr. Nick Smith. “This suggests that food waste is an important issue to tackle, but won’t necessarily resolve all the world’s nutritional needs.”

The DELTA Model used for the study is a computational model that calculates the amount of food nutrients available to the global population under different assumptions about population size, agricultural productivity, and food waste. One unique feature of the model is that it not only accounts for foods’ nutritional content, but also for our body’s ability to utilize those nutrients.

“When thinking about food system sustainability, it’s important to consider all aspects of sustainability: environmental, economic, social, health and nutritional,” said Dr. Smith. “And nutrition doesn’t just mean enough energy – it has to be the right foods, the right balance of nutrition.”

The experts explained that one reason why cutting waste will only get us so far is that we tend to waste more of certain types of foods than others. 

For example, around 25 percent of vegetable mass is wasted after it leaves the farm gate. When it comes to milk, this number is around seven percent. This produces a greater amount of fiber waste compared to calcium, which means that cutting waste will not have the same impact across all nutrients.

“The DELTA Model was not designed to find the ‘right answer’ for what the food system should look like,” Smith noted. “Rather, it is a tool for understanding the food system, testing ideas and hypotheses and informing debate. Its results are important for the global conversation of what food the world needs to produce.”

Dr. Smith will present the research at NUTRITION 2021 LIVE ONLINE. The findings are preliminary and will be peer-reviewed in the future.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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