A comparison of global agricultural production to consumption recommendations found a ‘drastic mismatch’, according to the study. The world overproduces grains, fats and sugars, while production of fruit and vegetables is insufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population.
“We simply can’t all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system,” said study co-author Evan Fraser, Canada research chair in global food security and director of the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute.
The study calculated the number of servings per person on the planet for each food group based on Harvard University’s “Healthy Eating Plate” guide, which recommended that half our diet should consist of fruit and vegetables.
The research found that we now produce 12 servings of grains per person instead of the recommended eight, while only producing five servings of fruits and vegetables instead of 15.
Lead author Krishna KC said the overproduction of carbohydrates was driven by their relative ease to produce and ability to feed many people.
However, adopting a more nutritious diet was not only more healthy for consumers, but also for the planet too – and had the potential to be more cost effective – said KC.
Amount of land needed
A switch would see a drop in the amount of land needed to feed the world’s growing population, which was expected to hit 9.8bn by 2050. Fruit and vegetables require 50m fewer hectares of arable land to grow than grain, sugar and fat.
“Feeding the next generation is one of the most pressing challenges facing the 21st century,” added Fraser.
“For a growing population, our calculations suggest that the only way to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, save land and reduce greenhouse gas emission is to consume and produce more fruits and vegetables as well as transition to diets higher in plant-based protein.”
Meanwhile, a report published last month by the Social Market Foundation updated previous studies suggesting pockets of the UK population lived in ‘food deserts’, where access to affordable nearby highly nutritious foods was poor.