In this June 14, 2018, file photo, nectarines, plums, mangos and peaches are marked at a fruit stand in a grocery store in Aventura, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Brynn Anderson

Not enough fruits, veggies grown to feed global population a healthy diet: study

The world’s agriculture producers are not growing enough fruits and vegetables to feed the global population a healthy diet, according to new Canadian-led research.

The world’s agriculture producers are not growing enough fruits and vegetables to feed the global population a healthy diet, according to new Canadian-led research.

The study, published this week in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, indicates that agricultural practices aren’t keeping step with prevailing dietary wisdom, greatly overproducing grains, sugars and fats while growing three times less produce than what nutritionists suggest everyone should consume.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Guelph and completed by a team of more than a dozen scientists in Canada and the United Kingdom, also stressed that a focus on growing more fruits and vegetables should go hand in hand with reduced reliance on livestock production in order to limit the agriculture sector’s overall impact on the environment.

“We just wanted to ask the question, ‘is what we’re producing globally matched with what nutritionists recommend,” said University of Guelph professor Evan Fraser, who co-authored the study led by Krishna KC, a researcher at the school. “The answer is no.”

The study contrasted United Nations agriculture production data from 2011 with the nutritional guidelines set out in the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate or HHEP model, an internationally recognized blueprint for consuming a healthy diet.

The study said the HHEP advises that 50 per cent of a person’s diet should be comprised of fruits and vegetables, with 25 per cent dedicated to whole grains and the last quarter reserved for a combination of protein, fat and dairy. The study notes that the Canadian Food Guide, updated last year, calls for 27 per cent less produce, 34 per cent less protein and 60 per cent more dairy than the HHEP model.

In order to feed everyone according to the HHEP’s guidelines, the study found global agriculture would have to produce 15 servings of fruits and vegetables per person per day. The 2011 data, however, suggested current practices were yielding just five servings.

The study also documented a smaller shortfall in protein production, with three servings per person per day produced compared to the five recommended by the HHEP.

Fraser said other food groups, however, were being grossly overproduced.

Related: Fruits and vegetables: Are you eating enough?

Related: UBCO researcher creates diabetes diet

The study said agriculture should produce one serving each of oil and dairy, zero servings of sugar, and eight servings of whole grains per person per day to keep the population in compliance with the HHEP.

Instead, it found 2011 agricultural practices were yielding three servings of oil and fat, four of sugar, one of milk and a whopping 12 servings of grains per day.

Fraser said there are numerous, complex reasons for much of the overproduction, noting that people in impoverished countries often focus on growing grains because they offer a cheap, easy source of calories.

But he said government subsidies and industry lobbies also played a significant role, citing a long-standing, multibillion-dollar U.S. government subsidy for corn growers as one example.

Fraser said the current crop-to-diet ratios play a direct role in levels of diabetes, obesity and other conditions strongly tied to diet, adding the shortfalls and their ensuing results would only intensify as the earth’s population continues to climb.

Nor is the solution as simple as merely growing more fruits and vegetables.

Fraser said that if the agriculture industry immediately corrected its imbalances and shifted its production priorities to align with the HHEP, a new problem would emerge.

He projected doing so would free up 51 million hectares of arable land globally, but the total amount of land used for agriculture would jump by 407 million hectares thanks in part to increased availability of pasture for livestock. Greenhouse gas emissions would also rise as a result, the study predicted.

Fraser and the team of researchers said a focus on growing more fruits and vegetables should be accompanied by reduced reliance on livestock in order to keep the global food supply sustainable.

Fraser said he “cannot imagine an agro-ecosystem without animals in it,” arguing animals play a role in cycling nutrients in the environment and preserving the quality of certain types of land.

But he said the best path forward would couple a significant increase in fruit and vegetable production with a shift away from animal protein.

“If we want to move forward to feed the future … and we want to be healthier and we don’t want to increase the amount of land that agriculture uses, we both have to shift to a Harvard Healthy Eating Plate model and we have to shift our protein consumption away from livestock-based to plant-based,” he said.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Campbell River’s ‘school of hack’ gives kids inside computing edge

Teachers take ‘hacking’ back to its roots with school program

UPDATED: Man survived for ‘days’ trapped in smashed truck north of Campbell River

Duncan Moffat, 23, found by hunter beside Hwy. 19 near Sayward

Gas prices on Vancouver Island to drop six cents

But a ‘volatile’ market could lead to increases in the coming weeks

Helpline assists Campbell River families tackling the dementia journey

No one in Campbell River should have to face the dementia journey… Continue reading

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Baloney Meter: Will tougher penalties for gang members make Canada safer?

Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled

Early data suggests no spike in pot-impaired driving after legalization: police

Some departments said it’s too early to provide data, others said initial numbers suggest stoned driving isn’t on the rise

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Cowichan school district defends lack of notice to parents following elementary student arrest

Officials with School District 79 stand by their decision not to send out an alert.

Most Read