Two recent papers from the Riddet Institute’s sustainable Nutrition InitiativeTM have examined the current importance of dairy and of meat respectively in the supply of food nutrients to the global population. Both were published in Frontiers in Nutrition, and used the DELTA ModelTM to identify the contribution these food groups made to the global supply of 29 nutrients essential or important to the human diet. A third paper on the role of plant food crops is currently under review.
The papers indicated that both dairy and meat currently contribute disproportionately high percentages of several key nutrients compared to their production mass, as a result of their high nutrient density. In particular, the papers highlighted that around half of the global calcium supply in human nutrition comes from dairy, as well as high proportions of B vitamins, protein, amino acids, and minerals. Meat contributes over half of global vitamin B12, along with substantial proportions of our protein, dietary fat, multiple minerals, and A and B vitamin supplies.
These conclusions apply to the aggregate contribution of these food groups at a global level, and do not capture the variation in contribution between individual populations in different parts of the world, or between individuals with different diets. These sub-global variations in consumption, due to differences in choice, availability and affordability, will result in significant variation in nutrient sources at these smaller scales. The team covered these differences in global consumption and future changes in a recent online article.
These research papers examine the current state of the world and not how these dynamics may change in the future. With the emergence and proliferation of novel food groups, changing diets, and a growing population, the characteristics of global nutrition will change. However, human nutrition is a key element of a sustainable food system. This research demonstrates the current importance of specific groups in our food production for adequately meeting global nutrient requirements, and ensures the importance of nutrition at the forefront of sustainable food systems thinking.