7 Win-Win Plant-Powered Solutions To Global Hunger That Benefit Human Health and The Planet

Hello friends! Popping in after a hectic week to share a more formal piece about fighting global hunger with sustainable solutions. This is a mash up of my two academic passions: environmental health science and nutrition.  have an extended version I may share later with much greater detail. For now, hope you enjoy the following!

7 Win-Win Plant-Powered Solutions To Global Hunger That Benefit Human Health and The Planet

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Despite producing more than enough calories per capita needed to feed each person on earth, a stunning 830 million people have insufficient access to food, and many suffer from malnutrition-related conditions, including stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile, obesity and chronic diet-related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease present an additional concern, creating the ‘dual burden of malnutrition.’

While finding hunger solutions, we must also consider the urgent threat of global climate change. The problem is complex, as the food system is both a leading cause of anthropometric climate change, and an industry deeply impacted by its effects.

Ameliorating these problems simultaneously is an onerous task. Luckily, there are many ways to build a healthy and sustainable diet, and many innovations at our fingertips that can help get us there. The following “win-win” plant-powered solutions benefit both human health and the environment, and have use across a variety of contexts. If applied on a global scale, these innovations could help lead a path towards a healthful, sustainable,  food systems future.

1.Win-Win: Swapping protein

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It is well-known that meat, particularly livestock meats have some of the largest carbon and water footprints of all foods, representing 14.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Red and processed meats have also been associated with increased risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. But there are other ways to consume protein. Plant-based proteins including legumes, nuts and whole grains are far less carbon and water-intensive than animal proteins, and offer numerous health benefits, including lower rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. A paradigm shift from meat to lesser-processed plant proteins will remain important moving forward.

2. Win-Win: Focusing on whole plant foods

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Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are all micronutrient-dense foods, filled with powerful plant compounds, including cancer-quenching flavonoids and heart-friendly plant sterols. Their high levels of dietary fiber provide satiety while lowering risks of developing various chronic diseases, such as stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. Fruits and vegetables vary in their water and carbon use, but are generally far less detrimental to the environment than animal-based foods, especially when carefully planned according to optimal growing seasons, and delivered to consumers at a local level, whenever possible.

3.Win-Win: Algae as food

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Although algae has been consumed as part of the human diet for thousands of years, large scale adoption of algae as food has not yet fully taken off. However, it should. Algae offers a potential sustainable source protein and vitamin B-12, an essential micronutrient primarily found in animal-based foods, offering a valuable source of nutrition for those shifting towards a sustainable plant-based diet. Algae could also be considered as an alternative to seafood as a source of DHA and EPA, while helping decrease the current harm caused to the oceans by overfishing. The humble plant also boasts a substantial amount of iodine, a mineral that ranks among the leading micronutrient deficiencies in the world. Scaling up nori (dried green and purple laver) and red algae production is worth considering for planetary and human health.

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Hunger vs Appetite, and Fullness vs Satisfaction

Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Gosh darn it, when did eating get so complicated?” Because it really shouldn’t be. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and it’s if you’re feeling any confusion, it’s certainly not your fault.

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We live in a food and weight loss-obsessed culture. Without even trying, we’re exposed to numerous food and fitness ads, ideas, and theories on a daily basis. They’re everywhere: the internet, social media feeds, TV commercials, even tabloids in the aisle at the grocery store.

All of these tidbits of information can be overwhelming. And oftentimes, to confuse things further, we hear opposing “facts” about the same topics. This encourages us to disengage with our natural eating instincts, and ignore our internal cues regarding hunger and fullness.

Today, I wanted to address a few words/concepts that may help you get back in touch with how to eat like an actual instinctual human rather than a confused oversaturated-with-misinformation human. Let’s go.

Hunger vs Appetite:

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These words are often used interchangeably, but actually have different meanings in the nutrition science world. Physical hunger is defined by the physiological need for food. This may manifest itself as a rumbly tummy, empty-feeling stomach, low energy, and/or inability to concentrate. I know for me personally, I feel light-headed when I need to eat. But everyone is different.

Physical hunger is a result of blood glucose dropping in your body. When this happens, and your stomach is empty, a hormone called ghrenlin is released by your GI tract, sending a signal to your brain to increase gastric (stomach) acid and let your brain know “Hey! You up there! I need food!”

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Ghrenlin stops being released when food enters the stomach, letting your brain know that the need for food has been taken care of.

Appetite, on the other hand, is a desire to eat, less from a physical need, and more as a result of physical or environmental cues, such as the smell of freshly baking cookies, routines, and/or the desire to eat the doughnuts in front of you at a meeting even though you may be physically full.

If you eat in a very rigid, routine-style fashion, you may develop appetite to eat out of habit, kind of like a dog (#relatable).

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