Sustainable healthy diets: An impression from the International Congress of Dietetics 2016

‘Going to sustainable eating’ was the slogan for this year’s International Congress of Dietetics (ICD) in Granada, a congress where everything revolves around the topic of sustainability. In the food science and healthcare sector, we look at sustainability from a different perspective than the mainstream: We focus on food systems and how they can become more sustainable not only through cultivation and production but also through dietary recommendations and food-based dietary guidelines (which are influenced by sustainable working practices). Dietary recommendations affect sustainability because they take various food chain processing procedures into account (including a minimum of cultivation and transport efforts for environmental purposes).

By focusing on “nutrient dense” foodstuffs and their caloric intake and micronutrient profile, we broaden the options of what can contribute to a healthy diet, which is now too often fixated on macronutrients because of the looming obesity epidemic in Europe. Nutrient dense food is relatively low in calories (less than 150 kcal/serving), but high in micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In the future, it will be increasingly more important to find an appropriate balance between macro- and micronutrients in foods to enhance people’s total nutrient intake. These sustainable, nutrient dense foodstuffs could therefore not only extend the lifetime of an obese patient, but also that of our planet.

According to Prof. Andrew Drewnowski1, who spoke at the congress, a sustainable food is affordable, easily accessible and nutrient dense (i.e., the nutritional value per calorie should outweigh its carbon foot print). With a low purchase price, only 62 kcal/serving2 and more than 5 mg of micronutrients per kcal, 100% fruit juice fits this sustainable food profile, especially in the context of nutrient density. When talking with dietitians at the congress, the general consensus was that we should focus on increasing our fruit and vegetable intake, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that many attendees believe that fruit juice can be a part of a “sustainable healthy diet”. Of course dietitians prefer their patients to eat whole fruit instead of squeezing it, but the juice still contains the nutrients of the fruit from which it is squeezed.3 Fruit juice is easily accessible and much more convenient to consume than raw fruits or vegetables, which need to be freshly stored and sometimes cooked properly before eating.

At the event, I was honoured to present alongside Prof France Bellisle and Dr. María Dolores del Castillo at one of the event’s round tables, “Does fruit Juice have a role in a healthy diet,” where we discussed research on fruit juice’s nutritional profile, myths surrounding its effects on health and whether it has a place in a balanced diets throughout Europe.  Before my speech “Food-based dietary guidelines in Europe”, Prof. France Bellisle and Dr. María Dolores del Castillo talked about what the behavioural scientist has to say about whole fruit versus fruit juice, and the effects of orange juice components in health. It was interesting to learn that people who drink orange juice do not necessarily eat less fruit. On the contrary, fruit juice appears to be a marker for a healthy diet.4 While none of us underestimates the role of fresh fruits and vegetables in balanced and nutritional eating, we all agreed that, in moderation, 100% fruit juice may deliver an important contribution to a heathy diet as a complement to them.




2., 3. Fruit Juice Matters factsheet: “The Nutritional Profile of 100% Orange Juice”

4. In a 2010 analysis of NHANES (1999-2004), published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, examined the association between 100% fruit juice consumption and the odds of obesity and metabolic syndrome study amongst adults. It was found that: “compared with non-consumers, those who consumed 100% fruit juice were leaner, were more insulin sensitive, and had lower odds of obesity and metabolic syndrome” Pereira, M & Fulgoni, V. L., (2010) Consumption of 100% Fruit Juice and Risk of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2004. J Am Coll Nutr. 2010 Dec; 29(6):625-9. p 625.