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Balance and sustainability: Dietary fats, nutrition, and the environment

Balance and sustainability: Dietary fats, nutrition, and the environment

coconut oil
coconut oil
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 public domain

Wageningen University & Research has just released a new study, which examines the environmental and nutritional consequences of dietary fats and oils. Instead of focusing on all fats as being bad for our health, the study highlights the importance of fats in healthy diets, particularly for those who are undernourished, and the need to make wise choices between vegetable and animal fats for human and planet health.

It is difficult to choose the right source of oils and fats. There are many nuanced and changing factors that must be considered. Recent studies have shown that saturated fats from animals may not be as harmful as people believe. However, the environmental effects of animal fats such as lard, tallow, dairy, and other sources are often much greater than those from plants. Our choices can have significant consequences, even for plant fats. Peanut oil, coconut oil, and palm oil are all important affordable oils in areas of the world that have the largest “fat gaps”, which is the difference between how much and how much we should eat in a healthy diet. However, the negative side to this is that the growth of these crops has been shown to have a negative effect on tropical forests and biodiversity. Most soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower are grown in more temperate regions of the world. They are associated with high nitrogen flows and other significant land system changes such as the expansions of soy into South American forest, savannas, and savannas.

The study was published in Frontiers in NutritionThis topic is very current with the Ukraine war, and its impact on Russian sunflower oil production. The conflict has sparked significant price increases for vegetable oils. The new study offers a framework for predicting the impact of changes in oil production on the global environment and poor people.

Douglas Sheil, senior author, and a Professor at Wageningen University & Research said, “In my search for good food, I see repeatedly that we are too keen to accept simple answers like the idea that dietary oils are harmful and that avoiding them saves forests. For constructive answers to be found, it is necessary to reflect more deeply on the particular implications of a specific commodity in a specific setting. Good and bad food oils can have a significant impact on your health. Fats are essential for our health. What struck me in our study was the lack of information that hinders efforts to improve the production and quality to improve health and the environment. This is even though the demand for dietary oils, and fats worldwide will increase by more than 80% over the next three decade.

Professor Erik Meijaard was the study’s principal author and Visiting Professor at Charles University. He stated, “In the heated discussions about oils and fats in which many argue that fats should just not be included in diets, we forget to remember that we as humans are ‘fat hunters. 2530% of our daily energy requirements come from fats. Without fats, we’d die. It is important to know where our fats come from, which animals and which plants, and what the consequences of our choices.

The study suggests that simplistic conclusions about oils and fats will likely be misleading. Saturated fats do not necessarily make you sick. Not all palm oil is bad. You need to consider how different oils and fats affect both the health of overweight and malnourished people as well as the health of the planet when making decisions about production, trade, consumption and consumption.


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More information:
Erik Meijaard et. al., Dietary Fats. Human Nutrition and the Environment. Balance and Sustainability. Frontiers in Nutrition (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2022.878644

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Wageningen University

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Balance and sustainability in dietary fats, human nutrition, and the environment (April 25, 2022, 25 April)
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