I’m delighted to share the presentation I gave at the 2018 Nuffield Farming Conference in Glasgow last month.
The talk is about our diet and how vegetables can help improve our nutritional status. I introduce the concept of nutrition smart agriculture and look at how multi-disciplinary working can be used to solve nutritional problems.
I would like to thank my sponsors The Food Chain, The Nuffield Farming Trust, AH Worth potato growers, Professor Wagstaff at the University of Reading, Rob Ward my Nuffield Farming mentor and all the people I interviewed on my travels as well as my many supporters.
Last month, after 18 months of research including 16 weeks of international travel, I presented my findings at the Nuffield Farming Conference in Glasgow.
Here is a transcript of my talk
Imagine, you are at the Dr’s waiting for your blood test results and she starts the consultation with the words “I don’t want to worry you”
Well, that was me on my return from 8 weeks of international travel last July, feeling unwell AND finding out that I was prediabetic and at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
It was a shock, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Type 2 diabetes is the single biggest cause of death on both sides of my family. Genetically, the odds are stacked against me but it’s the environment I am in that affects my food choices.
Having said that, with a lifestyle of Prosecco parties and with being on first name terms with the staff in Salford’s restaurants, it was never going to end well…..
I had 6 weeks of international travel to get on with so no time for self pity I had to get my act together.
I needn’t have worried, healthy meals with lots of vegetables were readily available in Hong Kong, Shanghai and everywhere I went in South Korea.
I had been travelling for 3 weeks before I realised I hadn’t had any chocolate, not because I didn’t want to but because chocolate had not been obvious in my environment and I hadn’t missed it!
I returned to the UK fitter and leaner with a better understanding of the imapct of the food environment on our health.
Today I’m going to talk to you about the nutritional quality of our diet and the concept of nutrition smart agriculture for the benefit of our health
EATWELL GUIDE SLIDE
But who doesn’t know that it’s a good idea to eat vegetables? PHE have given us the Eatwell Guide and a 5 portions of fruit and veg day message for years yet in the UK 30% are overweight, another 30% are obese yet despite eating all of this extra food out diet is low in fibre and we are not getting enough vitamins and minerals.
If I was to draw a line from 0 to 100% to represent the British population, where would I need to stand to represent the percentage of people who know the recommendation to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day? I’ll start at 50% and you tell me whether it’s higher or lower? Higher? Yes it’s 90% and where would I stand to represent the percentage of people who eat 5 a day? Lower? Yes it’s 30%
FRUIT AND VEGERABLE CONSUMPTION SLIDE
The slide shows that consumption hasn’t changed despite these campaigns
Generic public health nutrition messages aren’t working and people are turning to personalised nutrition to deliver solutions for their needs and if the vegetable and horticultural industry is not more proactive then the sector on processed animal protein substitutes will grow at the expense of whole and prepared vegetables which provide the missing fibre, iron and vitamins.
As society moves towards a more plant-based diet there has never been a better time to change eating habits to include vegetables which deliver these missing nutrients.
The current system is not set up for success – farming, food manufacture and health work independently
SLIDE Nuffield Logo
You can only imagine my joy at having 18 months to study a topic I am so passionate about
VEGETABLES! And nutrition
My Nuffield Farming research was a call to action to look at one example where the integration of farming, food and health sectors would deliver a solution for a specific population group.
We take food for granted but for the sick, that is not an option
Ray is a lucky man, he told me that he can eat what he likes when he likes but for many years before he had his kidney transplant, he had to manage his chronic kidney disease with a diet low in both potassium and phosphorus. Picture the scene, your family is having fish and chips for dinner, the smell of the freshly fried fish in batter and salted chips hangs in the air wetting your taste buds as you push your low potassium pasta round the bowl.
There are 4 million people in the UK, just like Ray was, existing on a diet low in potassium and unable to access prepared or convenience food because potassium levels are not declared on our nutrition labels. Simple meal solutions from the supermarket such as prepared mashed potato and fresh tomato soup are out of reach. This shouldn’t be the case because we have the technology to measure potassium levels of crops and processed foods.
Deepa, senior renal dietitian at Kings College, London told me that patients don’t want to cook their meals from scratch and if they could buy meal solutions knowing the amount of potassium, it would make their lives easier.
For me an integrated food system and a person-centred approach seems to be key to solving the problem and I set out to look for examples of multi-disciplinary working with nutrition smart outcomes.
Nutrition Smart Agriculture
Has 2 objectives – improves human nutritional status and farm/agribusiness productivity.
Before I tell you what I found – I want to ask you the audience about your relationship with food.
Raise your hands if you enjoy food
Keep them raised if you make your food choices based on taste
Keep them raised if you make your food choices based on convenience
And keep them raised if you make your food choices based on the nutritional recommendations of Public Health England
I thought so!
Food choice is more complex than we think and as food producers we need to recognise this when presenting options to the consumer
Slide series of VV, Zespri and G’s
Vital Vegetables was formed from a group of stakeholders in Australia and NZ that included plant breeders, growers, government plant scientists and nutritionists, a private manufacturer and marketeer. The product range is ready to eat prepared salads and veg designed to support immune health, bone health, eye health and heart health. They carry approved health claims with simple messages that appeal to consumers.
Zespri is the brand of an international Kiwifruit business from New Zealand. They control the breeding, growing, nutritional research, marketing and consumer communication of their product. High quality and the strapline ‘making life taste better’ is the brand focus but they have a health claim for digestion on green kiwifruit in NZ and the EU.
Love Beets is the international brand created by G’s for their beetroot products. G’s control the breeding, growing, nutritional research, marketing and consumer communication. The products are ready to eat convenient sized beetroot and beetroot juice. Research has been carried out on the benefits of beetroot juice for blood pressure and the juice is marketed to the sports health community.
Multi-disciplinary working has been used in these cases to deliver a targeted meal solution with a health benefit to the consumer.
Nutrition Smart agriculture
Multi-disciplinary working can also be used to solve a problem for the consumer
Do you remember Ray who I spoke about earlier who used to have CKD?
Back to my challenge
Together with Ray, the University of Reading and AH Worth, we looked at the potassium levels in raw and cooked potatoes to see whether we could produce a product with levels safe enough for patients with CKD to eat.
The results proved that the concept works and is feasible to do in a commercial application, however, the farming and research aspect is the first step.
SLIDE Food Farming and Health image/logo
The next step is work with manufacturers to validate the potassium levels and with retailers to make the potassium content of products available online and on product labels.
If successfully achieved, this would be a step towards integrating primary agriculture, manufacturing, research, human health and retail in the UK.
The separation of these disciplines has gone on too long and it needs to be addressed if we want a healthy and sustainable food system for the future.
I am making a commitment to bringing these disciplines together…..
So ask yourself if your business needs to work in a more multi-disciplinary way and is the human food that you produce nutrition smart?
I will leave you with this quote.
“The greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it.”
― Dan Barber, Farmer and author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
Thank you for listening, thanks to my sponsors the Food Chain, AH Worth
I attended CFS45 Global Food Security conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome this October as part of the Private Sector Mechanism (PSM) delegation. It was an opportunity organised by Nuffield Farming International who arranged for Nuffield Farming Scholars from different disciplines across the world to attend this event.
It was 5 days out of my working week very well spent.
Being busy, working hard in your sector in your own country is not the only way to achieve progress. It also is a good idea to step away from the day to day, look at the global food security issues, the impact they have on your country and speak with the people and the policy makers who can effect change.
I met a commercial fisher from Canada, Tiare who told me that “the future is in the hands of those who show up”.
The week of talks on Global Food Security showed me how true this is. Policy makers, non-governmental organisations, private sector, academics and many more groups are present and continue an on-going relationship throughout the year.
From the opening of the conference, attending the World Food Day and a high level dinner to presenting at a side event hosted by PSM, it was a formative experience.
The key take home messages about global food security and nutrition summarised by the PSM are:
State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) Report:
World hunger is estimated to have risen further to reach 821 million in 2017 – roughly 1 in 9 people around the world – an increase from the 2016 figure of 815 million people.
PSM recognises that the world’s farmers are on the front lines of climate change, rural development, and also, disturbingly, are disproportionately affected by poverty and hunger.
Farming on all scales, in all regions, contributes to food security and nutrition.
The development of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food System and Nutrition should be supported by scientific evidence on Food Security and Nutrition.
Over- and under-nutrition co-exist in virtually every country in the world. Nutrition policies must address the dual burden of malnutrition.
PSM supports in particular the importance of capacity building and data collection in developing the Voluntary guidelines.
PSM believes that youth in agriculture is a key issue that needs to be included in the CFS workstreams
For me, it was clear to see that the benefit of using multi stakeholder partnerships is that the agreed changes are sustainable and effective in the long term. Throughout the research for my Nuffield Farming Scholarship I have seen that where collaboration is present in the food system, the outcome is beneficial for all parties.
I recommend that for anyone wanting to facilitate change in the food system, the CFS45 is a good place to start
In May 2018, I attended the Global Summit on global food integrity and spoke in the improving diet panel.
We will not have good security without food and nutrition security”
Dr John Bell opened the summit emphasising the interconnectedness of our food system, it needs to able to provide nutritious, safe food for a growing population and be sustainably produced.
The scene was now set and the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to fixing our broken food system had been declared and the following themes discussed.
Deliberate contamination of food
The threat from pathogens to the food system
Human exposure to chemical cocktails in food
Delivering the nutritional needs for the 21st Century Global population
Dr Amy Kircher from the Food Protection and Defence Institute opened the session on the deliberate contamination of foods by stating that predictable surprises are disrupting our food system. We eat from a global plate which makes the food chain a complex system with vulnerable points for terrorism, sabotage and economically motivated adulteration to take place. Opportunities for crime is usually predictable, for example, a regional crop shortage or a disgruntled employee. Internationally recognised definitions of these crimes are needed if agencies from different countries are to be able to collaborate on investigations. The key take home message was that data monitoring and analysis is essential to look at trends and see where predictable surprises may take place.
The theme of a common technical language was carried over from food fraud into the threat from pathogens to the food system. Lack of ownership was identified as a problem along with the need to have an international system to manage the responses.
The subject would be incomplete without a mention of blockchain and indeed the claims about blockchain’s ability to deliver traceability were said to be inflated. The rapporteurs conclusions from the plenary sessions were that there has to be shared equity in the problem and that is important to develop robust monitoring systems so that information can be quickly disseminated
From Farm to Flush
The link between the production of animals for food and the human health of those who consume it was important for this theme, hence From Farm to Flush.
The rapporteurs concluded that the routine use of antibiotics outside the EU to grow healthy animals faster needs to stop. Human misuse of these drugs is also an issue and by 2050 anti-biotics deaths will have reached 10 million globally, costing £66 trillion.
Developing countries carry the biggest burden of the consequences of anti-microbial resistance and a One Health system needs to be part of the solution where a global monitoring system for food borne illness and anti-microbial resistance is set up.
Genes are like a hand of cards in poker…….
The big challenges of Type 2 diabetes, challenging food environment, micronutrient sub-optimal intake in the UK and many parts of the world, malnutrition, food insecurity and an ageing population were all covered by the theme delivering the nutritional needs of the 21st century.
A visit to Mugioto Bakery in Tokachi, Hokkaido was a highlight of the Japan leg of the 2017 Nuffield Global Focus programme.
Mr Masanori Sugiyama is a businessman who realised that running a chain of bakeries in Tokachi would not be financially sustainable over the long term because of the price sensitivity of bread and baked goods.
Mr Maeda, a wheat and vegetable farmer in Tokachi was facing similar challenges with downward price pressure in a commodity market.
What seemed like an unsurmountable problem for two very different businesses has become a success story over the last few years. The two businessmen collaborated on a project to use the locally grown Tokachi wheat from Mr Maeda’s farm, in the baked goods sold in the Mugioto bakeries.
Bread is a food that can be bought in Japan very cheaply and round the clock, but by focusing on creating a product from local wheat, Mugioto are able to sell their product at double the price of the competition. Four years ago they moved from using 100% imported wheat to 100% Tokachi wheat.
The farmer, Mr Maeda, until that point had never tasted his own wheat in any product.
The Mugioto site has a small wheat field, a stone mill and windmill for milling the flour. Customers are able to see the process from field to finished baked goods in one location and become part of the process. Children are encouraged to visit and take food education lessons where they take part in activities including pizza making.
Japan has around 40% food self-sufficiency, but in bread wheat this figure is only 3%.
The Mugioto bakery’s corporate brand is now focused on local food production for local food consumption and with the passion of farmers in the Tokachi area, they are ensuring sustainable and healthy food production for the future.
2017 seemed to pass in a blur of countries and interviews as I researched how vegetables are used to improve health outcomes and tackle human nutrition issues.
I have seen different practices and policies in the countries I have visited but there is international agreement that vegetables are beneficial for our health, even though in some countries, consumption is quite low.
I presented a summary of my findings to the product developers, procurement and commercial team working in the vegetable category at Bakkavor in April and it was a great opportunity to discuss what needs to change within the food manufacturing and the retail sector.
Health claims are helpful but are not silver bullet for communicating with the consumer. The key is finding a format that makes vegetables easier to access in today’s busy lifestyles.
My core argument is that when the various actors in the food supply chain work together to address the needs of the consumer, positive change happens.
International dietary guidelines are consistent with the message that a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables should be eaten per day. The Chinese take a prescriptive approach and recommend 3-500g vegetables, 50% of which should be dark. The South Koreans stipulate 2 portions of vegetables with every meal and their population surveys show they have sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
In New Zealand where 80% of the population are familiar with the 5+ a day message, ideas such as the Vital Vegetables range and Vitamin D enhanced mushrooms take advantage of the new health claim regulations to communicate benefits of high nutrient vegetables to consumers. The Chip Group programme to reduce fat levels in take-away fried chips is another health intervention initiative.
These are methods of health promotion, firstly providing information for the consumer to make a choice and secondly, changing production so that the consumer does not have to change their behaviour.
I will be speaking about diet and how the environment shapes what we eat at ASSET2018, Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday 30th May ASSET2018, QUB
I had a fabulous time with the Nutrition Science first year students of MMU last week when I was invited to give a guest lecture during #gogreenweek
The students are having a series of sustainability lectures over this term and for their assignment, they will look at how they can make their own diets more sustainable.
Surprisingly, they hadn’t already played sustainability bingo! I have attended so many lectures on food systems, sustainability and how we will feed the world’s population that it would be rude not to include an example bingo card of what you should be able to tick off in any sustainability lecture, worth its salt.
Of course, the students all knew that by 2050, the world’s population will be 9.5 billion so that was an easy one, however, I went on to tell them about the 6 countries I visited during the Nuffield Global Focus Programme last year.
The tour focused on Japan but went via Singapore, Indonesia and from Japan onto Israel, the UK and USA. I explained to the students how each country has its challenges and strengths, from Singapore, a net importer of 100% of its fruit and vegetables but a significant player in import and export of food in the ASEAN region. Indonesia, with its young population, 20% annual economic growth and examples of sustainable mixed farming systems alongside mono-cropped palm oil production which compared with rapeseed and soybean, yields more efficiently.
We discussed the ageing population of Japan and how young people are being encouraged into farming with new technology but compared to Israel who are ranked number 4 in the world for start-up businesses, the Japanese have some way to go. Consumption of locally grown food was a practice that impressed me from a sustainable point of view in both countries.
I focussed on technology when talking about protected crop production in the UK where some businesses use Combined Heat Power plants to generate electricity and CO2 for their crops. The introduction of anaerobic digesters throws up the question ‘is it better to grow crops just for human food or is growing crops for energy production a sustainable use of land?
The USA was the final leg of my tour and I talked about the efficiency of large scale cheap food production as well as the inability of the poorest people to be able to afford food.
The students have some new information to be able to make some more informed choices about sustainable diets and I was very impressed that the nutrition science programme takes a broad view of food systems and encourages thinking in this way.
Thanks to Haleh Moravej, Senior Lecturer at MMU for facilitating
The first year of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship has come to an end and with just under 6 months to go until the report deadline is due, I find myself looking at how to efficiently manage my travel time.
Fortunately at Fruit Logistica, held in the fantastic city of Berlin, I was able to fix meetings with businesses I had struggled to get in touch with, meet other Nuffield Farming scholars and approach new organisations whose products I have an interest in.
It really has been a good start to the year for plant based eating. Firstly Veganuary was instrumental in increasing sales of fruit and vegetables but with the launch of the Wicked Kitchen range of vegan meals this year, there is a real pull from consumers to see vegetables as not just a bit on the side….
So we know that vegetables are good for us but the consumption in the UK has been decreasing over the last 20 years of the 5 a day campaign.
The proportion of people in the UK with obesity now stands around a third but we have low vitamin D status, consume too little fibre and have low iron, folate and selenium levels in certain groups of the population.
Clearly, eating more food hasn’t been working for us. We are not just getting bigger but the quality of our health is reducing, mainly due to the nutritional quality of our diet, amongst other factors.
Vegetables do hold the key to this problem and using the right approach that fits in with increased personalisation of food, convenience, plant based trends and wellness an improvement in the nutritional quality of the UK diet can be achieved.
I saw in Shanghai and in South Korea that vegetables are plentiful and cheap. Food is often consumed outside of the home although there are also dishes of limited nutritional benefit.
Bucket sized instant noodles in Shanghai and Chi-maek (Chicken and beer) in South Korea spring to mind.
The fast food is generally composed of rice or noodles with a meat and vegetable accompaniment.
Food can easily be bought through e-commerce channels and especially in Shanghai, prepared meal components can be delivered home within an hour of ordering. These increased efficient ways of shopping reduce the time spent on meal preparation but allow the same types of food to be consumed.
Western style outlets exist such as MacDonald’s and Starbucks but rather than being a daily habit, they are frequented more as a treat.
The food guides for both of these countries specify the quantities and types of vegetables that people are supposed to eat.
The dietary survey carried out in South Korea shows that levels of micronutrients consumed is generally acceptable with the exception of calcium which is slightly below optimum. The Koreans have different dietary issues and bio-fortification of vegetables there is not a consideration due to the high consumption of variety of volume of vegetables, however, reduction of salt in foods is an issue.
The Australasian neighbours have similar dietary patterns and issues to the UK.
Vegetable consumption is not great and in NZ the 5 + A Day message is recognised by 80% of the population but consumption is not actually increasing.
The NZ Plant & Food health does work on improving the nutritional density of food through products such as Vital Vegetables and the green kiwi. A joint project with the Australians the Vital Vegetables range was created with a focus on products that could deliver a substantiated health claim such as bone health, eye health, immunity etc.
Using a team including researchers, nutritionists, growers, retailers and the manufacturing and marketing company the result is a range of bagged salads and slaws which look both colourful and attractive. The green kiwi has been promoted for its digestive health benefits and the marketing around this includes the health claim but additional softer messaging about great quality of life. Zespri has proprietary use of the claim.
Another collaboration which has worked well is that of the Ministry of Health, chip oil manufacturers, food service providers and Potatoes NZ. Consumption of fried chips in the country is high and one of the main sources of fat and salt in the diet. Realising that it would not be successful in telling the population to eat fewer chips, the Ministry of Health looked at a chip nutrition project with Potatoes NZ to improve chip quality and reduce the amount of oil and salt through training the food service staff. All the stakeholders supported the measure and the small changes that the cooks have been able to make around choice of oil, cooking temperature, portion size etc are now resulting in a reduction of fat and salt in the national diet.
Mushrooms are a crop which deliver a range of vitamins but the NZ consumer doesn’t necessarily know how to cook them. In order to get consumers to pick them up, Meadow Mushrooms looked at the barriers to purchase and then categorised their range to fit with popular menus. For example button mushrooms for pasta, Portabello mushrooms for burgers and additional themed menus based on recipes from other countries. The nutritional information is still present but on the packaging it is shown as an info-bite rather than a health claim which doesn’t particularly speak to an individual consumer need.
Te Mata mushrooms take a different approach and treat their mushrooms with a shot of UV light to enhance the vitamin D levels. Labelling is focused on the health claim and the supermarket sells the product at a higher price to differentiate them from the standard product.
The Ministry of Primary Agriculture launched the latest labelling regulations in 2016 and had the advantage of being able to look at the EFSA documentation and improve on it for the Australian and NZ fresh produce growers. The result is a list of pre-approved claims which lend themselves to fruit and vegetables, a proprietary system which enables people who have done their own research to have exclusivity on a claim and a self-certification system avoiding submission in advance if a standard claim is being used.
New Zealand has a range of initiatives, a regulatory support system and a collaborative way of working across research, crop production, manufacture and marketing that enables the fresh produce industry to promote the nutritional quality of the crops, despite limited finances.
Whilst vegetable consumption may not be increasing, there are small steps being made in the right direction.