The conference was definitely a collective gathering of nutrition minds and the source of useful information sharing. The theme was “Food, Nutrition and Health: Translating science into practice”, and attracted nutrition professionals from all over Europe. We were particularly pleased to see many of them presenting their work on the future of sustainable diets – a topic close to our hearts.
At the conference, the importance of collaboration became evident. This is essential as it allows us to collectively define the unknowns and determine pathways for further research. This knowledge enables us to keep improving the nutrition and health aspects of foods and beverages, and ensure that products land on our plates which are good for both people and the planet.
A significant aspect of our contribution to the conference took shape through our symposium entitled ‘’The advantages and unintentional nutritional concerns of plant-based foods and potential solutions”. It offered a thorough examination of various nutritional aspects of plant-based diets and alternatives. The symposium, which was well attended by FENS delegates, included presentations by nutrition scientists.
Moreover, the symposium transcended conventional discussions, delving not only into well-established cardiovascular benefits of plant-based diets but also addressing micronutrient deficiencies often overlooked in plant-based foods and diets. Speakers addressed the challenge of achieving adequate micronutrients from planetary healthy diets. Nutrients that were identified as being of potential concern as regards achieving adequacy from plant-based foods included calcium, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, selenium, bioavailable iron and zinc, and polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA omega-3 (found in fish), with presenters exploring potential future solutions. Overcoming the poor iron and zinc bioavailability of plant-based foods, and the need for nutrition guidelines of plant-based alternative foods were at the forefront of discussions. Professor Helene McNulty who chaired the session also highlighted “There is a particular need to address vitamin B12 requirements among vegetarian and vegan populations because there are no plant sources of B12; it is provided in the diet in meat and dairy foods. Low intakes and status of vitamins B12 and B2 are particular concerns in pregnant women and women of child-bearing age generally."
A key contributor was Flaminia Ortenzi, multi-disciplinary researcher in the fields of nutrition and public health at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). She is also the co-author of a recent study investigating micronutrient adequacy of the planetary health diet as proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission. She explained that although this diet might offer protection from non-communicable diseases due to its richness in minimally processed plant source foods, its low levels of saturated fats, and high fiber levels, her research found that intakes of vitamin B12, calcium, bioavailable iron, and zinc were below recommended nutrient intakes, especially for women of reproductive age. “While it is important to identify existing challenges with plant'-based diets, we tried keeping the focus of this symposium on potential solutions to address them, including dietary change, enzymes and fermentation, fortification, biofortification and supplementation.’’
Below you can download the slides of our symposium titled; "The Advantages and Unintentional Nutritional Concerns of Plant-Based Foods and Potential Solutions"
As we look to the future of nutrition and sustainability, it's crucial to note that while plant-based diets offer many benefits, they often lack some of the essentials or exceed some of the unwanted nutrients. Our commitment involves bridging research with innovative solutions, adapting to changing consumer needs, and ongoing progress. To build a healthier, more sustainable future that includes plant-based foods, ongoing dialogue is key. We aim to explore ways to ensure plant-based foods offer all essential nutrients while minimizing the unwanted. Through informed discussions and collaboration, we can contribute to a healthier society and planet.
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