Plant-based nutrition: How to nourish our people and our planet

Dr Michael Thorp, nutrition advisor for Herbalife in the Nordics, discusses how Sweden has the potential to influence more sustainable diets.
Michael Thorp, MD PRM

By Michael Thorp, MD PRM

Medical experience within general practice, rehabilitation, neurology, sports medicine, preventive medicine, nutrition and international relief work.

30 Mar 2023

With the UN predicting that the global population will exceed nine billion by 2050, the demand for quality protein in our diets is expected to increase by 74%[1].  So, how can we develop a global food system that meets this demand while being environmentally sustainable? And how could this even help reverse the obesity epidemic?

With the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU underway, it represents a great opportunity to influence the development a global food system that nourishes, and not just feeds, the region and beyond while becoming more sustainable. 

To achieve this aim, the Swedish Presidency has the opportunity to lead the EU Commission into delivering the anticipated legislative framework for sustainable food systems (FSFS) - one of the flagship initiatives of the Farm to Fork Strategy. The success of such a framework will enable the population to benefit from healthy and nutritious food products while protecting the planet.

Current generations are more aware of the impact of environmental sustainability, which leads to greater awareness of plant-based diets. From a sustainability standpoint, plant-based proteins are the smart way to go.

Plant-based food at the heart of a sustainable food system

Sustainable nutrition offers a forward-thinking framework whereby the food that we eat is diverse, nutrient-dense and healthy while grown sustainably. Eating a diet which is more plant-based offers higher nutrient density. When coupled with sustainably sourced meat and fish, where possible, and reducing the consumption of food high in sugar and saturated fat, it leads to a healthy and sustainable diet, and can help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity.

A mix of protein sources is part of a healthy balanced meal. Soy, for example, is one of the only complete plant-based proteins available. But while soy may be the king of plant-based proteins, it certainly isn’t the only option in the market. Taking a combination of plant-based proteins like quinoa or pea protein, which like other proteins, is also very effective for helping to feel satiated[2].

Protein, carbohydrate, and fat are the ‘big three’ nutrients. You need all three in the right balance for your body to function properly and you also need micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. Different plant foods can provide these nutrients to the body, along with phytonutrients, which are naturally existing compounds in plant foods that contribute to health.

It's important to give consumers a choice of a healthy (plant-based) diet that will help sustain their energy, satisfy their hunger, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease[3], high blood glucose levels, type 2 diabetes[4] and can also support weight management.

To achieve a sustainable food system, we need to meet the nutritional demands of everyone while also reducing our environmental impact. Food security and nutrition will not just depend on our attitude towards food but the leadership and policies of the European Commission, Parliament and member states.