Vegetable production for specific nutritional need
As a nation, there is more food available to us than in previous generations, but this has caused a triple burden of malnutrition where overeating and undernutrition co-exist, and ‘hidden hunger’ where the excess calories consumed do not provide the optimum nutrients for health. In the UK the lack of key nutrients such as fibre, vitamin A and folate in many diets can be directly linked to the low consumption of vegetables.
My primary aim was to investigate the specific nutritional needs and dietary concerns in the countries I visited and assess how vegetables can meet these needs in those countries. I then selected three of these countries and report on their dietary guidelines, policies and activities for promoting the consumption of vegetables. I wanted to understand what networks exist to bring different parts of the food system together to work on health enhancement projects.
My other key aim was to study if, or how, the food system is targeting specific groups for health needs and personalised nutrition. I have used the example of potassium levels in potato products for a specific health need as a case study for multi-disciplinary working.
My findings show that multi-disciplinary working throughout the food system is needed if we are to achieve a food system that can deliver nutritious, safe, affordable food that has been produced in a sustainable way. Breeders and growers have the knowledge and expertise to improve the nutritive value of our crops but need to work with the food supply chain to get these foods into institutions, the food service sector, as well as retail. The practise of ‘nutrition smart agriculture’ needs to be supported across the food chain so that higher nutrition crops can be grown whilst also enabling farmers to improve production as well as make a profit.
From the case study, retailers, nutrition scientists and growers should look at the benefits of quantifying levels of potassium, in raw produce or cooked, prepared foods. A sampling programme to validate the levels, followed by a regular verification programme, should be drawn up and the results rolled out into an online databank for suppliers, retailers and consumers.
In summary, the UK Government needs to look at nutrition as integral to policies across education, health and social care, agriculture and industry, and use all available resources to improve the national diet. If the UK leaves the EU there will also be an opportunity to modify existing nutrition and health claim regulations to tailor them for use by the fresh produce sector to help suppliers and producers meet these needs
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