A New Report Collects the 50 Foods That Will Keep Us—and the Planet—Healthier
Sustainability seems to be a major food industry trend for 2019, and we are here for it. From changes in packaging materials, to assisting consumers in recycling efforts, companies are working together to reduce waste and educate the population on how to care for the earth.
Unilever, parent company to Knorr (the boullion cube maker) and the World Wildlife Foundation have collaborated to jointly publish a Future 50 Report, collecting the 50 foods they claim will be best for our world and our waistlines. This report was developed by experts in food sustainability, food security, nutrition, human rights and agriculture to help us understand how to eat for optimal health and a healthier planet.
The report begins with a harrowing quote from Dr. Tony Juniper, the Executive Director of Advocacy at the WWF, which reads: “Most of us might believe it’s our energy or transport choices that cause the most serious environmental damage. In fact, it’s our food system that creates the biggest impact.” The report notes that farming a narrow range of crops and relying too much on animal protein in our diets are harmful for our health and our world.
The report notes 75 percent of the food we eat comes from only 12 plant sources and five animal sources. Three of the plant sources—rice, corn, and wheat—make up more than 60 percent of our entire food supply. This reliance on so few crops leads to monoculture farming, which is the repeated harvesting of a particular crop, and it can cause nutrient loss in the soil and lead to a need for chemical fertilization and pesticides.
The report advises reducing animal protein consumption, as meat, dairy, and egg production are major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions globally and create a great deal of pollution.
But it's not just bad for the planet. Consuming too much animal protein has also shown to have negative impacts on our health. Because of these factors, no animal products made the list of the Future 50 foods.
The following foods recommended for a healthier planet and people met a very specific criteria. They had to be highly nutritious, have as little impact on the environment as possible, affordable, accessible, and of course, tasty.
According to the report, algae is responsible for half the oxygen production on our planet, and is full of essential fatty acids and plant-proteins. And certain kinds, such as seaweeds, are not only edible, but delicious, and used all over the world. The report specifically called out Laver (a seaweed farmed in Scotland and Wales) and wakame (a major part of Japanese and East Asian diets) were the two varieties suggested to eat as part of a more sustainable diet.
Beans and Pulses: 3-11
The report refers to the legume family as “environmental superheroes,” and notes that they are pretty amazing for bodily health as well. They are rich in fiber, protein, and B vitamins to keep our metabolisms and digestive systems in peak condition. The report suggested swapping out regular old red or kidney beans for adzuki beans, black beans, fava beans, bambara beans, cowpeas, lentils, marmara beans, mung beans, and soybeans.
You may think of them as desert decoration or hard-to-kill houseplants, but some cacti are actually extremely nutritious and good for the planet. Nopales, a mexican food staple, are the most common variety used in cuisine and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Cereals and Grains: 13-21
The report cites cereals and grains as the most important source of food for human consumption, which might seem shocking in a world of high-fat, low-carb diets. However, the report urges us to diversify our grain profile and try a wider variety of grains for health and for biodiversity. Instead of corn or wheat, it calls out Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, fonio, KAMUT, quinoa, spelt, teff, and wild rice.
Here are some easy ways to cook with alternate grains:
Vegetable-Like Fruits: 22-24
Vegetable-like fruits (such as squash, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers) are full of fiber and vitamins for a nutritious boost to any meal. The report calls out pumpkin flowers, okra, and orange tomatoes, as delicious ways to help diversify crop growth and make the food system more resilient.
Leafy Greens: 25-33
It’s no secret leafy greens are one of the healthiest foods in the world, but they are also fast-growing and found all over the world. And kale is only the beginning! To get more variety, the report recommends beet greens, broccoli rabe, moringa, bok choy, pumpkin leaves, red cabbage, spinach, and watercress in addition.
Mushrooms can be a great source of the hard-to-get Vitamin D and are a sneaky source of plant-protein. Plus, their umami flavor makes them a perfect meat substitute. They can also grow in difficult environments, making them a healthy choice for all. Enoki, maitake, and saffron milk cap are the three varieties advised by the report.
Nuts and Seeds: 37-40
Heart-healthy fats are all the rage these days, and nuts and seeds are finally getting the spotlight they deserve. The report especially encourages consumption of flax, hemp, sesame, and walnuts for holistic and environmental health.
Root Vegetables: 41-43
Forget carrots or beets. This report advises some lesser-known root vegetable options. Black salsify, parsley root, and winter radishes are the unique root veggies suggested to branch out with.
That staple of 70's health-food-store sandwiches, sprouts have found their way back into the health world over the past few years and can be seen on many plates again. While sprouts have caused a few health scares, the report says the added nutritional value they offer outweighs the potential risks associated with their consumption. Alfalfa sprouts, sprouted kidney beans, and sprouted chickpeas are all given the green light for enjoyment.
Interested in learning more about the world’s healthiest foods?
The final category urges us to eat some starch, but advises eating a diverse array of these high-carb foods for optimal nutrition and a more resilient food system. The suggested tubers are lotus root, purple yam, jicama, and red Indonesian sweet potatoes.
The report closes with a few more tips for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. It provides five steps to identifying a Future 50 food—focus on plant-based foods, optimize nutrient density, evaluate environmental impact, consider culture and flavor, and deliver diversity.