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- The world has more than enough food to eat, but unfortunately, it’s not the right kind.
- On a daily basis, we’re eating too much sugar and consuming too many grains, while not getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Part of the problem is that the world doesn’t produce enough of the nutrients people really need.
We are definitely getting enough to eat overall — it’s just not the right stuff.
Americans today consume about 400 more calories per day than they did in the 1970s, a 20% increase. Farmers and food manufacturers have ramped things up, too. Around the world, the amount of calories available to each person has gone up nearly a third (28%) in the past 50 years. In particular, the world’s appetite for animals has soared: global per capita meat consumption has risen to nearly a hundred pounds per year, a dramatic uptick from the 67 pounds of meat people ate in the mid-1980s.
But we’ve slowly been replacing fruits, vegetables, and good fats like olive oil, butter, and fish with cheap, mass-produced alternatives. And that’s having an effect on our waistlines and long-term health.
"Access to convenient and inexpensive foods have changed global eating patterns and made it possible for many middle-income countries, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, to face a double burden of malnutrition and overweight or obesity," a new HSBC report warns.
The report is based on data from 45 wealthy and middle-income countries around the world, and it compares what the average person eats on a daily basis to the ideal recommended by doctors and nutritionists. Here’s how it stacks up:
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Of course, the example items on the plate above are symbolic. (Nutrition experts would never suggest that you need to eat an entire avocado each day or down five eggs to be healthy.) The picture is meant as a visual representation of what your body generally needs: the amount of fat in one avocado is about how much your body needs to power through a given day, for example. And you need no sugar at all.
It’s worth remembering that most healthy whole foods can’t be neatly categorized into ticking one nutritional box, either. Eating an avocado, for example, is a great way to get some other nutrients besides fat — they’re loaded with potassium, fiber, vitamins C and B-6, and magnesium.
According to the HSBC report, the problem is systemic, not personal: Fruits and vegetables only account for 28% of global food production, even though those cancer-fighting foods should ideally make up more like 40% of our diets. A 2018 study found that the world produces "12 servings of grains, 5 of fruits and vegetables, 3 of oil and fat, 3 of protein, 1 of milk and 4 of sugar per person per day."
We don’t need any of that sugar, and could stand to replace much of the grain and oil with fresh produce.
In the US, for example, subsidies for corn and soy make it cheap to produce unhealthy items like cereal, chips, and soda. That has allowed sugary, processed foods (which are clearly linked to more cancer cases and poor health) to become the backbone of many consumers’ diets. Our fast food has also gotten saltier and heavier; a typical meal out in the US now totals roughly half a person’s daily recommended calories.
This is not a doctor-recommended strategy for good health.
Instead, as Harvard cardiologist Sara Seidelmann previously told Business Insider, you should "try to make choices that fill your plate with plants — whole foods and whole grains. Things that you can recognize."
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