News / Health

Global Diets Growing Similar

FILE - An Afghan refugee collects a bag of wheat being distributed by the World Food Program and USAID at Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.
FILE - An Afghan refugee collects a bag of wheat being distributed by the World Food Program and USAID at Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.
Around the world, our plates are looking more and more the same, according to a new study.

Several crops have risen to dominate global food supplies. That’s good news and bad, the study says.

National food supplies have become less dependent on a single crop. But today’s globalized diet centers around just a handful of crops, which the researchers say raises food security concerns.

And, the study notes, some of the world-conquering crops are key ingredients in unhealthy diets.

More wheat

The research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed national per-capita food supply data collected by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization since 1961.
 
It found the number of crops making up a significant part of people’s diets has increased in most countries in the last half-century.

In China, for example, rice is still the top crop, making up about one third of the average person’s calories from plants per day. But the Chinese now eat almost as much wheat as rice.

Fewer sweet potatoes

On the other hand, what used to be minor crops are now slipping further.

The consumption of sweet potatoes in China fell from 20 percent of daily calories in 1961 to 2.9 percent in 2009, the latest available data.

In Kenya, more than a third of daily calories come from corn, but that is down from nearly half in 1961. Meanwhile, wheat has grown from less than 3 percent to more than 10 percent.

“As the major crops become more important in more places for more people, the regionally important, locally important crops are becoming marginalized,” according to lead author Colin Khoury at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

Khoury says as a few crops become the basis of our diets, “those crops need to be resilient, need to be productive year after year after year."

That means preserving genetic diversity to safeguard against new threats to productivity from climate change or other factors. And, Khoury said, it means improving the nutritional content of the crops that make up a growing part of our diet.

Marginalized crops

Climate change and the environmental risks of current agricultural practices make some of the marginalized crops more attractive, the researchers said.

“These crops have a lot of potential,” said Danielle Nierenberg, head of the Washington-based research institute Food Tank, who was not involved in the research. “They’re often highly nutritious. They can grow in very harsh conditions. Most are very resilient to things like pests and disease and drought or flooding, and they’re easy to grow.”

But these crops are left out when it comes to research and development, she says, as the vast majority of funding goes toward the starchy staple crops.

The study also noted that sugar and oil crops such as soybean, palm and sunflower have seen substantial growth in the last 50 years. But increasing consumption of high-calorie foods made with these crops is associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The researchers found signs of a shift in response to health, environmental and climate concerns, beginning in Northern Europe. And, they concluded further diversifying the food supply could encourage the trend.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid