It adds there is an urgent need for concrete and simple dietary guidelines for the GCC population which takes into account local food sources, cultural habits and existing meat intake.
It was written by Jacek Plewa, co-founder of Meatless Sundays and Future Food Holding, and Mira El Ghaziri, a healthy policy and nutrition consultant, and managing director at HealthyPath.
“As consumers, 50 million of us in GCC, we can make 50 million positive decisions resulting in our better personal health while saving our planet,” Plewa told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Today consumers are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of their consumption and the food system at large.”
The food system accounts for around 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 16% is related to the meat industry. It is claimed transitioning to plant-based meats could lead to a 90% reduction.
“This climate crisis offered us a chance to radically rethink the way we produce and consume the food. What we eat needs to become a climate mitigation tool and for policy makers a clear opportunity to improve public health, food security and to safe our planet for future generations,” Plewa said.
According to the report, the GCC region has one of the highest rates of overweight, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the world, largely driven by a diet rich in animal products and excessive calories.
In GCC, annual meat consumption of 80kg/capita/year exceeds WHO’s recommendation of 20kg/capita/year.
“We understand that is it unrealistic to shift promptly a population that currently consumes around 80kg/capita/year of meat to one that meets WHO recommendations,” Plewa said.
“We also eat too much of highly processed foods including salt, we eat too little fibers for our guts’ health. I am sure together we can change it, and this is what this report is calling for,” he added.
In GCC, salt consumption is also doubled that of WHO recommendations (<5g/day), driven by the consumption of highly processed foods such as bread, cheese, and meats.
Intake of dietary fibre in GCC is also significantly lower than WHO recommendations (25g/day), attributed to the low intake of plant-based foods (whole grains, fruit, vegetable, seeds and legumes).
The report recommended a stepwise and realistic approach that takes into consideration existing resources, cultural habits and population’s health to help the transition to a sustainable plant-based diets easier.
This means guidelines should not just encourage people to lower their meat intake, but should also suggest alternative sources of proteins such as those found in plant-based dairy, alternative meat, legumes, vegetables, while also encouraging the intake of more fibre-rich food.
In addition, guidelines should also focus on sourcing local alternative proteins rather than relying on sources from other parts of that world, which would further exacerbate the supply chain and climate change.
The GCC currently imports up to 90% of all foods. Sourcing locally available plant-based proteins such as palm date seed and ghaf tree can help address food security in an affordable manner.
Palm date fruit is one of the most commonly available and consumed fruit in the Gulf region. However, the seeds are mostly thrown away.
Plewa said: “There is a missed opportunity by throwing away the seeds, which have high nutritional value given their source of dietary fibre and sizeable amount of protein. Ghaf tree and its potential flour can provide another potential and cheap source of protein in the arid and semi-arid regions of GCC.”
He also pointed a need for more attention around behaviour change.
“It is crucial to foster behavioural changes at the individual and community levels in order to dissociate intrinsic beliefs which link excess meat intake with increased masculinity while positively relating plant-based foods with these traits.
“Appropriate public health promotion campaigns can work on celebrating food cultures amid the shift to sustainable and healthy consumption patterns.”
Multi-stakeholder approach for developing guidelines
This report indicates that guidelines for all stakeholders must be put in place.
“There is a clear need of partnership between policy makers, public and private sector. We need to build a resilient and sustainable future food system and what we eat needs to be a cornerstone of new food and nutrition policies, this is a clear appeal to policy makers,” Plewa added.
“As business leaders, profit is not good enough, we need to start declaring profits along with our environmental/carbon footprints and social impacts. Positive ESG impact will become a norm of ethics. We all need to act together,” Plewa said.
The report also detailed several steps to influence the development of guidelines.
Some of these include conducting a study in GCC around attitude and perceptions of consumers towards sustainable diet, gaps found in the market, common barriers to adopt such diets and any misconceptions they may have. This will help understand the degree of readiness of the consumers for such a dietary and behavioural change and adopt the action accordingly.
A review of the dietary intake of the GCC population can be conducted that looks into the food and nutrient intake to understand the exact food sources of protein, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
To monitor process, Plewa said a GCC Sustainable Food Council with a ministerial committee may be needed to provide leadership.