The potential of future foods for sustainable and healthy diets


Altering diets is increasingly acknowledged as an important solution to feed the world’s growing population within the planetary boundaries. In our search for a planet-friendly diet, the main focus has been on eating more plant-source foods, and eating no or less animal-source foods, while the potential of future foods, such as insects, seaweed or cultured meat has been underexplored. Here we show that compared to current animal-source foods, future foods have major environmental benefits while safeguarding the intake of essential micronutrients. The complete array of essential nutrients in the mixture of future foods makes them good-quality alternatives for current animal-source foods compared to plant-source foods. Moreover, future foods are land-efficient alternatives for animal-source foods, and if produced with renewable energy, they also offer greenhouse gas benefits. Further research on nutrient bioavailability and digestibility, food safety, production costs and consumer acceptance will determine their role as main food sources in future diets.

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Fig. 1: The future foods, PSF, seafood and conventional ASF that were included in this study.
Fig. 2: Nutritional profiles of future foods.
Fig. 3: Land use of various produce expressed per daily recommended intake of each essential nutrient.
Fig. 4: GHG emissions resulting from producing the daily recommended amount of each nutrient with each protein source.

Data availability

The data supporting the findings of this study are available in this paper and its Supplementary Information.


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This paper constitutes an output of the Expert Panel of Nitrogen and Food of the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen under the Working Group on Strategies and Review of the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme under Grant Agreement number 633692 (SUSFANS).

Author information

A.L. and H.H.E.V.Z. designed the research. A.P. and H.H.E.V.Z. conceived and led the project, reviewed the literature, analysed the data and wrote the paper. The following authors analysed the data and edited the paper: A.L., I.J.M.D.B., C.E.V.M., M.H. and H.V. analysed data on environmental impacts, P.M.S. analysed data on microalgae, F.Z. analysed data on seafood and mussels, E.H.M.T. analysed data on nutrition, H.T. analysed data on cultured meat and J.J.A.V.L. analysed data on insects.

Correspondence to H. H. E. Van Zanten.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References

Supplementary Dataset 1

8 Supplementary Tables

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Parodi, A., Leip, A., De Boer, I.J.M. et al. The potential of future foods for sustainable and healthy diets. Nat Sustain 1, 782–789 (2018).

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