Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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

Affiliations

  1. Animal Production Systems Group, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • A. Parodi
    • , I. J. M. De Boer
    • , C. E. Van Middelaar
    •  & H. H. E. Van Zanten
  2. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy

    • A. Leip
  3. Operations Research and Logistics, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • P. M. Slegers
  4. Agrifood and Bioscience, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Gothenburg, Sweden

    • F. Ziegler
  5. National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands

    • E. H. M. Temme
  6. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), St Lucia, Queensland, Australia

    • M. Herrero
  7. Department of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

    • H. Tuomisto
  8. Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

    • H. Tuomisto
  9. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Helsinki, Finland

    • H. Tuomisto
  10. Ecosystems Services and Management Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

    • H. Valin
  11. Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

    • J. J. A. Van Loon

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to H. H. E. Van Zanten.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

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

  2. Supplementary Dataset 1

    8 Supplementary Tables

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0189-7

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