National Nutrition Month: Turning wasted calories into working calories

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By: Sarah Faith, Account Director

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound habits related to eating and physical activity. This year’s theme is “Go Further with Food” and it has a dual focus, encouraging healthy eating habits, while also urging Americans to find ways to eliminate food waste. The campaign aims to connect the dots between the health benefits of meal and snack planning with the resulting implications related to food waste.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that one-third of food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted globally. Each day in the United States, an average of more than 1,200 calories per person is wasted, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In addition to the implications related to combating hunger when calories like these are wasted, it’s important to consider what is wasted from a nutritional standpoint. Researchers found that the food discarded in the average household is rich in nutrients that are often lacking in the American diet, including vitamin D, fiber and potassium. So, Americans are throwing away the nutrients they need yet might not be getting.

 According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “responsible food planning can lead to reduced food loss and waste, saving both nutrients and money.” The “Go Further with Food” campaign and others like it help to raise awareness of the issue and provide educational resources so Americans can make responsible decisions for themselves and others. But what about the food business community? Below, we’ll take a look at what three major players in the food industry are doing to promote the reduction of food waste and, in turn, shifting potential wasted calories into hard-working nutritional calories.

  • In Fall 2017, Quaker partnered with the James Beard Foundation and Chef Marco Canora to “rethink the power of the oat to help recover foodsthat often go to waste while discovering new ways to eat more nutritiously every day.” The “More Taste, Less Waste” campaign challenged professional chefs to create recipes that used oats and rescued food that would otherwise be wasted, like onion and garlic skins. Consumers then got in on the action, voting in a contest for their favorite recipe online. Winners were able to select a food non-profit to receive a $5,000 donation in their name.
  • Anheuser-Busch InBev is funding a startup that uses spent grain left over from the beer making process to produce nutritious beverages. Canvas, billed as “the first sustainable, plant-based beverage made from saved grain”, is a ready-to-drink smoothie-like beverage that is rich in dietary fiber, complete plant protein, and fatty acids from coconut. Billions of pounds of highly perishable spent grain are produced around the world each year, and Canvas is rethinking how would-be waste can be converted into something nutritious.
  • More than 20% of fruits and vegetables grown in America never make it off the farm because, to grocers, they just aren’t perfect enough. As a result, billions of pounds of nutritious produce is wasted. Subscription service company Imperfect Produce is at the forefront of changing that. In looking to find a home for “ugly” produce, the company sources directly from farms and delivers to customers’ door at prices that are 30-50% less than grocery stores. In addition to providing access to “ugly,” yet nutritious produce, the company is working to start an “eating ugly” movement that helps build a more sustainable and effective food system.

Food is lost and wasted throughout the supply chain. When this happens, nutritious calories go by the wayside. Initiatives like “Go Further with Food” during National Nutrition Month® help to educate and arm Americans with the resources they need to make sound food decisions. But, it takes a village. As we are seeing with brands like Quaker, Canvas, and Imperfect Produce, food business can have an impactful role in promoting nutrition while working to eliminate waste.

Visit EatRight.org to learn more about National Nutrition Month® and download the campaign toolkit.