The health trend has gotten very popular in the last few years, and more and more people are recognizing that processed food with all of its additives may play an important role in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Nevertheless, Earth’s population is growing rapidly, and is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050. That is a huge number of people to feed, especially with the growing appetite for meat in the developing world. Even if it were physically possible to provide meat for 9 billion people, that would have terrible consequences on the environment. So naturally, the efforts of many scientists, farmer and entrepreneurs are going into developing alternative ways to feed earth’s population while still providing all of the necessary nutrients. Most of the research is going into these alternatives:
- Synthetic meat:
Most of you probably heard of efforts going into growing synthetic meat in the laboratory; or more specifically, the media craze that surrounded the first lab-grown hamburger eaten by volunteers in London in August of 2013. The researchers that succeeded in making that first burger believe that synthetic meat can provide the answer to the food problem of the future. They claim that growing meat in a lab rather than getting it from animals would significantly reduce greenhouse gases, along with energy and water use.
That first burger cost $325,000, but that is bound to drop dramatically with increased rate of production. The texture and taste weren’t exactly the same because the synthetic hamburger did not contain the fat of a regular hamburger- but that can be improved and customized with healthier substitutes.
Yes, you read that correctly. Insects. Though already popular in certain countries in Africa and Asia, just the thought is enough to make most people cringe in the west. In reality insects contain many nutrients- even more protein than meat- and are low in fat and cholesterol. And the word on the street is that they taste like chicken. Researchers are trying to find creative ways of making them into food while avoiding actually having to “eat bugs”.
There are additional benefits too- they can create large amounts of protein from very little food, they thrive in tiny spaces, consume less water and have a very low carbon footprint. And there are about 1400 species of critters that we can eat.
Most of you have probably eaten seaweed before in a sushi roll or wakama salad, so this might appear slightly more appealing than the insects mentioned before. 145 species of seaweed are already used in cooking around the world. Seaweed contains many minerals, vitamin groups and proteins and is a sustainable food source- it requires no fresh water, land or fertilizer to grow, and it’s the fasted growing plant on earth. Scientists believe that seaweed can be worked into our diet to provide us with alternative sources of nutrients.
- Food Replacement:
Another potential solution to the health and environmental problems that arise from meat consumption is to replace animal products with plant-based proteins that taste like meat and provide us with all the nutrients we need. This might sound very futuristic, but there are quite a few companies already focused on manufacturing food replacements- some aiming at replacing individual foods like eggs or meat, and others at providing all of the nutrients we need in one.
- Genetic Engineering:
Though extremely controversial, many experts still claim that genetically modified food could help the environment and our health in the long run. Most of the controversy has surrounded crops engineered to look better, grow quickly and resist pests, but genetic engineering can also add nutrients to certain foods, for example, or deplete others to benefit our health.
As grim as our culinary future may seem, scientists are confident that the food of the future won’t be bland at all. Once they polish the recipes a bit they will have a real chance of designing healthy food alternatives to the hungry billions, in addition to potentially lowering the levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more by controlling quantities and qualities of sugars and fats in food.
-By Liran Julia Grunhaus
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