“Nutrition professionals are uniquely suited to ensure food systems and dietary guidance reflect cultural food waves, but also align with environmental goals and public health priorities,” Chris Vogliano, Ph.D, RDN, the lead author of the paper, tells Food Tank. “Empowering them through the strategies outlined in our white paper really offers an immediate, actionable, cost-effective need to engage and really achieve the goals set by the U.N. 2030 agenda.”
Food + Planet, a team of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), considers sustainable food systems important from an economic, nutritional, planetary, and sociocultural standpoint. The organization recently organized a Master Class for nutrition professionals—defined as doctors, nurses, dietitians, and anyone else working in the nutrition and health space—to introduce them to these four dimensions of sustainability.
Ninety-seven percent of the 8,000 dietitians in the class agreed that sustainability should be better integrated into their practices, and 70 percent felt they should be leaders in a sustainable nutrition education movement. Realizing that nutrition professionals were underutilized in sustainability efforts, Food + Planet created the report: a roadmap to help dietitians and nutrition professionals become leaders in the sustainable food movement.
The paper, Empowering Nutrition Professionals to Advance Sustainable Food Systems, aims to identify current barriers and opportunities for nutrition professionals to help facilitate the transition to more sustainable, regenerative, and equitable food systems. It identifies eight core strategies, including advancing professional knowledge, attitudes, and practices around sustainability; developing inclusive language; and integrating culturally responsive practices.
To implement these strategies, the paper argues that nutrition professionals should consider food access and food security when making recommendations. They should also adapt guidelines and messaging around sustainable and healthy eating to be more inclusive of all cultures.
“Focusing on culturally responsive and traditional food ways is really important to reflect the diversity of culturally responsive cultural eating practices within our countries, our communities, our practices, and even including the integration of indigenous knowledge,” Vogliano tells Food Tank. “There’s also a lack of research on diverse populations, making it more challenging to find culturally appropriate nutrition and health recommendations.”
To help clients effectively incorporate plant-based or local foods into their diets, Vogliano says that the nutrition professional must understand that client’s background. Without these culturally responsive practices, Vogliano explains that nutrition professionals cannot make appropriate suggestions to a diverse community.
“Food-based dietary guidelines often don’t include cultural food adaptations in the national recommendations. We’re ultimately trying to get people to eat a wider diversity of foods. If we can diversify our plates and also reduce consumption, that’s a win-win for people and the planet,” says Vogliano.
Food + Planet also identifies six main priority themes and areas for nutrition professionals to advance sustainable nutrition practices. The themes include improving competency and training, creating evidence-based tools, facilitating cross-disciplinary partnerships, and expanding community integration.
To put these themes into practice, Food + Planet plans to develop more educational tools and host more Food Systems Master Classes and events for nutrition professionals. The next phase of Food + Planet’s project is to reach out to dietitians and find the most effective ways to educate the community and develop tools that will translate into consumer behavior.
“As it stands right now, nutrition professionals are highly underutilized,” Vogliano tells Food Tank. “They want to be utilized. They want to be involved but aren’t sure how. And so we really hope that nutrition professionals can be key change agents to help create a future food system that is healthy for all.”
Photo courtesy of Ella Olsson, Unsplash