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Producing nutrient-rich foods can help address global problems like vitamin and mineral deficiencies

People around the world are not getting adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals from their diets. Illinois-based researchers warned that this nutritional discrepancy would persevere into the 2050s – unless micronutrient-rich foods are made cheaper and easier to access.

Their study evaluated the changes in diets from 2018 to 2050. The results predicted that existing shortages in certain nutrients – calcium and vitamins D, E, and B9 (folate) – would persist for decades.

Led by researchers from the University of Illinois, the team found considerable variations in the amounts of vitamins and minerals consumed by a population according to the country and the nutrient in question. For example, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamins B6 and C were available in all of the countries covered by the study. Thanks to their high availability, they were consumed in sufficient amounts for purposes of health.

On the other hand, calcium and vitamin D levels proved to be sorely deficient in the diets of populations around the world. In the case of calcium, the nutritional situation improved as the income of the country – and its access to dairy foods – went up. However, countries with the lowest incomes were expected to continue experiencing insufficient levels of iron, vitamins A and K, and zinc in the future. (Related: Your bleeding gums could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency.)

Earning more money doesn’t translate to healthier diets, warns a study

The Illinois study also found that almost all of the world’s countries have more than enough carbohydrate and protein for the needs of their populations. The diets found in many of the wealthiest nations showed excess levels of alcohol, saturated fats, and sugar.

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The study identified improving income and changing diets as the significant factors that affected the security of food supplies and nutritional adequacy in the coming years. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) researcher Dr. Jessica Bogard believed that people would alter their diets once they started to earn more money.

Bogard believed that shifting diets and desire for new foods would influence the output of the agricultural industry. Farmers would change crops to make more money and keep up with the demand for those foods.

However, she added that nutritional security requires other things aside from improvements in economic growth and agricultural productivity. Instead of focusing on dietary quantity, countries need to direct their attention to improving the quality of diets.

Everyone needs foods rich in calcium and vitamin D

Bogard and her colleagues had a few suggestions for attaining nutritional security. They recommended that all countries should make nutritious foods more accessible and affordable by populations. Fruits, nuts, pulses, seeds, and vegetables were specified in the study.

Developing countries should focus on improving the cost and availability of nutritious animal-based foods. Those countries also have to reduce food waste and improve the health conditions in farms and other food environments.

Furthermore, all countries should raise the amount of calcium and vitamin D in the diet. The two nutrients work together to support various normal functions of the body.

The combination of calcium and vitamin D is known to improve the health and strength of bones. They also normalize the cholesterol levels of post-menopausal women.

On its own, vitamin D increases energy levels, lifts mood, boosts muscle strength, and supports the immune system. It is vital for the healthy growth and development of infants, and it can also protect older people from heart failure.

Most vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight. But people shouldn’t neglect their dietary intake of the vitamin, which can provide up to 10 percent of the recommended daily values of the nutrient.

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