The role of fats in sustainable food systems

Last changed: 10 November 2020
Butter or margarine is spread onto a slice of dark bread. Photo.

This project examines the role of fats in sustainable food systems with regard to both health and environmental aspects, including current consumption and production patterns, use of different types and sources of fats, and health outcomes from consumption of various fatty acids.

The overall goal of the project is to recommend strategies for a transition to a more sustainable production and consumption of fats.

Fats are one of the three macronutrients in our food, but in the scientific literature on sustainable food systems, so far, most attention has been paid to proteins. Globally, about 45 percent of the fats we consume come from animals - in Western dietary patterns, the proportion is 55 percent. This is more than for protein where 40 percent of the protein consumed globally comes from animal sources.

Animal husbandry for food production is a net source of fats, that is, we get more fats from animal products than is present in the feed that the animals eat. The reverse is true for protein, that is, we get less protein from animal products than what is present in the feed that is fed to animals. In the Western world, protein consumption exceeds the recommendations for a ablanced diet, but this is not the case for fats. Nevertheless, the role of protein in sustainable diets and food systems has been extensively investigated, while the role of fats has not received the same attention at all.

With a shift from today's Western diets to more sustainable ways of eating, including a reduction in the consumption of animal products, animal fats may need to be replaced with fats from plant-based sources. It is currently unclear what these sources could be and what sustainability challenges they could entail. Many of the most important plant-based fat sources today, especially soy and oil palm, have major sustainability problems.