Sustainable food alternatives for human consumption: Challenges and opportunities

At the moment, the world has to rethink the kind of food that can be consumed, not only because this food is essential to eradicate hunger and end malnutrition, but also to avoid deaths from starvation or different kind of diseases (cardiovascular, cancer, etc).

According to data collected by “Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations” (FAO), 25% of the world’s population is deficient in protein and this is a clear example of the need for alternative sources of protein in the world and also more than 815 million people today suffer from chronic undernourishment.

By the middle of this century, it is estimated that an extra 265 million tons of protein will be needed to meet the demands of the world’s population. Finding new protein sources turn to be a necessity that leads the way towards sustainable alternatives.

Countries like Algeria, Nigeria, Madagascar and Botswana face serious food shortages. India, due to its overpopulation, also faces many difficulties in terms of the ability to feed its population.

Science is making progress in looking for alternatives to take advantage of different or new natural resources that can improve our nutritional patterns, exploitate unconventional food sources as possible alternatives. Among them, single-celled microorganisms are likely to have the best chance of developing unique agricultural supply independence. Protein obtained from microorganisms is cheap and competes well with other sources of protein and can provide good nutritional value depending on the amino acid composition.

Moreover, animal protein could be replaced with high-quality plant sources and, perhaps, other more novel sources including insects. Insects and single-cell organisms, including bacteria, represent exciting, and with continued research and investment, economically and environmentally favorable alternatives.

In the near future, sustainable food alternatives could have a major impact not only on solving various food problems that humanity faces but they can also reduce the food industry’s environmental footprint, create innovative products and help adopting the circular economy model that contributes to the SDG’s.