The food we eat occupies a central place in our lives and affects our health. Even though major advances have been made over the last decades, malnutrition is still a global problem. It can result from such factors as famine, nutrient deficiencies, excessive body mass, and obesity. If we wish to deal with food and health challenges, it is important to understand our dietary choices, our dietary regimes, the composition of the foods we eat, and inequalities in our access to food. At INRAE, our research examines food healthfulness and nutritional quality and explores the biological, economic, and cultural factors that affect our diets. The goal is to understand the links between human health, food, and the environment to improve the sustainability of food production, food health benefits, and the accessibility of healthy diets.
Our health is strongly tied to the health of plants, animals, and the environment
There are many relationships between food, the environment, and human health. To better understand them, we study food consumption patterns and dietary patterns, which are controlled by multiple other factors that are physiological, psychological, economic, and cultural in nature. We also explore how our health is affected by the characteristics of the food we eat. These characteristics depend on how crops and livestock are farmed, which influences the nutritional composition and healthfulness of the resulting food products. They also depend on transformation and storage methods, which can affect food quality (e.g., nutritional quality, presence of additives and/or contaminants). In tandem, food production and transformation processes can result in the release of toxic substances into the soil, air, and water, which can also impact our health. It is therefore important to take a broader view of health, given that the health of humans is strongly tied to the health of plants, animals, and the environment as well as pollution levels in the soil, air, and water. When we talk about "one global health," this is what we mean.
This diversity of mechanisms means that there are a diversity of stakeholders involved (crop farmers, livestock farmers, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers), who each make market-based decisions that are also influenced by different types of public policies (e.g., related to agriculture, food, health, and the environment). It is thus crucial to improve our understanding of each of these mechanisms, as well as to adopt a more integrated perspective, if we wish to arrive at innovative solutions, inform public policies, guide future dietary transitions, and manage health in a more global way.
A manufacturing process has been patented that can obtain pasta made of a mixture of durum wheat and legume flours. This pasta has a high nutritional value because of the levels and complementarity of the amino acids it contains. It is also easy to digest and has a low fat content, which means it is particularly well-suited to the needs of older people.
Researchers from INRAE and their partners have shown for the first time that E171 crosses the intestinal barrier in animals and reaches other parts of the body. Immune system disorders linked to the absorption of the nanoscale fraction of E171 particles were observed. Chronic oral exposure to the additive spontaneously induced preneoplastic lesions in the colon, a non-malignant stage of carcinogenesis, in 40% of exposed animals.
With sustainable diets in mind, INRAE researchers teamed up with Aix-Marseille University to show, via a study using models, that it is indeed possible to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining nutritional value. It all depends on smart food choices: more starchy foods, more fruits and vegetables, and less meat.
This is the 4th scientific priority of the INRAE 2030 strategic plan. Our goals are to study:
Our research explores diets from early childhood to adolescence and adulthood, eating behaviour, the gut microbiota, links between diet and chronic diseases, toxicology, and new food development. With regard to animal health, we study zoonoses that are passed from animals to humans, such as the flu, as well as prion and infectious diseases.
> Read reports and emblematic cases from our research in these areas. New issues will regularly be posted for this topic.
PREZODE was announced on the occasion of the One Planet Summit for biodiversity held on 11 January. Three French research institutes - INRAE, CIRAD and IRD – teamed up with around ten other research bodies in France, Germany and the Netherlands to launch PREZODE. This worldwide programme will combine research and practical steps. It was shared in December 2020 with more than 400 participants from 50 countries on 5 continents with the goal of open co-construction. International organisations like the WHO, OIE, FAO, UNEP, the World Bank and European Commission have all expressed keen interest in the initiative.