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The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that by embracing local diets, the world would promote sustainable agriculture, support local farmers protect natural resources, and promote preventive health culture.

Director-General, WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus who spoke at the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2023 (UNFSS2023) Leadership Dialogue, noted that by incorporating local diets into food systems and empowering individuals to make nutritious food choices.

The Leadership Dialogue themed, “Healthy Diets, Cultures and Traditions” was monitored virtually.

The ongoing UNFSS2023, being held in Rome, Italy, started on July 24 (yesterday) and is meant to end on the 26.

The event seeks to create a conducive space for countries to review progress on commitments to action and identify successes, challenges and priorities to close the implementation gap for food systems transformation.

Ghebreyesus said local diets offered a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to food consumption, adding that they rely on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation and also preserve biodiversity.

According to him, by integrating local diets into food systems transformation,” We celebrate cultural diversity and ensure that traditional recipes and food traditions are passed down to future generations.”

He said food was a central part of life, good health and culture, and that healthy diets were an investment in societies, economies and children’s future.

“We do not eat simply to nourish our bodies. We eat to celebrate milestones in life, to build relationships, and for many cultural and religious ceremonies.

“Yet, unhealthy diets are one of the world’s leading killers, leading to an estimated 8 million deaths a year and are one of the biggest contributors to the burden of non-communicable diseases.

“So much of this burden is driven by aggressive marketing of products that drive private profit, but harm public health, including foods high in salt, sugar, and fats and breast milk substitutes,” he said.

Questioning what makes up a diet healthy, Ghebreyesus said that all healthy diets have four things in common.

According to him, healthy diets should provide adequate amounts of energy and essential nutrients and should not exceed the needs of the body.

He added that healthy diets should have balanced energy sources which should mainly come from complex carbohydrates and up to one-third from mainly unsaturated fats.

The WHO DG said that certain foods and nutrients should be limited, including free sugars, salt, saturated fats and trans fats, highly processed foods, red meat, and processed meat.

“Finally, healthy diets should include a variety of good groups and a variety of foods within groups. A healthy diet is a safe diet. No food should contain harmful microorganisms and chemicals.

“We must also remember that one of the healthiest diets is completely unprocessed, completely natural and completely free – breastfeeding.”

Ghebreyesus stressed that breastfeeding sets the stage for a healthy food system from the very beginning of life and emphasised the importance of nurturing and sustaining human health through natural means.

“When they talk about food systems, we need to include – protect and promote breastfeeding,” he added.

He further called for the transformation of food systems to revolve around nutrition and health for all instead of techno-industrial solutions that drove profit for a few.

“In an era where millions still suffer from hunger and malnutrition, transforming food systems must be based on principles of equity and environmental sustainability.

“With responsible agriculture, production and marketing practices from the food industry, we must work together to reform our food systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable food to all,” Ghebreyesus said.