Health and Healthcare Systems

Why the colour of your fruit and vegetables matters

a picture of fruit sellers surrounded by different coloured fruits

The UN designated 2021 as a special year to recognise the health and economic benefits of fruit and vegetables. Image: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Katharine Rooney
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Healthy Futures

  • Plant-sourced foods are good for you.
  • Agriculture plays a unique role in food security.
  • A third of all food produced globally is wasted.
  • Better management of food chains can help minimise waste.

Happy International Year of Fruits and Vegetables!

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has designated 2021 as a special year to recognise the health and economic benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.

The event was established as a way to help promote healthier diets around the world, as well as acknowledging the unique role that agricultural crops play in food security and farmer livelihoods.

Scientists say that access to fresh fruits and vegetables can help protect against non-communicable diseases, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Collectively, non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. They could cost the global economy $47 trillion by 2030.

Consuming the right amount of fresh fruits and vegetables contributes to healthy growth in children, improved immunity, better mental health, and a longer life.

As the image below shows, the colour of a fruit or vegetable can be indicative of the nutrients it contains and benefits it conveys. Ensuring a mixture of them is key to a healthy diet.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

a chart showing the different health benefits of different coloured fruit and vegetables
The colour of a fruit or vegetable can be indicative of the nutrients it contains and benefits it conveys. Image: FAO

On average, we only eat about two-thirds of the recommended minimum amount of fruits and vegetables. In sub-Saharan Africa, that level drops considerably, with nearly 70% of those aged 50 and over failing to consume sufficient quantities in South Africa and just 5.5% of the same group doing so in Nigeria.

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Boosting the supply of nutritious food

But what can be done to intervene?

Making fruit and vegetables more widely available, by improving the value chain between producers and consumers, is a cornerstone of the FAO’s strategy.

That includes encouraging small-scale farmers to join national and global value chains alongside multinational firms. This can be achieved through schemes like contract farming, which gives farmers a guaranteed price for a predetermined level of produce.

The organisation believes that government investment should also prioritise locally produced, indigenous varieties over the exotic and imported, which has led to reduced consumption of seasonal items.

Up to 50% of fruits and vegetables produced in developing countries are lost in the supply chain between harvest and consumption.

In many cases, the value chain from farmers to consumers is complex and multi-layered. Simplifying it could create opportunities for a more direct connection, such as at farmer’s markets, for instance - while strengthening support for smaller retailers could help to improve transparency and food safety.

a chart showing the complicated food chain
A simplified supply chain could make it easier to connect farmers to consumers. Image: FAO

Eliminating waste

The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables is also intended to support supply chain innovation and a more sustainable food system, including the minimisation of food waste.

According to the FAO, a third of all food produced globally is wasted. One target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to halve per capita food waste by 2030.

Technology is helping to reach that goal.

For example, StixFresh antimicrobial stickers mimic the compounds that soft fruit produces itself; creating a protective layer that slows the ripening process.

Online, sites like Olio connect neighbours and local businesses to donate unwanted food so it doesn’t get thrown away - while in the supermarket, artificial intelligence-driven solutions offer variable pricing matched to expiry dates.

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. The FAO hopes that its work will help more people to gain the nutritional and economic benefits that could improve living conditions for millions.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsFood and WaterIndustries in Depth
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