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Upcycled Food: A Solution to Food Waste with Multiple Benefits

If this is the first time you’ve heard about upcycled food, you’re not alone. In a recent study, only 10% of participants were aware of upcycled food. Whilst it may not be well known yet, upcycling has been around for several years and is gaining popularity in recent years, and for good reason.

Upcycled food comes with a range of benefits for the environment as well as for your body.

Upcycled Food- What Exactly Is It?

An image of a jar with candied orange peels insideUpcycled food is when low-quality ingredients or byproducts from food processes are turned into high-quality edible food products such as snacks, beverages, and other food items.

The official definition from the Upcycled Food Association is ingredients, that would otherwise not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and they then have a positive impact on the environment.

According to the organization ReFed which tracks food waste, there are around 70 businesses and nonprofits using upcycled food, and some brands have been launched from upcycled food.

Different Types of Upcycled Food

Upcycled food has been around for many years. The most classic example that we may all be aware of is converting ripe fruit into jam and using the offcuts of meat to make sausages. There are, however, multiple other uses for upcycled food and two main categories.

Commercial Use

This category is commonly used by businesses where imperfect foods are turned into edible food items. Some businesses that fall into this category include; Wtrmln Wtr, Barnana, and Regrain.

Wtrmln Wtr was launched when the founders discovered that millions of watermelons rot as they are too unattractive to sell. Barnana uses unattractive, bruised, or overripe bananas to make dehydrated banana snacks and has rescued over 20 million bananas to date. Regrain transforms the byproducts from the process of brewing grain into beer into a flour called ‘SuperGrain +’ and incorporates it into snack bars.

Charities and NGOs

This category used upcycled food to feed the poor. Here food surplus from restaurants or school cafeterias is collected and converted into packaged meals for the hungry. Some nonprofits that use this category include the Food Bus and Binghamton food rescue (BFR) project.

Benefits of Upcycled Food

Upcycled food not only produces tasty food, but it has multiple benefits for the environment and your health as well.

Environmentally Friendly

The average waste in America has increased by 70% and 1.3 billion tonnes of food gets wasted every year. If the waste was a country, it would be the third-largest country in the world. And not only does it take up space, but it also has negative consequences for the planet.

When food rots, it emits a gas called methane which is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Food wastage is now responsible for producing 70 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses per year.

Greenhouse gasses have many negative consequences which include climate change, smog, and air pollution as well as respiratory conditions from the pollution.

By upcycling food, we are reducing the amount of methane produced by rotting food. This reduces greenhouse gasses, helps the environment, and can potentially help preserve your lung health.

Saves on Hidden Costs

Food wastage is a hidden cost. It affects the profit of food producers and manufacturers, and it is a contributing factor to inflation. When food is wasted, not only is the food wasted but the resources that were used in the making of the item are wasted as well.

Upcycled food removes much of this hidden cost. There is a cost involved in converting the food into edible items, but profit is still generated from these items.

On a consumer level, customers are looking to support more environmentally friendly companies, so not only does upcycled food help businesses save costs, but it also helps increase their sales.

Upcycled Food Is Nutritious

An image of halved oranges in plastic bagsIt may not look pretty, but the foods that go unused or are thrown away are still nutritious and may be more nutritious than the items that were good enough to go to commercial use.

During food processing, shells, peels, and other ingredients are thrown away; yet these ingredients contain fiber, protein, and vitamins that are essential for your health.

In upcycled food, these ingredients are put to use and are not discarded, so many of the nutrients that might have been stripped from commercial foods are still present in upcycled food.

Helps Communities

As food wastage increases, world hunger is increasing as well. It has steadily increased since 2019 being influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2019, the number of undernourished individuals has grown by over 160 million to possibly over 800 million people facing hunger.

Nonprofits can use upcycled food with little or no extra cost to feed the hungry, and this also helps reduce the costs for the nonprofits so they can continue to help the impoverished.

Businesses that create upcycled food products all also support communities, by creating jobs and education programs for individuals through upcycling.

One example of a business doing this is Jali Fruit Co., a business that upcycles fruit into dried fruit. Not only do they upcycle, but they also train farmers, women, and youth on using zero waste techniques to grow fruit and how to harvest and store it. Jali Fruit Co. also supports the community by paying women farmers more than the local wage.

Helps to Sustain the Global Population

Every year, the world's population grows by 81 million, just over 1%. Although in the next few decades a decrease is predicted, it is important to be able to have sustainable resources to support the population.

Upcycled food is a sustainable method of procuring food and reduces the chances of food shortage. Upcycled food items such as dried fruit, beverages, and snack bars have a higher shelf life than fresh fruit and vegetables and can be used easily by individuals who have limited access to grocery stores. Since the shelf life is longer, there is also a reduced risk of the food being contaminated with toxins.

Where Can You Find Upcycled Food?

Upcycled foods originally were available at health stores. However, with the growth in the upcycled food trend, these foods are becoming increasingly accessible through regular grocery stores.

To identify whether or not a food item is upcycled, you can either look at the back of the packaging for more information on the product, or you can look for the upcycled food logo.

This logo is a part of the certification standard that was released in 2021. The logo is fairly new. However, many brands have started using it, and the use of the logo will increase as more companies pass the certification standard.

Nutrient Dense Foods Can Help Your Body Cope With Stress

As we all know by now, nutrition is important - specifically, nutrient-dense food. Nutrient-dense food can help support your body, reduce the risk of chronic conditions, and can help your body heal from conditions such as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), which is caused by chronic stress. This happens when your body runs out of resources to produce enough stress hormones, leading to a cascade of hormone imbalances. An inadequate diet is a risk factor for this condition.

An image of nutrient-dense foodsNutrient-dense foods are important to ensure your body receives the nutrients it needs to support itself. Proper nutrition has many benefits for those that deal with chronic stress including stabilizing your blood sugar, reducing blood pressure, balancing hormones, and decreasing stress levels.

Nutrition allows your body to start healing from the damage that may have been caused by the stress. These benefits can help support the different NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response circuits, specifically the Bioenergetics circuit. While the NEM is composed of groups of organ systems that help deal with stress, the Bioenergetics circuit specifically deals with how foods are converted into energy. Poor nutrition can cause imbalances that lower your energy levels.

Since upcycled food can potentially be more nutrient-dense than processed food that is not upcycled, there is a chance more nutrients will be absorbed from the upcycled food.

Considerations for Buying Upcycled Food

However, not all food that is upcycled is nutritious. It is still important to eat a healthy diet, especially if you experience a chronic condition such as AFS.

Another important consideration is whether the food item has passed the certification standard. This is a relatively new standard that was initiated in 2021, although many brands have started using the logo. Using food that has passed this standard ensures that the food you are ingesting is of good quality and has been procured using reputable, safe, and high-quality food processes.

If the food item hasn’t passed this standard, it's unclear whether the food has been procured safely and using high-quality food processes. Using food that has not been procured with safe and reputable methods can cause more harm than good and can result in further medical conditions.

If you would like to try upcycled food, it may be a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider to ensure the food you’re consuming is nutritious, of high quality, and appropriate for any medical conditions you may have.

The Takeaway

Upcycled food can be a solution to reducing food waste, resolving food insecurity, and rescuing nutritious foods for public use. If you would like to use upcycled foods but are concerned about the safety of these foods you can look out for the upcycled food certification standard logo.

If you would like to chat with a healthcare provider regarding the safety of upcycled foods and how best to support your body in times of stress, please give us a call at +1 (626) 571-1234 for a free initial consultation. You can also request a callback here.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Upcycled food is not waste, it’s food that didn’t comply with strict standards set by food companies. These food items are safe to consume. However, it is always important to check whether it has passed the certification standard and to check with your healthcare provider if you have underlying conditions.

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