Hosted by the Federation of Asian Nutrition Societies (FANS) every four years, the Asian Congress of Nutrition is Asia’s prime convening of food and nutrition researchers and professionals. This year’s conference theme was Nutrition and Food Innovation for Sustained Well-being. Along with 3,000 attendees from 30+ countries, Eat Well Global navigated 60 plenary sessions, 120 educational sessions and 20 exhibit hall booths.

In the midst of key issues facing Asian populations, such as the double burden of malnutrition, the topic of nutrition sustainability was core to most discussions. From increasing affordability of nutrient-dense foods, ensuring that nutrition recommendations take cultural context into account, and considering the environmental impact of said recommendations, it’s critical nutrition experts today consider all these interconnected factors in our work. As Martin Bloem, MD, PhD, Director of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future stated, “All the world’s problems are complex but we approach them with simple solutions. The world cannot use any more people that only look at single solutions.”

Of particular interest following the publication of the EAT-Lancet report were the conversations around plant-based diets versus the need for animal foods, with the implication being that the former is only a single solution to consider among others. As some population groups across Asia have adhered to a vegetarian diet for religious reasons for centuries, the idea of a plant-based diet is hardly novel or trendy. However, food innovations in the plant-based space were met with mixed sentiment. While some enthusiastically supported the expansion of the plant-based market, others cautioned against the uber-processed form in which many of these plant-based alternatives come. Others still noted how these “replacement foods” may not deliver the same nutrients as their animal-based counterparts, and that nutrition professionals must be prepared for any unintentional consequences of switching to these alternative products, which is primarily happening in more affluent populations where families can afford these packaged products.

This tension between the popularity of plant-based foods, the need to prioritize nutrition sustainability, the religious and cultural context in Asia, and the documented impact that animal-based foods have made in reducing the very critical issues of stunting and malnutrition in Asia, was palpable. While these challenges were greater than one conference could solve, the fact that the discussion has broadened to include all of these interconnected factors is testament to the evolving global nutrition dialogue. As nutrition professionals, attendees were reminded that nutrition science, cultural context, climate and food supply implications all need to be considered in our efforts. In other words, our perspective needs to be widened, and the time for collaborating in new ways to tackle the root causes and broader implications of nutrition recommendations is now.