To beat their diabetes, diabetics are increasingly turning to a plant-focused diet. But this is at a time when rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are sapping some vital nutrients out of the grains and legumes diabetics need to eat.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stimulates the growth of plants. This suggests that the ongoing expansion in the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which are increasing levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, will lead to bumper crops yields.
This good news, however, is counterbalanced by other negative effects of climate change. Drought, floods and heat stress, the consequences of an ever-warming planet, are expected to overwhelm the stimulus to growth due to additional carbon dioxide.
In other words, global warming will, overall and on balance, lead to a decline in crop yields in the foods that diabetics need to eat in order to beat their diabetes. But the outlook is even worse.
Climate change and reduced nutrition
A study published this month, which was lead by research scientists at Harvard, shows that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are making certain crops less nutritious. For this study, a variety of grains and legumes were grown in research plots in the USA, Australia and Japan.
One set of the crops was grown in enriched air that contained more than 546 parts of carbon dioxide per million. At current rates of climate chance, this concentration is expected to be reached in about 40 years’ time.
The other set was grown in normal ambient air at today’s concentrations of carbon dioxide, which in February 2014 crossed the 400 parts per million threshold — nearly 30% less than the enriched air.
According to a Harvard press release on the study, the results showed “a significant decrease in concentrations of protein, iron and zinc” in wheat and rice for the set of crops subjected to the higher levels of carbon dioxide.
In wheat, for example, the protein fell by 6.3 percent while the iron and zinc fell by 5.1 and 9.3 percent respectively. For legumes, such as peas and soy, grown in the carbon dioxide enriched air the protein levels did not change much but iron and zinc levels were reduced.
The types of crops affected by the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide (wheat, rice, soy and peas) are characterised by the way they use photosynthesis to trap carbon from the atmosphere.
Other crops (such as corn and sorghum) use a different way to get their carbon and are, the study found, much less sensitive to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The problem is that a majority of the human race relies on wheat, rice and legumes to get their proteins, iron and zinc.
Indeed about two billion people are currently suffering from iron and zinc deficiencies and, according to the Harvard press release, “the reduction in these nutrients represents the most significant health threat ever shown to be associated with climate change”.
Implications for diabetics
Falling nutritional values coupled with falling yields suggests that diabetics who are trying to beat their diabetes by consuming a plant-focused diet will have to rethink the plant items they include in their diets.
It seems that in the future diabetics will not be able to rely wholly on wheat and soy for their protein but will need to consume other crops such as corn. Falling yields also indicate that prices of these food items will rise.
In addition, falling nutritional values suggest that taking a good daily supplement containing essential minerals is becoming even more important.
The study has demonstrated the link between diabetes and climate change.
However, more knowledge of how exactly the nutritional content of plants grown in a carbon dioxide enriched atmosphere is affected is obviously needed.