Research in the field of sustainable and healthy nutrition is calling for the application of the latest advances in seemingly unrelated domains such as complex systems and network sciences on the one hand and big data and artificial intelligence on the other. This is because the confluence of these fields, whose methodologies have experienced explosive growth in the last few years, promises to solve some of the more challenging problems in sustainable and healthy nutrition, i.e., integrating food and behavioral-based dietary guidelines. Focusing here primarily on nutrition and health, we discuss what kind of methodological shift is needed to open current disciplinary borders to the methods, languages, and knowledge of the digital era and a system thinking approach. Specifically, we advocate for the adoption of interdisciplinary, complex-systems-based research to tackle the huge challenge of dealing with an evolving interdependent system in which there are multiple scales—from the metabolome to the population level—, heterogeneous and—more often than not— incomplete data, and population changes subject to many behavioral and environmental pressures. To illustrate the importance of this methodological innovation we focus on the consumption aspects of nutrition rather than production, but we recognize the importance of system-wide studies that involve both these components of nutrition. We round off the paper by outlining some specific research directions that would make it possible to find new correlations and, possibly, causal relationships across scales and to answer pressing questions in the area of sustainable and healthy nutrition.
- complex systems
- data science