Knowledge for better food systems

Dietary strategies to reduce environmental impact must be nutritionally complete

Photo: Camy West, food, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0 generic.

In this letter to the editor in Nature, the authors challenge simplified dietary strategies used in lifecycle assessment (LCA) based studies. Citing a paper that presents the LCA of three dietary scenarios for a basket of food products (representative of EU consumption) they argue that “it is irresponsible to present environmentally motivated dietary strategies... that conflict with longstanding public health nutrition objectives.”. 

The authors’ main concern centres on the nutritional implications of modelled dietary scenarios, wherein a 25% or 50% reduction in the consumption of beef, dairy, pig meat, poultry and eggs, is compensated for by higher intakes of cereals (i.e. bread). They point to a systematic literature review (which we have summarised here) which found that diets lower in greenhouse gas emissions cannot be assumed to lead to improvements in nutritional quality and health outcomes. The authors say that dietary strategies aimed at reducing environmental impact while remaining consistent with public health objectives, need to be revised to take account of the full range of foods consumed (rather than just one food group).The authors conclude that more attention should be paid to the need to consume fewer discretionary (energy-dense and nutrient-poor non-core) foods: as these contribute to excess energy intake -- with little nutritional value -- whilst inflating environmental burdens. You might be interested in reading a paper which we summarised here, looking at the environmental impact of discretionary foods.
 

References

Ridoutt, B., Hendrie, G. and Noakes, M., 2017. Dietary strategies to reduce environmental impact must be nutritionally complete. Journal of Cleaner Production, 152, pp.26-27.

Read the full letter here (open access).

See also the papers referred to by the authors of this letter:

Read the full letter here (open access).

See also the papers referred to by the authors of this letter:

  • Notarnicola, B., Tassielli, G., Renzulli, P.A., Castellani, V. and Sala, S., 2017. Environmental impacts of food consumption in Europe. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, pp.753-765. (open access)
  • Payne, C.L., Scarborough, P. and Cobiac, L., 2016. Do low-carbon-emission diets lead to higher nutritional quality and positive health outcomes? A systematic review of the literature. Public health nutrition, pp.1-8. (open access)
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