December 5, 2017
University of Leiden
your diet can improve both your health and the environment. A new study shows
that European dietary recommendations on reducing animal products can reduce
environmental impacts in most high-income nations.
Changing your diet can
improve both your health and the environment. A new study shows that the
national dietary recommendations on reducing animal products can reduce
environmental impacts in most high-income nations. Publication in PNAS
It has long been
understood that what we eat impacts not only our health but the environment
too. Despite this fundamental food-sustainability awareness, almost no national
dietary recommendations have been designed with sustainability in mind. Out of
thirty-seven countries examined, only 4 nationally recommended diets (NRDs)
make any mention of the environmental or sustainability impacts of diets.
is generally overlooked in preparing NRDs, these recommended diets may still be
beneficial for the environment, as they often suggest reductions in meat and
other foods with high environmental impacts. Researchers at the University of
Leiden have gathered details of NRDs for 37 nations worldwide, and have
investigated their impacts on carbon emissions, water quality, and land use.
They compared these impacts to the impacts of average diets consumed in each of
the nations involved, to determine if following a nationally recommended diet
would have a lower environmental impact than the average national diet
The study shows that
choosing to follow an NRD over the average national diet would have the biggest
environmental savings in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. Most
of these savings are due to the reduction of meat in the diet. There are
reductions also in most EU nations, with Greece, Ireland, and the Netherlands
saving the most.
In lower-income nations,
following an NRD over the average national diet could result in slightly higher
environmental impacts. This is generally because guidelines in these nations
emphasize a higher consumption of animal products to combat low levels of
protein in the diet.
Improving the guidelines
Given that the most NRDs
don’t mention sustainability we can almost certainly do better. More discussion
of sustainability issues, sourcing of sustainable foods, methods for reducing
waste, and highlighting the importance of environmental health would improve
the guidelines tremendously.
‘Although I think we
could do even better, the message is a positive one, overall,’ said Dr Paul
Behrens, lead researcher of the article; ‘Especially if middle- and high-
income countries modify their diets to align with nationally recommended diets.
This will generally mean eating more plant products such as legumes and
vegetables, and fewer animal products. If you know your diet isn’t healthy, you
have one more reason to change, for our environment too. It might just be
possible to have your cake and eat it!’
1. Paul Behrens, Jessica C.
Kiefte-de Jong, Thijs Bosker, João F. D. Rodrigues, Arjan de Koning, Arnold
Tukker. Evaluating the environmental impacts of dietary recommendations.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201711889 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1711889114