Sustainable diet

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Sustainable diets are defined as "those diets with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutritional security and to healthy lives for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable, are nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, and optimize natural and human resources." [1]

Sustainable diets simultaneously attempt to address social phenomena such as undernourishment, nutrient deficiencies and obesity (the triple burden of malnutrition) and ecological phenomena such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity and land degradation.

This includes the study of eating patterns that look at the impact that food consumption has on planetary resources and the health of humans and promotes the needs of the environment, society, and the economy. This growing body of research is recognised by a variety of international bodies such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

A growing population and an increase in income are shifting global demands to what is known as the global diet. It demands a diet high in animal protein, oils, salts and processed foods.[2]

Additional research and methods that will help address issues such as agricultural production methods, food waste, environmental problems like the declination of biodiversity and global warming, are necessary for promoting sustainable diets, as well as determining whether or not there should be concern about plant versus animal diets and their impact on health.

Definition of a sustainable diet

In 2010, the FAO and Bioversity International defined a sustainable diet as:

those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.[3]

Diets denominated as "sustainable"

Some so-called "sustainable" diets mostly concentrate on issues to do with Low Carbon Diets which are structured to reduce the impact of global warming (e.g., Bon Appétit Management Company's, Eat Low Carbon Diet[4]).

Others also focus on broader environmental factors, as well as social and economic challenges (e.g., WWF's LiveWell for LIFE,[5] and the Barilla Group's "Centre for Food Nutrition" model).

Other regionalized diets include the Mediterranean diet which was used as a basis in research published in 2014 to outline an approach to developing metrics and guidelines to measure the sustainability of diets in a way that would be useful to inform stakeholders, measure change and aid decision-making processes at a regional and national level.[6]

The Nordic diet is also considered sustainable as it emphasizes local foodstuffs.[7]

Animal agriculture, food security, greenhouse gas emissions and health

Food security

There is research [8] that states the importance of the role of animal agriculture to ensure Food security. It is the ability for people to have access to nutrient dense and safe food and can be achieved through animal agriculture given that it is a high quality and micronutrient rich source of food that supports a balanced diet.

Greenhouse gas emissions and animal agriculture policies

Animal agriculture, in particular beef production, is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. About 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated from the agricultural system, of which about half of those emissions come from livestock[9]. With the exception of large-scale and resource intensive industrial meat production, the farming of animals can come with the benefit of improving soil conditions and the biodiversity of arable land.[8] There is additional research in the field that reports that both high and low numbers of carbon emission is attributed to animal agriculture.[citation needed] A solution to this issue is setting policies that target livestock practices from the supply side in order to address GHG while taking into consideration social and economic costs. It has been suggested that a more efficient livestock production system can lead to a decrease of emissions of 736 million metrics tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030.[10]

Zoonotic diseases

Zoonotic diseases, ones that are found in animals and transmitted to people, are a concern, specifically, for those that question animal agriculture. It was found that intensification of livestock production is related to an increase in disease transmission from animals like pigs and poultry due to a high density of these animal populations with low genetic diversity.[11]

Plant versus animal diets

A lower consumption of animal-sourced foods is argued to bring positive benefits to the health of people and the environment.[12] Dietary shifts studied[13] are based on reductions of animal foods and an increase of plant-based foods and they show an increase in health in people adopting them.

Global dietary shifts

As income increases the intake of calories from processed foods and the demand for animal protein increases. Demand for legumes, fruits and vegetables and plant protein decreases as income increases.

Impact on the environment

Diets that use the most land are the highest contributors to GHG emissions per capita and globally per year. One such diet from the Tilman and Clark study is the Income-dependent 2050 diet since it is a higher consumption of ruminant animals.

A vegetarian diet, relative to the income-dependent diets, is the highest contributor to cropland reduction compared to a pescetarian or Mediterranean diet. It is also the smallest contributor to GHG emissions when compared to any other diet.

Policy response in Europe

An important contribution to this debate is the European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe. Amongst other things, this broad policy review looks at "incentives for healthier and more sustainable production and consumption of food and to halve the disposal of edible food waste in the EU by 2020."

As part of this new policy, a public consultation on the "Sustainability of the Food System" was launched in the summer of 2013, asking stakeholders for their opinion on how the food system must be adapted. This will go on to form a Communication on Sustainable Food by the European Commission. The European Parliament's 766 MEPs and the Member States of the Council will debate this Communication and makes, changes and vote on approval.[clarification needed]

The indicative timeline for the consultation is as follows:[citation needed][needs update]

  • July – 1 October 2013: Consultation Sustainability of the Food System
  • December 2013: Impact Assessment
  • January 2014: EC Communication on Sustainable Food published
  • March 2014: Environment Council will discuss the proposal?
  • Spring 2014: European Parliament reaction
  • June 2014: Environment Council decides on legislative proposals?
  • 2015: New legislation and policy recommendations enter into effect

Common alternative diets

See also


  1. ^ "Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and solutions for policy, resaearch and action" (PDF).
  2. ^ Johnston, Jessica L; Fanzo, Jessica C.; Cogill, Bruce (2014). "Understanding Sustainable Diets: A Descriptive Analysis of the Determinants and Processes That Influence Diets and Their Impact on Health, Food Security, and Environmental Sustainability". Advances in Nutrition, an International Review Journal.
  3. ^ FAO. 2012. Sustainable Diets and Biodiversity: Directions and Solutions for Policy, Research and Action. [Accessed 13 January 2013]
  4. ^ Company, Bon Appétit Management. "Low Carbon Diet - Bon Appétit Management Co". Bon Appétit Management Co. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  5. ^ The Guardian - The Livewell diet: it's cheap, it's nutritious and it could help save the planet.
  6. ^ Prosperi, Paolo; Allen, Thomas; Padilla, Martine; Peri, Iuri; Cogill, Bruce (2014). "Sustainability and Food & Nutrition Security". SAGE Open. 4 (2): 215824401453916. doi:10.1177/2158244014539169.
  7. ^ "What is the Nordic Diet?" Retrieved 16 February 2015
  8. ^ a b Reynolds, Lawrence P. (2015). "Importance of Animals in Agricultural, Sustainability and Food Security". The Journal of Nutrition.
  9. ^ Bailey, R. Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption. London: Chatham House.
  10. ^ Havlik, Petr (2014). "Climate Change Mitigation Through Livestock System Transitions". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
  11. ^ Jones, Bryony (2012). "Zoonosis Emergence Linked to Agricultural Intensification and Environmental Change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
  12. ^ Springmann, Marco (2016). "Analysis and Valuation of the Health and Climate Change Cobenefits of Dietary Change". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
  13. ^ Tilman and Clark, David and Michael (2014). "Global Diets Link Environmental Sustainability and Human Health". Nature.
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