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Sustainable diets for the future: Can we contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eating a healthy diet?

Jennie I Macdiarmid, Janet Kyle, Graham W Horgan, Jennifer Loe, Claire Fyfe, Alexandra Johnstone, Geraldine McNeill
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012, 96 (3): 632-9
22854399

BACKGROUND: Food systems account for 18-20% of UK annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs). Recommendations for improving food choices to reduce GHGEs must be balanced against dietary requirements for health.

OBJECTIVE: We assessed whether a reduction in GHGEs can be achieved while meeting dietary requirements for health.

DESIGN: A database was created that linked nutrient composition and GHGE data for 82 food groups. Linear programming was used iteratively to produce a diet that met the dietary requirements of an adult woman (19-50 y old) while minimizing GHGEs. Acceptability constraints were added to the model to include foods commonly consumed in the United Kingdom in sensible quantities. A sample menu was created to ensure that the quantities and types of food generated from the model could be combined into a realistic 7-d diet. Reductions in GHGEs of the diets were set against 1990 emission values.

RESULTS: The first model, without any acceptability constraints, produced a 90% reduction in GHGEs but included only 7 food items, all in unrealistic quantities. The addition of acceptability constraints gave a more realistic diet with 52 foods but reduced GHGEs by a lesser amount of 36%. This diet included meat products but in smaller amounts than in the current diet. The retail cost of the diet was comparable to the average UK expenditure on food.

CONCLUSION: A sustainable diet that meets dietary requirements for health with lower GHGEs can be achieved without eliminating meat or dairy products or increasing the cost to the consumer.

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