Reducing energy intake and energy density for a sustainable diet: a study based on self-selected diets in French adults

Gabriel Masset, Florent Vieux, Eric Olivier Verger, Louis-Georges Soler, Djilali Touazi, Nicole Darmon
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014, 99 (6): 1460-9

BACKGROUND: Studies on theoretical diets are not sufficient to implement sustainable diets in practice because of unknown cultural acceptability. In contrast, self-selected diets can be considered culturally acceptable.

OBJECTIVE: The objective was to identify the most sustainable diets consumed by people in everyday life.

DESIGN: The diet-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) for self-selected diets of 1918 adults participating in the cross-sectional French national dietary survey Individual and National Survey on Food Consumption (INCA2) were estimated. "Lower-Carbon," "Higher-Quality," and "More Sustainable" diets were defined as having GHGE lower than the overall median value, a probability of adequate nutrition intake (PANDiet) score (a measure of the overall nutritional adequacy of a diet) higher than the overall median value, and a combination of both criteria, respectively. Diet cost, as a proxy for affordability, and energy density were also assessed.

RESULTS: More Sustainable diets were consumed by 23% of men and 20% of women, and their GHGE values were 19% and 17% lower than the population average (mean) value, respectively. In comparison with the average value, Lower-Carbon diets achieved a 20% GHGE reduction and lower cost, but they were not sustainable because they had a lower PANDiet score. Higher-Quality diets were not sustainable because of their above-average GHGE and cost. More Sustainable diets had an above-average PANDiet score and a below-average energy density, cost, GHGE, and energy content; the energy share of plant-based products was increased by 20% and 15% compared with the average for men and women, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: A strength of this study was that most of the dimensions for "sustainable diets" were considered, ie, not only nutritional quality and GHGE but also affordability and cultural acceptability. A reduction in diet-related GHGE by 20% while maintaining high nutritional quality seems realistic. This goal could be achieved at no extra cost by reducing energy intake and energy density and increasing the share of plant-based products.

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