Sustainability & Nutrition
There is rapidly growing recognition for the need to transform food systems to protect both human and planetary health. We take a look at the latest findings by Professor Judith Buttriss.
This week, the British Nutritional Foundation published a review paper titled, Healthier and more sustainable diets: what changes are needed in high-income countries?
Amidst concerns about the urgency of tackling the environmental impact of our food system, the fundamental importance of food as a source of nutrition and an aid to good health is sometimes overlooked.
Following the UK’s Eatwell Guide can deliver health and environmental benefits if followed at a population level. However, currently, less than 1% of people are achieving all of the Eatwell Guide recommendations.
A UK study found that following the Eatwell Guide’s recommendations more closely would lower the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) of current adult diets by 30%, reduce water use by 4%, and reduce mortality risk by up to 7%.
The Eatwell Guide describes a diet that is rich in foods from plants but can also include some meat, dairy, fish and eggs. A consistent finding of the review is that achieving diets that are both healthier and more sustainable requires a shift in the food choices we make to include more plant-derived foods including vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, beans and other pulses, nuts and seeds, and plant-based meat alternatives that provide essential nutrients and are lower in salt and saturated fat.
The British Nutrition Foundation acknowledges the need to moderate consumption of red and processed meat. However, evidence did not suggest the need to cut out meat or other animal-derived foods entirely in order to eat a healthier and more sustainable diet. It is crucial to consider the essential nutrients that these foods can provide in the diet.
For milk and eggs, evidence did not identify a need to reduce our consumption. This might be due to trade-offs in the modelling studies between the essential nutrients these foods provide and their intermediate environmental impact.
Decisions about appropriate substitutes for animal-sourced products often focus on protein, but the review emphasises that we also need to consider the delivery of many other essential nutrients.
Animal-sourced products provide over a quarter of iron, a third of vitamin A and about half the calcium, zinc, iodine and riboflavin in UK adult diets. Therefore, there needs to be careful consideration of how people will consume enough essential nutrients in a form that can be easily absorbed by the body if reducing their intake of animal-derived foods.
Click to read and download the complete paper by Professor Judith Buttriss.