Five steps to design diets that are good for people and planet
What we eat globally needs to shift. National dietary guidelines can play a major role in improving peoples’ environmental food footprint. A new framework looks at how to create them
- Researchers propose a new framework that can make dietary guidelines environmentally sustainable
- The approach consists of five separate steps
- The authors give examples of different methods and data that can be used in each step, which allows the framework to be adopted to any context
Food-based dietary guidelines are a common tool around the world to educate and recommend to people what is healthy for them to eat. But such guidelines could even point them to more sustainable choices.
In this framework, we place healthy eating on an equal footing with environmental sustainability.
Lead author Amanda Wood
In a new paper, published in Food Policy, a research team from Sweden and Peru proposes a new framework that can make dietary guidelines environmentally sustainable.
“In this framework, we place healthy eating on an equal footing with environmental sustainability. That means the diets developed with our framework meet not only criteria for healthy diets, but also quantitative and qualitative criteria for environmental sustainability,” explains lead author and centre researcher Amanda Wood.
The approach consists of five separate steps; the first three involve defining the relevant boundary conditions, while steps four and five look at the development of the actual guidelines.
Every step in the framework includes normative decisions. Therefore, it is crucial, that relevant stakeholders are involved in a democratic process around its application, argue the authors.
Five steps for developing sustainable food-based guidelines
Step 1 focuses on determining what a healthy diet is in a given context. This can often be based on existing dietary guidelines or nutrition recommendations and should include quantitative criteria.
Step 2 aims to identify and establish important environmental aspects and then set quantitative boundaries for these aspects. The step also factors in other aspects that influence the sustainability of diets – like levels of food waste or food production improvements – and sets a target for how quickly the environmental impacts of diets should be reduced.
Step 3 gives the possibility to include sustainability effects that cannot easily be quantified, such as animal welfare. Here, policymakers can also include local considerations such as biodiversity effects of natural grazing. The challenge in this step is to ensure that important and context-specific sustainability aspects are included while not becoming overwhelmed by the complexity of food systems.
“No matter which sustainability aspects are included in step three, the diets developed must still meet the quantitative criteria for healthy and environmentally sustainable diets set in the previous steps. This limits the possibility of step three being used to maintain a status quo that is not in line with health and environmental goals,” says Amanda Wood.
Step 4 focuses on altering average diets to meet environmental goals. Here, it is also important to address potential trade-offs between environmental and nutritional goals.
In step 5, sustainable food-based dietary guidelines are formulated. Criteria, boundaries and intake amounts – everything developed in the previous steps – need to be translated into guides that are easy to understand and access for individuals and groups.
The authors give examples of different methods and data that can be used in each step, which allows the framework to be adapted to any context.
Wood, A., Moberg, E., Curi-Quinto, K., Van Rysselberge, P. & Röös, E. 2023. From "good for people" to "good for people and planet" – placing health and environment on equal footing when developing food-based dietary guidelines. Food Policy 117, 102444.
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