In the beginning of this year, we get back to some interesting publications of 2021… after exploring the barriers to adopt healthy sustainable diets, we are focusing on the ways to act through local diets.
We can make an impact on both health and environment by shifting to healthy sustainable diets. If the shift to a more sustainable healthy diet is not always easy, so how do we strike the right balance?
Researchers call of sustainable local dietary guidelines
While most national guidelines aim to promote health, many fall short when it comes to helping preserve the planet (1). Researchers analyzed 43 FBDGs (Food Based Dietary Guidelines) from different countries looked at how closely they matched the FAO/WHO sustainable healthy diet guiding principles (2).
Environmental impact and sociocultural aspects of diet were not very often considered, particularly in the older FBDGs. Among environmental aspects, reducing food loss and waste was included more frequently.
By updating them in line with latest scientific advances, national guidelines would not only help us make healthy food choices but would also give us a steer on how to make our diets more sustainable.
Focus on dairy products in FBDGs
Some experts say that dairy foods should be included in sustainable healthy diets for nutritional, social and economic reasons, while others are concerned about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
A recent publication made the point about dairy product in global FBDGs and sustainable diets (3). According to it, dairy cows are estimated to contribute only about 2.5% to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) and agricultural GHGEs come from constantly recycled carbon that is already in the atmosphere and contribute less to global warming than GHGEs from the burning of fossil fuels.
On nutritional aspects, dairy foods are a treasure-trove of nutrients and contribute to the healthy functioning of our body.
Current FBDGs do not adequately capture dairy’s contributions to sustainable healthy diets. The focus needs to shift from individual nutrients to the wealth of health benefits that dairy foods offer, say the authors.
Choosing the diet that’s best for you and for the planet
Despites general recommendations, here are some tips to help you make the food choices that are right for you and for future generations (4):
- Choose animal-sourced foods with care. If animal-sourced foods account for over 60% of food production-related GHGEs worldwide, emissions vary with beef accounting for much more GHGEs (per kg of food) than pork, chicken, fish, eggs and milk. This suggests that while the largest reduction in GHGEs can be achieved by excluding meat from our diets, flexitarian diets or territorial local diets that significantly reduce the consumption of red meat but include moderate intakes of poultry, dairy, eggs and fish might also be effective.
- Eat more “greens”. Compared with Western diets, plant-based diets have been associated with reduced risks of obesity, early death and diet-related diseases. But people who exclude animal-source foods altogether run the risk of being deficient in certain nutrients. Flexitarian or territorial local diets that are plant-based and include moderate intakes of poultry, dairy, eggs and fish may provide a good balance, making it easier to ensure you get the right nutrients.
- Eat locally sourced foods. The environmental impact of a food depends on how and where it is produced, how far it has had to travel, and how it has been stored. Eating locally-sourced foods that are in season can help to reduce the environmental impact of your diet, and the chances are they’ll also cost you less.
- Play of diversity. Variety is important in diet because food components interact to alter our ability to digest nutrients from foods. For example, lactose and vitamin D increase the absorption of calcium, B vitamins, folate, magnesium and zinc. Including a wide range of foods, especially those rich in fiber, can also help to increase the types of microbes living in our gut. The range of gut microbes can be increased still further by including probiotic and fermented foods (eg, fermented milk, yogurt, kefir) in your diet (4).
‘In reviewing the criteria for sustainable healthy diets, we show that flexitarian and territorial diversified diets may offer the optimal balance between human and planetary health (…)’ – Moreno et al, 2021.
… Stay tuned, in the next post, we will focus of those fermented foods.
(1) Martini D, Tucci M, Bradfield J et al. Principles of sustainable healthy diets in worldwide dietary guidelines: Efforts so far and future perspectives. Nutrients. 2021;13(6):1827.
(2) FAO OMS Sustainable healthy diets – guiding principles
(3) Comerford KB, Miller GD, Boileau AC et al. Global Review of Dairy Recommendations in Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. Front Nutr. 2021;8:671999.
(4) Luis A Moreno, Rosan Meyer, Sharon M Donovan, Olivier Goulet, Jess Haines, Frans J Kok, Pieter van‘t Veer, Perspective: Striking a Balance between Planetary and Human Health: Is There a Path Forward?, Advances in Nutrition, 2021; nmab139
For more information
- Call for new national dietary guidelines to promote sustainable healthy diets
- Dairy products may contribute to sustainable healthy diets, experts say
- Human health and environmental health – how can our diets protect both?