Skip to main content

How low can dietary greenhouse gas emissions be reduced without impairing nutritional adequacy, affordability and acceptability of the diet? A modelling study to guide sustainable food choices

  • Marlène Perignon (a1), Gabriel Masset (a1), Gaël Ferrari (a1), Tangui Barré (a1), Florent Vieux (a2), Matthieu Maillot (a2), Marie-Josèphe Amiot (a1) and Nicole Darmon (a1)...
Abstract Objective

To assess the compatibility between reduction of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and nutritional adequacy, acceptability and affordability dimensions of diet sustainability.


Dietary intake, nutritional composition, GHGE and prices were combined for 402 foods selected among those most consumed by participants of the Individual National Study on Food Consumption. Linear programming was used to model diets with stepwise GHGE reductions, minimized departure from observed diet and three scenarios of nutritional constraints: none (FREE), on macronutrients (MACRO) and for all nutrient recommendations (ADEQ). Nutritional quality was assessed using the mean adequacy ratio (MAR) and solid energy density (SED).




Adults (n 1899).


In FREE and MACRO scenarios, imposing up to 30 % GHGE reduction did not affect the MAR, SED and food group pattern of the observed diet, but required substitutions within food groups; higher GHGE reductions decreased diet cost, but also nutritional quality, even with constraints on macronutrients. Imposing all nutritional recommendations (ADEQ) increased the fruits and vegetables quantity, reduced SED and slightly increased diet cost without additional modifications induced by the GHGE constraint up to 30 % reduction; higher GHGE reductions decreased diet cost but required non-trivial dietary shifts from the observed diet. Not all the nutritional recommendations could be met for GHGE reductions ≥70 %.


Moderate GHGE reductions (≤30 %) were compatible with nutritional adequacy and affordability without adding major food group shifts to those induced by nutritional recommendations. Higher GHGE reductions either impaired nutritional quality, even when macronutrient recommendations were imposed, or required non-trivial dietary shifts compromising acceptability to reach nutritional adequacy.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      How low can dietary greenhouse gas emissions be reduced without impairing nutritional adequacy, affordability and acceptability of the diet? A modelling study to guide sustainable food choices
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      How low can dietary greenhouse gas emissions be reduced without impairing nutritional adequacy, affordability and acceptability of the diet? A modelling study to guide sustainable food choices
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      How low can dietary greenhouse gas emissions be reduced without impairing nutritional adequacy, affordability and acceptability of the diet? A modelling study to guide sustainable food choices
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Email
Hide All

These authors contributed equally to this work.

Hide All
1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010) Sustainable diets and biodiversity – directions and solutions for policy, research and action. In International Scientific Symposium ‘Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets United Against Hunger’. (accessed July 2015).
2. European Commission (2011) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: A Roadmap for Moving to a Competitive Low Carbon Economy in 2050. Brussels: European Commission.
3. Parliament of the United Kingdom (2008) Climate Change Act 2008 (c. 27). (accessed March 2016).
4. République Française (2009) LOI n° 2009-967 du 3 août 2009 de programmation relative à la mise en œuvre du Grenelle de l’environnement. (accessed March 2016).
5. Stehfest E, Bouwman L, van Vuuren D et al. (2009) Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change 95, 83102.
6. Audsley E, Brander M, Chatterton J et al. (2009) How Low Can We Go? An Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the UK Food System and the Scope for Reduction by 2050. UK: WWF-UK.
7. World Health Organization & Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2003) Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series no. 916. Geneva: WHO.
8. Friel S, Dangour AD, Garnett T et al. (2009) Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture. Lancet 374, 20162025.
9. Tukker A, Goldbohm RA, de Koning A et al. (2011) Environmental impacts of changes to healthier diets in Europe. Ecol Econ 70, 17761788.
10. Scarborough P, Allender S, Clarke D et al. (2012) Modelling the health impact of environmentally sustainable dietary scenarios in the UK. Eur J Clin Nutr 66, 710715.
11. Aston LM, Smith JN & Powles JW (2012) Impact of a reduced red and processed meat dietary pattern on disease risks and greenhouse gas emissions in the UK: a modelling study. BMJ Open 2, e001072.
12. Monsivais P, Scarborough P, Lloyd T et al. (2015) Greater accordance with the dietary approaches to stop hypertension dietary pattern is associated with lower diet-related greenhouse gas production but higher dietary costs in the United Kingdom. Am J Clin Nutr 102, 138145.
13. Biesbroek S, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, Peeters PHM et al. (2014) Reducing our environmental footprint and improving our health: greenhouse gas emission and land use of usual diet and mortality in EPIC-NL: a prospective cohort study. Environ Health 13, 27.
14. Vieux F, Soler L-G, Touazi D et al. (2013) High nutritional quality is not associated with low greenhouse gas emissions in self-selected diets of French adults. Am J Clin Nutr 97, 569583.
15. Masset G, Vieux F, Verger EO et al. (2014) Reducing energy intake and energy density for a sustainable diet: a study based on self-selected diets in French adults. Am J Clin Nutr 99, 14601469.
16. Andrieu E, Darmon N & Drewnowski A (2006) Low-cost diets: more energy, fewer nutrients. Eur J Clin Nutr 60, 434436.
17. Darmon N & Drewnowski A (2015) Contribution of food prices and diet cost to socioeconomic disparities in diet quality and health: a systematic review and analysis. Nutr Rev 73, 643660.
18. Maillot M, Vieux F, Amiot MJ et al. (2010) Individual diet modeling translates nutrient recommendations into realistic and individual-specific food choices. Am J Clin Nutr 91, 421430.
19. Darmon N, Ferguson EL & Briend A (2006) Impact of a cost constraint on nutritionally adequate food choices for French women: an analysis by linear programming. J Nutr Educ Behav 38, 8290.
20. Buttriss JL, Briend A, Darmon N et al. (2014) Diet modelling: how it can inform the development of dietary recommendations and public health policy. Nutr Bull 39, 115125.
21. Masset G, Monsivais P, Maillot M et al. (2009) Diet optimization methods can help translate dietary guidelines into a cancer prevention food plan. J Nutr 139, 15411548.
22. Macdiarmid JI, Kyle J, Horgan GW et al. (2012) Sustainable diets for the future: can we contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eating a healthy diet? Am J Clin Nutr 96, 632639.
23. Wilson N, Nghiem N, Ni Mhurchu C et al. (2013) Foods and dietary patterns that are healthy, low-cost, and environmentally sustainable: a case study of optimization modeling for New Zealand. PLoS One 8, e59648.
24. Lafay L, Bénetier C, Bertin M et al. (2009) Étude Individuelle Nationale des Consommations Alimentaires 2 (INCA 2) 2006–2007. Maisons-Alfort: Afssa.
25. Black AE (2000) Critical evaluation of energy intake using the Goldberg cut-off for energy intake:basal metabolic rate. A practical guide to its calculation, use and limitations. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 24, 11191130.
26. International Organization for Standardization (2006) ISO 14040:2006 Environmental Management – Life Cycle Assessment – Principles and Framework. Geneva: ISO.
27. International Organization for Standardization (2006) ISO 14044:2006 Environmental Management – Life Cycle Assessment – Requirements and Guidelines. Geneva: ISO.
28. Association Française de Normalisation (2011) BP X30-323 – principes généraux pour l’affichage environnenemental des produits de grande consummation (General principles for environmental labelling of consumer products). La Plaine Saint-Denis: AFNOR (in French).
29. National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (2013) Definitions, methods and quality. Statistical operation: Survey on industrial energy consumption (EACEI). (accessed March 2016).
30. French Department of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy (2013) SitraM database. (accessed March 2013).
31. Althaus H, Doka G, Dones R et al. (2007) Overview and Methodology–Data v2.0–Ecoinvent Report No. 1. Dübendorf: Ecoinvent.
32. Bertoluci G, Masset G, Gomy C et al. (2016) How to build a standardized country-specific environmental food database for nutritional epidemiological studies. PLoS One (In the Press).
33. World Health Organization/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/United Nations University (2002) Joint FAO/WHO/UNU Expert Consultation on Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition. Geneva: WHO.
34. Mann J, Cummings JH, Englyst HN et al. (2007) FAO/WHO scientific update on carbohydrates in human nutrition: conclusions. Eur J Clin Nutr 61, Suppl. 1, S132S137.
35. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations & World Health Organization (2008) Interim Summary of Conclusions and Dietary Recommendations on Total Fat & Fatty Acids. From the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition, November 10–14, 2008, WHO HQ, Geneva. (accessed March 2016).
36. Martin A (2001) Apports nutritionnels conseillés pour la population française, 3ème édition [Afssa, editor]. Paris: Lavoisier.
37. Pietinen P, Valsta LM, Hirvonen T et al. (2008) Labelling the salt content in foods: a useful tool in reducing sodium intake in Finland. Public Health Nutr 11, 335340.
38. Hercberg S, Chat-Yung S & Chauliac M (2008) The French National Nutrition and Health Program: 2001–2006–2010. Int J Public Health 53, 6877.
39. Ledikwe JH, Blanck HM, Khan LK et al. (2005) Dietary energy density determined by eight calculation methods in a nationally representative United States population. J Nutr 135, 273278.
40. Kantar Worldpanel (2013) French household consumer panel – Kantar Worldpanel. (accessed May 2013).
41. Sáez-Almendros S, Obrador B, Bach-Faig A et al. (2013) Environmental footprints of Mediterranean versus Western dietary patterns: beyond the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Environ Health 12, 118.
42. McMichael AJ, Powles JW, Butler CD et al. (2007) Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. Lancet 370, 12531263.
43. Committee on Climate Change (2010) Reducing emissions from agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry. In The Fourth Carbon Budget – Reducing Emissions through 2020s, pp. 295–329. London: CCC.
44. Berners-Lee M, Hoolohan C, Cammack H et al. (2012) The relative greenhouse gas impacts of realistic dietary choices. Energy Policy 43, 184190.
45. Saxe H, Larsen TM & Mogensen L (2012) The global warming potential of two healthy Nordic diets compared with the average Danish diet. Climatic Change 116, 249262.
46. Leblanc JC, Yoon H, Kombadjian A et al. (2000) Nutritional intakes of vegetarian populations in France. Eur J Clin Nutr 54, 443449.
47. Craig WJ & Mangels AR, Ada (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 109, 12661282.
48. Lea EJ, Crawford D & Worsley A (2006) Consumers’ readiness to eat a plant-based diet. Eur J Clin Nutr 60, 342351.
49. Vanhonacker F, Van Loo EJ, Gellynck X et al. (2013) Flemish consumer attitudes towards more sustainable food choices. Appetite 62, 716.
50. American Dietetic Association & Dietitians of Canada (2003) Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 103, 748765.
51. Gibson RS, Bailey KB, Gibbs M et al. (2010) A review of phytate, iron, zinc, and calcium concentrations in plant-based complementary foods used in low-income countries and implications for bioavailability. Food Nutr Bull 31, 2 Suppl., S134S146.
52. Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD et al. (1999) Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr 70, 3 Suppl., 586S593S.
53. Vanham D, Mekonnen MM & Hoekstra AY (2013) The water footprint of the EU for different diets. Ecol Indic 32, 18.
54. Milner J, Green R, Dangour AD et al. (2015) Health effects of adopting low greenhouse gas emission diets in the UK. BMJ Open 5, e007364.
55. Macdiarmid JI, Douglas F & Campbell J (2015) Eating like there’s no tomorrow: public awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eating less meat as part of a sustainable diet. Appetite 96, 487493.
56. Garnett T (2014) Three perspectives on sustainable food security: efficiency, demand restraint, food system transformation. What role for life cycle assessment? J Cleaner Prod 73, 1018.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Perignon supplementary material
Perignon supplementary material 1

 Word (480 KB)
480 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 59
Total number of PDF views: 583 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 714 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.