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Defining a nutritionally healthy, environmentally friendly, and culturally acceptable Low Lands Diet

This paper by FCRN member Corné van Dooren and colleague Harry Aiking has been published in the International Journal of LCA. The study quantifies the historical Dutch diet of 80 years ago, based on cultural history research. The researchers calculate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and land use (LU) of this diet, using actual LCA data for the 206 most consumed products, and the health score, based on ten nutritional characteristics.

In order to meet current nutritional requirements, they optimize this diet for adult males using linear programming. The paper then goes on to compare the diet with the current average Dutch diet and two idealised diets - the Mediterranean and the New Nordic Diet. Their conclusion about an optimized Low Lands Diet is that it has the same healthy nutritional characteristics as the Mediterranean and the New Nordic diets, that it consists mainly of products with a high nutrient density and that it results in a lower environmental impact.  Discussing what an acceptable diet would be, they conclude that an adaptation of this historically traditional diet, which fits more into the eating habits, climate and agricultural tradition of the Low Lands, would be easier to achieve than a transition into a different dietary model.

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that linear programming can support to define nutritionally healthy, environmentally friendly, and culturally acceptable diets, using the Low Lands as an illustrative example.

Methods

Our study quantifies the historical Dutch diet of 75 years ago, based on a cultural history research. We calculate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and land use (LU) of this diet, using actual life cycle assessment (LCA) data for the 206 most consumed products, and the health score, based on ten nutritional characteristics. In order to meet the current requirements, we optimize this diet for adult males using linear programming. We compare the diet with the present Dutch, Mediterranean, and New Nordic Diet.

Results and discussion

An optimized Low Lands Diet has the same healthy nutritional characteristics (Health Score 123) as the Mediterranean Diet (122) and results in a lower environmental impact than the Mediterranean and New Nordic Diet (higher Combined GHGE-LU Score 121 versus 90 and 91). GHGE are 2.60 kg CO2eq per day and LU 2.86 m2 * year per day.

Conclusions

Through applying the method of linear programming, it is possible to calculate an optimal diet for the Low Lands with a short cultural distance, that is, as healthy as and more sustainable than a transition to more foreign European diets.

Citation

van Dooren, C., (2015). Defining a nutritionally healthy, environmentally friendly, and culturally acceptable Low Lands Diet, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, DOI 10.1007/s11367-015-1007-3

Read the full paper (requiring journal access) here.

Read more about GHG impacts and mitigation, Dutch diet, New Nordic Diet , Mediterranean Diet, Food nutrients, dietary trends, consumer perceptions and preferences.

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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