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

Public Health Nutr. 2016 Oct;19(14):2662-74. doi: 10.1017/S1368980016000653. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


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

Design: 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).

Setting: France.

Subjects: Adults (n 1899).

Results: 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 %.

Conclusions: 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.

Keywords: Affordability; Cultural acceptability; Diet cost; Diet sustainability; Diet-related greenhouse gas emissions; Dietary changes; Food choices; Food consumption; Linear programming modelling; Nutritional quality.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Diet*
  • Energy Intake
  • Food Supply
  • France
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Greenhouse Gases*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritive Value


  • Greenhouse Gases