Associations of Adherence to a Dietary Index Based on the EAT-Lancet Reference Diet with Nutritional, Anthropometric, and Ecological Sustainability Parameters: Results from the German DONALD Cohort Study

J Nutr. 2022 Jul 6;152(7):1763-1772. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxac094.


Background: Validation of the EAT-Lancet reference diet (ELR-diet), recently proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission, within the context of real-life studies is necessary to elucidate its feasibility, nutritional value, sustainability, and health effects.

Objectives: We aimed to develop a dietary index (DI) score to measure adherence to the ELR-diet. We further aimed to study the association between the DI score and 1) nutritional characteristics, 2) indicators of ecological sustainability, and 3) anthropometric markers and biomarkers for cardiometabolic health.

Methods: A DI score was constructed by comparing the categories defined by the ELR-diet with the dietary data of 2-5 sets of 3-d weighed dietary records from DONALD (Dortmund Nutritional and Anthropometric Longitudinal Designed) study participants (n = 298; ≥15 y of age). Prospective associations between the DI score and risk markers (anthropometric and cardiometabolic) in young adulthood (≥18 y old) were investigated using multivariate linear regression.

Results: Adherence to the DI score components was considerable (majority > 50%), but varied within the population (2%-100%). The highest tertile of the DI score was inversely associated with the intake of protein (tertile 3 compared with tertile 1: 13.5 compared with 14.5 energy %), added sugars (10.5 compared with 12.4 energy %), and cholesterol (100 compared with 116 mg/1000 kcal), but positively associated with fiber intake (10.0 compared with 8.82 g/1000 kcal) (all P < 0.05). The DI score was inversely associated with greenhouse-gas emissions (tertile 1 compared with tertile 3: 6.48 compared with 5.85 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents/2500 kcal; P < 0.001) and land use (8.24 compared with 7.16 m2 × y/2500 kcal; P < 0.001). Inverse associations between the DI score and anthropometric markers during young adulthood were observed (e.g., BMI: tertile 1 compared with tertile 3: 22.9 compared with 21.9 kg/m2; P = 0.03) (all P < 0.05). No associations between the DI score and cardiometabolic risk markers were found (all P ≥ 0.05).

Conclusions: Adherence to the ELR-diet was associated with favorable nutritional characteristics and reduced environmental impact. Adherence to the DI score in adolescence was also beneficial with respect to anthropometric markers in early adulthood, although not for further cardiometabolic risk markers.

Keywords: EAT–Lancet; anthropometry; cardiovascular disease risk markers; dietary index; sustainability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet Records
  • Diet*
  • Humans
  • Young Adult