Environmental pressures and pesticide exposure associated with an increase in the share of plant-based foods in the diet

Sci Rep. 2023 Nov 7;13(1):19317. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-46032-z.


Diets rich in plant-based foods are encouraged for human health and to preserve resources and the environment but the nutritional quality and safety of such diets is debated. This study aimed to model nutritionally adequate diets with increasing plant food content and to characterise the derived diets using a multicriteria approach including, nutrients intake, environmental pressures and exposure to pesticides. Using data of the NutriNet-Santé cohort (N = 29,413), we implemented stepwise optimization models to identified maximum plant-food content under nutritional constraints. Environmental indicators at the production level were derived from the DIALECTE database, and exposure to pesticide residues from plant food consumption was estimated using a contamination database. Plant-based foods contributed to 64.3% (SD = 10.6%) of energy intake in observed diets and may reach up to 95% in modelled diets without jeopardizing nutritional status. Compared to the observed situation, an increase in plant-based foods in the diets led to increases in soy-based products (+ 480%), dried fruits (+ 370%), legumes (+ 317%), whole grains (+ 251%), oils (+ 144%) and vegetables (+ 93%). Animal products decreased progressively until total eviction, except for beef (- 98%). Dietary quality (estimated using the Diet Quality Index Based on the Probability of Adequate Nutrient Intake) was improved (up to 17%) as well as GHGe (up to - 65%), energy demand (up to - 48%), and land occupation (- 56%) for production. Exposures to pesticides from plant-based foods were increased by 100% conventional production and to a much lesser extent by 100% organic production. This study shows that shifting to nutritionally-adequate plant-based diets requires an in-depth rearrangement of food groups' consumption but allows a drastic reduction environmental impact. Increase exposure to pesticide residues and related risks can be mitigated by consuming foods produced with low pesticide input.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Diet
  • Fruit / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Pesticide Residues* / analysis
  • Pesticides* / analysis
  • Vegetables / chemistry


  • Pesticides
  • Pesticide Residues