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Animal-sourced foods are required for minimum-cost nutritionally adequate food patterns for the United States


The amounts of animal-sourced foods required to achieve a least-cost nutritious diet depend on the food prices prevalent in each country. Using linear programming, we determine least-cost dietary patterns in the United States and the constituent amounts of animal-sourced foods. We considered local foods and prices from 2009–2010, and the average energy and nutrient requirements of adults. Nutrient-adequate food patterns were estimated at US$1.98 per day and included animal and plant products. Limiting nutrients were α-linolenic acid, potassium, choline, and vitamins C, D, E and K. The prices of animal-based foods had to be increased by 2–11.5 times to be excluded from the modelled food pattern, with the least cost of a plant-only diet at US$3.61. Given relative food prices in the United States, we show that animal-based foods are needed to secure adequate nutrition at the lowest cost, underscoring the role of price and market mechanisms in the choice of nutrient-adequate, sustainable diets.

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Fig. 1: Daily intake of the 15 foods included in food pattern modelling for linear programming analysis 1 and the 14 foods for linear programming analysis 3.

Data availability

All data used and generated during the current study are available from an online resource (

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The work reported was supported in part through funds from the National Dairy Council and Global Dairy Platform.

Author information




S.M.S.C. and P.J.M. were responsible for the design and analysis of the study. D.P.G. was responsible for the linear programming modelling and analysis. A.D. was responsible for the provision of databases and consulting on the linear programming models. S.M.S.C. prepared the first draft of the manuscript. P.J.M revised the first draft of the manuscript. All authors participated in interpretation of the results and have read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sylvia M. S. Chungchunlam.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Sensitivity analysis, with the shadow prices for all constraints sitting at either minimum or maximum, for linear programming analysis 1 and linear programming analysis 3.

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Chungchunlam, S.M.S., Moughan, P.J., Garrick, D.P. et al. Animal-sourced foods are required for minimum-cost nutritionally adequate food patterns for the United States. Nat Food 1, 376–381 (2020).

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