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Small targeted dietary changes can yield substantial gains for human health and the environment

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 26 August 2021

Abstract

To identify environmentally sustainable foods that promote health, we combined nutritional health-based and 18 environmental indicators to evaluate, classify and prioritize individual foods. Specifically for nutrition, we developed the Health Nutritional Index to quantify marginal health effects in minutes of healthy life gained or lost of 5,853 foods in the US diet, ranging from 74 min lost to 80 min gained per serving. Environmental impacts showed large variations and were found to be correlated with global warming, except those related to water use. Our analysis also indicated that substituting only 10% of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meat for fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and selected seafood could offer substantial health improvements of 48 min gained per person per day and a 33% reduction in dietary carbon footprint.

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Fig. 1: Proposed framework to evaluate and compare the nutritional and environmental performances of individual foods.
Fig. 2: Beneficial and detrimental dietary risk factors.
Fig. 3: Nutritional health burden evaluation of selected foods in the US diet.
Fig. 4: HENI score per serving for 5,853 foods in the US diet by food category.
Fig. 5: Environmental versus nutritional impacts for 167 foods representative for the US diet.
Fig. 6: Nutritional health and environmental benefits from isocaloric substitutions of the most impactful foods in the US diet.

Data availability

Data are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

Code is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank P. Fantke and K. Herold for comments on the manuscript and Quantis for providing access to the World Food LCA Database. This research was funded by an unrestricted grant from the National Dairy Council and the University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellowship.

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Contributions

K.S.S., O.J. and V.L.F. conceptualized the study, devised the methodology, curated the data, and reviewed and edited the paper. K.S.S. performed the formal analysis and wrote the original draft.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Katerina S. Stylianou or Olivier Jolliet.

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Competing interests

K.S.S. declares no conflicts of interest. V.L.F. conducts data analyses of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for numerous members of the food industry. O.J. has received funding on unrelated projects from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture, the American Chemistry Council Long-Range Research Initiative and Unilever, and became part, after submission of the present manuscript, of the Sustainable Nutrition Scientific Board created with unrestricted support from Nutella. The funding organizations did not have a role in the manuscript development.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary text (sections 1–5), Figs. 1–22 and Tables 1–15.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

This file contains the underlying nutritional and environmental data used to estimate the corresponding impacts of the 167 commonly used food in the average US diet. Impacts are reported per serving. The substitution order used in the replacement analysis is also reported.

Supplementary Data 2

This file contains Supplementary Tables 1–15.

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Stylianou, K.S., Fulgoni, V.L. & Jolliet, O. Small targeted dietary changes can yield substantial gains for human health and the environment. Nat Food 2, 616–627 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00343-4

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