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Compliance with EAT–Lancet dietary guidelines would reduce global water footprint but increase it for 40% of the world population

Abstract

The EAT–Lancet Commission has proposed a global benchmark diet to guide the shift towards healthy and sustainable dietary patterns. Yet it is unclear whether consumers’ choices are convergent with those guidelines. Applying an advanced statistical analysis, we mapped the diet gap of 15 essential foods in 172 countries from 1961 to 2018. We found that countries at the highest level of development have an above-optimal consumption of animal products, fats and sugars but a sub-optimal consumption of legumes, nuts and fruits. Countries suffering from limited socio-economic progress primarily rely on carbohydrates and starchy roots. Globally, a gradual change towards healthy and sustainable dietary targets can be observed for seafood, milk products, poultry and vegetable oils. We show that if all countries adopted the EAT–Lancet diet, the water footprint would fall by 12% at a global level but increase for nearly 40% of the world’s population.

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Fig. 1: DG of the global food system compared with the healthy reference diet recommended by the EAT–Lancet Commission.
Fig. 2: Time series of the population-weighted average DG during the period 1961–2018.
Fig. 3: Target and current domestic supply of each food group.
Fig. 4: Percentage change in per capita WF associated with the transition to the EAT–Lancet healthy reference diet.
Fig. 5: WF implications of the adoption of the EAT–Lancet reference diet.

Data availability

All data used in this study are from publicly available sources. Country data on food supply are from the FAOSTAT, available at http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data. Country data on agricultural water footprints are from the CWASI database, available for download at https://www.watertofood.org/download/. The datasets and codes generated in the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The codes developed for the analyses and to generate results are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to L. Mistura, F.J. Comendador and Matteo B. Bertagni for their valuable comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.T., L.R. and F.L. designed the study. M.T. conducted the analysis and produced the figures. M.T., L.R. and F.L. contributed to data interpretation. M.T. wrote the paper. M.T., L.R. and F.L. edited the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marta Tuninetti.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Food thanks James Bentham and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1

Diet gap of bovine meat supply in 2018.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2

Diet gap of pig meat supply in 2018.

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Extended Data Fig. 3

Diet gap of milk products supply in 2018.

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Extended Data Fig. 4

Diet gap of poultry meat supply in 2018.

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Extended Data Fig. 5

Diet gap of fish and sea food supply in 2018.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6

Diet gap of eggs supply in 2018.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 7

Diet gap of legumes supply in 2018.

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Extended Data Fig. 8

Diet gap of nuts and products supply in 2018.

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–8, Tables 1–4.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Authors’ elaboration/results.

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Source Data Extended Data Fig. 1

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Source Data Extended Data Fig. 8

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Tuninetti, M., Ridolfi, L. & Laio, F. Compliance with EAT–Lancet dietary guidelines would reduce global water footprint but increase it for 40% of the world population. Nat Food 3, 143–151 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00452-0

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