Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Incorporation of novel foods in European diets can reduce global warming potential, water use and land use by over 80%

This article has been updated

Abstract

Global food systems face the challenge of providing healthy and adequate nutrition through sustainable means, which is exacerbated by climate change and increasing protein demand by the world’s growing population. Recent advances in novel food production technologies demonstrate potential solutions for improving the sustainability of food systems. Yet, diet-level comparisons are lacking and are needed to fully understand the environmental impacts of incorporating novel foods in diets. Here we estimate the possible reductions in global warming potential, water use and land use by replacing animal-source foods with novel or plant-based foods in European diets. Using a linear programming model, we optimized omnivore, vegan and novel food diets for minimum environmental impacts with nutrition and feasible consumption constraints. Replacing animal-source foods in current diets with novel foods reduced all environmental impacts by over 80% and still met nutrition and feasible consumption constraints.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Environmental impact by food group in different diets.
Fig. 2: Sensitivity analyses.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this Article (and in the Supplementary Information and Supplementary Data 1) or available at the public Git repository: https://version.helsinki.fi/rachel.mazac/NFFs-repo.git.

Code availability

The code generated and used during this study is available in R and at the public Git repository: https://version.helsinki.fi/rachel.mazac/NFFs-repo.git.

Change history

  • 12 May 2022

    In the version of this article initially published, the Supplementary Data file posted was the wrong version. The Supplementary Data are now updated.

References

  1. The State of Food and Agriculture (FAO, 2019); http://www.fao.org/3/ca6030en/ca6030en.pdf

  2. Campbell, B. M. et al. Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries. Ecol. Soc. 22, 8 (2017).

  3. Crippa, M. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nat. Food 2, 198–209 (2021).

  4. Double-Duty Actions for Nutrition: Policy Brief (World Health Organization, 2017).

  5. Springmann, M. et al. Health and nutritional aspects of sustainable diet strategies and their association with environmental impacts: a global modelling analysis with country-level detail. Lancet Planet. Health 2, e451–e461 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Clark, M. A., Springmann, M., Hill, J. & Tilman, D. Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 23357–23362 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Willett, W. et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 393, 447–492 (2019).

  8. Parodi, A. et al. The potential of future foods for sustainable and healthy diets. Nat. Sustain. 1, 782–789 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Post, M. J. et al. Scientific, sustainability and regulatory challenges of cultured meat. Nat. Food 1, 403–415 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Onwezen, M. C., Bouwman, E. P., Reinders, M. J. & Dagevos, H. A systematic review on consumer acceptance of alternative proteins: pulses, algae, insects, plant-based meat alternatives, and cultured meat. Appetite 159, 105058 (2021).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kim, B. F. et al. Country-specific dietary shifts to mitigate climate and water crises. Glob. Environ. Change 62, 101926 (2019).

  12. Perignon, M. et al. How low can dietary greenhouse gas emissions be reduced without impairing nutritional adequacy, affordability and acceptability of the diet? A modelling study to guide sustainable food choices. Public Health Nutr. 19, 2662–2674 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Springmann, M., Godfray, H. C. J., Rayner, M. & Scarborough, P. Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 4146–4151 (2016).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Saxe, H., Larsen, T. M. & Mogensen, L. The global warming potential of two healthy Nordic diets compared with the average Danish diet. Climatic Change 116, 249–262 (2013).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ulaszewska, M. M., Luzzani, G., Pignatelli, S. & Capri, E. Assessment of diet-related GHG emissions using the environmental hourglass approach for the Mediterranean and new Nordic diets. Sci. Total Environ. 574, 829–836 (2017).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. van Dooren, C., Marinussen, M., Blonk, H., Aiking, H. & Vellinga, P. Exploring dietary guidelines based on ecological and nutritional values: a comparison of six dietary patterns. Food Policy 44, 36–46 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Mertens, E. et al. Dietary choices and environmental impact in four European countries. J. Clean. Prod. 237, 117827 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Vieux, F., Perignon, M., Gazan, R. & Darmon, N. Dietary changes needed to improve diet sustainability: are they similar across Europe? Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 72, 951–960 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Gazan, R. et al. Mathematical optimization to explore tomorrow’s sustainable diets: a narrative review. Adv. Nutr. 9, 602–616 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Meier, T. & Christen, O. Environmental impacts of dietary recommendations and dietary styles: Germany as an example. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 877–888 (2013).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. van Kernebeek, H. R. J., Oosting, S. J., van Ittersum, M. K., Bikker, P. & de Boer, I. J. M. Saving land to feed a growing population: consequences for consumption of crop and livestock products. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 677–687 (2016).

  22. Gephart, J. A. et al. The environmental cost of subsistence: optimizing diets to minimize footprints. Sci. Total Environ. 553, 120–127 (2016).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Wilson, N., Cleghorn, C. L., Cobiac, L. J., Mizdrak, A. & Nghiem, N. Achieving healthy and sustainable diets: a review of the results of recent mathematical optimization studies. Adv. Nutr. 10, S389–S403 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Röös, E. et al. Greedy or needy? Land use and climate impacts of food in 2050 under different livestock futures. Glob. Environ. Change 47, 1–12 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Tyszler, M., Kramer, G. & Blonk, H. Just eating healthier is not enough: studying the environmental impact of different diet scenarios for Dutch women (31–50 years old) by linear programming. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 701–709 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Thornton, P. K. Livestock production: recent trends, future prospects. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365, 2853–2867 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Cobiac, L. J. & Scarborough, P. Modelling the health co-benefits of sustainable diets in the UK, France, Finland, Italy and Sweden. Eur. J. Clin. Nutr. 73, 624–633 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Siegrist, M. & Hartmann, C. Perceived naturalness, disgust, trust and food neophobia as predictors of cultured meat acceptance in ten countries. Appetite 155, 104814 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Tzachor, A., Richards, C. E. & Holt, L. Future foods for risk-resilient diets. Nat. Food 2, 326–329 (2021).

  30. Bryant, C. & Barnett, J. Consumer acceptance of cultured meat: an updated review (2018–2020). Appl. Sci. 10, 5201 (2020).

  31. Gazan, R. et al. A methodology to compile food metrics related to diet sustainability into a single food database: application to the French case. Food Chem. 238, 125–133 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. O’Mahony, C. & Vilone, G. Compiled European food consumption database. EFSA Support. Publ. 10, 415E (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  33. The EFSA Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database—European Union Open Data Portal v.2020 (EFSA, 2018); https://data.europa.eu/euodp/en/data/dataset/the-efsa-comprehensive-european-food-consumption-database

  34. FoodData Central (USDA, 2018); https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/index.html

  35. ISO 14040: Environmental Management—Life Cycle Assessment—Principles and Framework (International Organization for Standardization, 2006).

  36. Guinee, J. B. et al. Life cycle assessment: past, present, and future. ACS Publ. 45, 90–96 (2011).

  37. AGRIBALYSE 3.0: Agricultural and Food Database for French Products and Food LCA v.2020 (French Agency for Ecological Transition, 2020); https://simapro.com/products/agribalyse-agricultural-database/

  38. OpenLCA v.1.10.3 (GreenDelta, 2007)

  39. LCIA: The ReCiPe Model (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment Netherlands, 2011); https://www.rivm.nl/en/life-cycle-assessment-lca/recipe

  40. Boulay, A.-M. et al. The WULCA consensus characterization model for water scarcity footprints: assessing impacts of water consumption based on available water remaining (AWARE). Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 23, 368–378 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Voutilainen, E., Pihlajaniemi, V. & Parviainen, T. Economic comparison of food protein production with single-cell organisms from lignocellulose side-streams. Bioresour. Technol. Rep. 14, 100683 (2021).

  42. Järviö, N., Maljanen, N.-L., Kobayashi, Y., Ryynänen, T. & Tuomisto, H. L. An attributional life cycle assessment of microbial protein production: a case study on using hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria. Sci. Total Environ. 776, 145764 (2021).

  43. Smetana, S., Sandmann, M., Rohn, S., Pleissner, D. & Heinz, V. Autotrophic and heterotrophic microalgae and cyanobacteria cultivation for food and feed: life cycle assessment. Bioresour. Technol. 245, 162–170 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Smetana, S., Schmitt, E. & Mathys, A. Sustainable use of Hermetia illucens insect biomass for feed and food: attributional and consequential life cycle assessment. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 144, 285–296 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kobyashi, Y. & Tuomisto, H. L. Plant cell culture life cycle analysis. Environ. Sci. Technol. (in the press).

  46. Järviö, N. et al. Ovalbumin production using Trichoderma reesei culture and low-carbon energy could mitigate the environmental impacts of chicken-egg-derived ovalbumin. Nat. Food 2, 1005–1013 (2021).

  47. Tuomisto, H. L., Allan, S. J. & Ellis, M. J. Prospective life cycle assessment of a complete bioprocess design for cultured meat production in hollow fiber bioreactor. Nat. Food (in the press).

  48. Comparative GHG Emissions Assessment of Perfect Day Whey Protein Production to Dairy Protein (Perfect Day, 2021).

  49. SimaPro v.9.1.1 (PRé Consultants, 2020).

  50. Karlsson Potter, H., Lundmark, L. & Röös, E. Environmental Impact of Plant-Based Foods – Data Collection for the Development of a Consumer Guide for Plant-Based Foods (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, 2020); https://pub.epsilon.slu.se/17699/1/Report112.pdf

  51. Jolliet, O. et al. IMPACT 2002: a new life cycle impact assessment methodology. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 8, 324–330 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Yang, X. in From Linear Programming to Metaheuristics 67-78 (Cambridge International Science Publishing Ltd., 2008).

  53. Nordic Council of Ministers Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012: Integrating Nutrition and Physical Activity (Nordisk Ministerråd, 2014).

  54. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition World Health Organization Technical Report Series 1 (FAO/WHO, 2007).

  55. European Food Safety Administration. Guidance on selected default values to be used by the EFSA Scientific Committee, Scientific Panels and Units in the absence of actual measured data. EFSA J. 10, 2579 (2012).

  56. Siva Kiran, R. R., Madhu, G. M. & Satyanarayana, S. V. Spirulina in combating protein energy malnutrition (PEM) and protein energy wasting (PEW)—a review. J. Nutr. Res. 3, 62–79 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  57. Nordlund, E. et al. Plant cells as food—a concept taking shape. Food Res. Int. 107, 297–305 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Cherry, P., O’hara, C., Magee, P. J., Mcsorley, E. M. & Allsopp, P. J. Risks and benefits of consuming edible seaweeds. Nutr. Rev. 77, 307–329 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Elorinne, A.-L. et al. Food and nutrient intake and nutritional status of Finnish vegans and non-vegetarians. PLoS ONE 11, e0148235 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Heijungs, R. On the number of Monte Carlo runs in comparative probabilistic LCA. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 25, 394–402 (2020).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Henriksson, P. J. G., Zhang, W. & Guinée, J. B. Updated unit process data for coal-based energy in China including parameters for overall dispersions. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 20, 185–195 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Karlsson, J. O., Carlsson, G., Lindberg, M., Sjunnestrand, T. & Röös, E. Designing a future food vision for the Nordics through a participatory modeling approach. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 38, pp.1–10 (2018).

  63. Eustachio Colombo, P., Patterson, E., Lindroos, A. K., Parlesak, A. & Elinder, L. S. Sustainable and acceptable school meals through optimization analysis: an intervention study. Nutr. J. 19, 1–15 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Y. Kobayashi for help with OpenLCA and the methods, and the rest of the Future Sustainable Food Systems group for their interest and support. This work was supported by the Research Funds at the University of Helsinki, the Emil Aaltonen foundation (grant no. 190145N1V), the Yrjö Jahnsson foundation (grant no. 20207300), the ‘Cultured Meat in the Post-animal Bioeconomy’ project (no. 201802185) funded by the KONE foundation, Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry, Academy of Finland funded project TREFORM (grant no. 339834) and the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 819202)

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.M. and H.L.T. conceptualized the project. R.M. conducted the formal analysis and investigation, administered the project, carried out the data visualization and wrote the original draft of the manuscript. J.M., L.K. and N.J. curated the data and validated the results. M.J. and R.M. developed the methodology. H.L.T. acquired the funding and supervised the project. J.M., L.K., N.J., M.J. and H.L.T. reviewed and edited the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rachel Mazac.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

Liisa Korkalo was a board member of the company TwoDads at the time of this work. The other authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Food thanks Anita Frehner, Asaf Tzachor and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Percent change of the optimized amounts of each food group.

Omnivore (OMN) diet percent change by food group from current European diet (mean intake = 0) by impact minimized–Global Warming Potential (GWP), Land Use (LU), and scarcity-weighted water use (WU)–while meeting all nutrition and feasible consumption constraints; note: plant-based alternatives are increased large percentages over the intake in current diets and are shown below in a separate panel: liquids include oat, soy, rice, and almond milk, and solids are tofu and plant-based meat imitates.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Uncertainty analysis impact range by food group.

Mean and quartiles of minimized total impact for optimized—including nutritional and cultural constraints listed—omnivore (OMN), vegan (VEG), and Novel/Future Food (NFF) diets separated by food group; column 1: minimized GWP (kg CO2 eq.), column 2: minimized Land Use (m2a eq.), and column 3: minimized Scarcity-weighted water use (m3).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Nutrient composition of diets.

Macronutrients (protein and fat in g/day and energy in kcal/day) and mass (average g/day) of the current diet (CD) and the optimized diets based on minimized objective function with nutritional and feasible consumption constraints. OMN: omnivore diets, NFF: novel/future foods diets, VEG: vegan diets. The ‘Other’ food group here includes Snacks, Sugars, Juice, Non-alcoholic Beverages, Alcoholic Beverages, and Spice/Condiments. Diet type minimized: Global Warming Potential (GWP), land use (LU), scarcity-weighted water use (WU).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Sensitivity analysis OMN.1.

Percent change by food group from the current diet in optimized sensitivity analysis omnivore diet (OMN.1) with all nutrition and feasible consumption constraints and ±80% of the current mean intake of animal source foods required, minimized for global warming potential (GWP), land use (LU), and water use (WU).

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Tables 1–3 and references for nutritional information on novel/future foods.

Supplementary Data 1

Supplementary data.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mazac, R., Meinilä, J., Korkalo, L. et al. Incorporation of novel foods in European diets can reduce global warming potential, water use and land use by over 80%. Nat Food 3, 286–293 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00489-9

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00489-9

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing