While most countries in the world issue a set of dietary guidelines to aid citizens follow a healthy lifestyle, a new study by US researchers reveals that these dietary guidelines and the daily food consumption pattern enlisted in them are adding to the carbon footprint.
In the study, researchers reviewed dietary guidelines of seven countries from North America, Europe, and Asia for their carbon footprint. It is a known fact that every food commodity has some kind of impact on global warming, where meat and dairy products account for higher greenhouse gas emissions as compared to a plant-based diet.
Diego Rose, who is the co-author of the study from School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Tulane University, US, stated, “Previous simulations have shown that if the public were to eat according to their government’s recommendations, their diets would be both healthier and have a lower carbon footprint. However, for the US the opposite has been shown; greenhouse gas emissions were simulated to go up if people followed dietary guidelines. This anomaly prompted us to investigate how dietary guidelines vary between countries and the consequent implications for greenhouse gas emissions.”
Indian dietary guidelines are people and environmentally friendly
The study discovered that the carbon footprint associated with India’s guidelines was equivalent to 0.86 kg CO2 per day which was much lower than the countries like the US (3.83 kg), the Netherlands (2.86 kg), Oman (2.53 kg), Uruguay (2.42 kg) and Germany (2.25 kg). In fact, the Indian recommended diet’s carbon footprint was much lower than even the global guidelines by EAT-Lancet (1.36 kg), which is developed by nutrition experts across the globe to strike a balance between health and environmental sustainability.
The Indian guidelines were launched initially in 1998 and were amended in 2011 by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad to resolve the two-level problem of under- and over-nutrition.
The Weather Channel reported, “These guidelines recommend four levels of food consumption: dating cereals and legumes/beans sufficiently; vegetables and fruits liberally; animal source foods and oils moderately; and highly processed foods that are high in sugar and fat sparingly.”
One of the primary reasons for India’s guidelines being extremely climate-friendly is that these guidelines suggest very low protein (which is mainly pulses) and dairy, and very high vegetables.
In comparison, the researchers also studied that the US dietary guidelines are found with an equivalent of 3.83 kg of CO2 per day, which is accounted for more than 4 times that of India’s.
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“Despite our common human biology, ‘food-based dietary guidelines’ vary tremendously from one country to the next, as do the associated carbon footprints of these guidelines. Understanding the carbon footprints of different recommendations can assist in future decision-making to incorporate environmental sustainability in dietary guidance,” concludes the study.
However, the authors mention the drawbacks of the study as it only considers one parameter, i.e., greenhouse gas emissions. Thus it is recommended that other environmental parameters like land and water use should be considered to increase the sustainability of dietary recommendations.
“These findings hold insights for the future development of dietary guidelines and highlight the importance of including sustainability considerations, such as reductions of protein food and dairy recommendations and/or the inclusion of more plant-based substitutions for animal-based products,” says Brittany Kovacs, the lead author of the study in a statement.