Assessing the role of animal-sourced foods in healthy and sustainable diets 

Assessing the role of animal-sourced foods in healthy and sustainable diets 

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Animal-sourced foods, like meat, fish, eggs and dairy, are part of human diets all over the world. However, links to negative impacts for both human health and the environment have led to a debate around their role in healthy and environmentally sustainable diets. A recently published critical review in the Journal of Nutrition addresses this polarized discussion. 

The main message: there is no one-size-fits-all solution and context is key. For example, the nutrients in animal-sourced foods may be of high importance in certain life stages or for some populations or individuals that are deficient in these nutrients. On the other hand, when animal-sourced foods are consumed in excess or processed forms it can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

Negative environmental impacts include those on biodiversity, land use and water quality. But when production is aligned with the ecological context, animals can contribute to soil health, carbon sequestration and food security. In this case, the available resources and landscape shape the production system: which animals and animal breeds are used, the level of intensity, and the integration with crop systems or forests.  

Specifically, improving the circularity of the food system could alleviate some of the negative environmental impacts while maintaining animals in the system to provide essential nutrients. Some principles of circularity include recycling food waste as animal feed to reduce land use, consuming more parts of the animals, and returning manure to the soil.  

The authors summarize that “efforts are needed to ensure best practices of production, curb excess consumption where high and sustainably increase consumption where low”.  

This SNippet was written by Renée Cardinaals, a visiting PhD student in the SNi team from Wageningen University & Research. 

Photo by Estudio Gourmet on Unsplash


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