16 May Designing diets that meet individual nutritional requirements and fulfil global environmental targets
Dietary optimisation modelling is a potent tool for identifying optimal diets for an individual or a population. It involves using mathematical methods to maximise or minimise an outcome (e.g., cost), while also adhering to various conditions, such as specific nutritional, economic, environmental and even cultural constraints.
In a recent study in Sustainability, a multilevel approach for developing a diet optimisation model was implemented which considers both individual and population objectives. The Individual Diet Including Global Objectives Optimisation (INDIGOO) has been designed in a way that considers the nutritional requirements for an individual and avoids great dietary habit shifts while fulfilling environmental targets at a global level.
By combining the individual and population targets, INDIGOO may offer a more feasible approach to dietary optimisation modelling, with minimum need for dietary shifts, as compared to an individualised approach. Extending the environmental targets to the whole population allows for more freedom over meeting the nutritional needs of an individual; it focuses on the overall target being met rather than the individual net environmental impact.
More specifically, INDIGOO allows for a relatively broad dietary greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) range, where an individual’s emissions could change from -69% to +64% of their original value. Interestingly, this study showed that, while meeting the nutritional needs of some individuals required an increase in their dietary emissions, this would not compromise the population’s GHGE target. On the other hand, INDIGOO suggested a significant reduction in dietary GHGEs (averaging at 45%) for a group of individuals, mainly comprising men with low socio-occupational status with high calorie diets rich in animal-sourced foods such as meat, fish, and dairy.
INDIGOO is a promising method for modelling sustainable diets. By considering limitations both on an individual and population level, INDIGOO evenly distributes the necessary changes to make our diets more sustainable among individuals, thereby encouraging the dietary shifts that are required. This approach of identifying dietary shifts within small segments of a population that could have major environmental and nutritional benefits may be more relevant to policy than considering average population diets.
This SNippet was written by Dr Mahya Tavan, a Postdoctoral Research fellow in the SNi team.
Photo by Monstera on Pexels