28 Mar The importance of protein variety in a higher quality and lower environmental impact dietary pattern
Good diets come from eating a variety of nutritious foods. However, when considering the environmental sustainability of diets, the fundamental concept of eating a variety of nutritious foods can compete with the desire to limit consumption of foods with higher impacts on certain environmental metrics.
It is challenging to consider both these aspects simultaneously. Often, studies compare the environmental impacts of individual foods considered to be substitutable, for example replacing animal-sourced foods with plant-based alternatives.
A recent study from authors at CSIRO explored how a variety of nutritious proteinaceous foods each day can impact the quality of diet and the environmental impact. The study analysed the diets of 1700 Australian adults, previously found to have lower environmental impacts while following dietary guidelines. They assessed the diet quality of these individuals’ diets.
It was found that the individuals with highest diet quality were those consuming a high variety of foods in the ‘Fresh meat and alternatives’ food group. This group includes meat, fish and other seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu, and legumes.
That varied consumption within this food group led to a higher quality diet is unsurprising: each food item has its own unique nutrient composition, therefore eating a diverse range increases the likelihood of obtaining a wider range of nutrients.
Perhaps more surprising was that these varied diets also fell within the group found to have a lower environmental impact. The results indicate this was achieved through moderate meat consumption, with poultry the most common choice. The authors advocate for the importance of variety for dietary quality, and that this variety does not necessitate high environmental impact.
This SNippet was written by Jade Rivers, a Pūhoro STEMM academy summer student in the SNi team.