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Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability?


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Background Studies investigating diet-related environmental impacts have rarely considered the production method of the foods consumed. The objective of the present study, based on the NutriNet-Santé cohort, was to investigate the relationship between a provegetarian score and diet-related environmental impacts. We also evaluated potential effect modifications on the association between a provegetarian score and the environmental impacts of organic food consumption. Methods Food intake and organic food consumption ratios were obtained from 34,442 French adults using a food frequency questionnaire, which included information on organic food consumption for each group. To characterize the overall structure of the diets, a provegetarian score was used to identify preferences for plant-based products as opposed to animal-based products. Moreover, three environmental indicators were used to assess diet-related environmental impacts: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, cumulative energy demand (CED), and land occupation. Environmental impacts were assessed using production life cycle assessment (LCA) at the farm level. Associations between provegetarian score quintiles, the level of organic food consumption, and environmental indicators were analyzed using ANCOVAs adjusted for energy, sex, and age. Results Participants with diets rich in plant-based foods (fifth quintile) were more likely to be older urban dwellers, to hold a higher degree in education, and to be characterized by an overall healthier lifestyle and diet. A higher provegetarian score was associated with lower environmental impacts (GHG emissionsQ5vsQ1 = 838/1,664 kg CO2eq/year, −49.6%, P < 0.0001; CEDQ5vsQ1 = 4,853/6,775 MJ/year, −26.9%, P < 0.0001; land occupationQ5vsQ1 = 2,420/4,138 m²/year, −41.5%, P < 0.0001). Organic food consumption was also an important modulator of the relationship between provegetarian dietary patterns and environmental impacts but only among participants with diets rich in plant-based products. Conclusion Future field studies should endeavor to integrate all the components of a sustainable diet, i.e., both diet composition and production methods.
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February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 81
published: 09 February 2018
doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00008
Frontiers in Nutrition |
Edited by:
Giuseppe Grosso,
NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition
and Health, United Kingdom
Reviewed by:
Alessandra Lafranconi,
Università degli studi di Milano
Bicocca, Italy
Eda Bozkır,
Università Politecnica delle Marche,
Alice Rosi,
Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy
Louise Seconda
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to Nutrition
and Environmental Sustainability,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Nutrition
Received: 31August2017
Accepted: 22January2018
Published: 09February2018
LacourC, SecondaL, AllèsB,
HercbergS, LangevinB,
PointereauP, LaironD, BaudryJ and
Kesse-GuyotE (2018) Environmental
Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How
Does Organic Food Consumption
Contribute to Environmental
Front. Nutr. 5:8.
doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00008
Environmental Impacts of Plant-
Based Diets: How Does Organic
Food Consumption Contribute to
Environmental Sustainability?
Camille Lacour1, Louise Seconda1,2*, Benjamin Allès1, Serge Hercberg1,3,
Brigitte Langevin4, Philippe Pointereau4, Denis Lairon5, Julia Baudry1 and
Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot1
1 Equipe de Recherche en Epidémiologie Nutritionnelle (EREN), Centre d’Epidémiologie et Statistiques Sorbonne Paris Cité,
INSERM (U1153), INRA (U1125), CNAM, Université Paris 13, COMUE Sorbonne Paris Cité, Bobigny, France, 2 Agence de
l’Environnement et de la maîtrise de l’Energie, Angers, France, 3 Département de Santé Publique, Hôpital Avicenne, Bobigny,
France, 4 Solagro, Toulouse, France, 5 Nutrition Obésité et Risque Thrombotique (NORT), Aix Marseille Université, INRA 1260,
INSERM UMR S 1062, Marseille, France
Background: Studies investigating diet-related environmental impacts have rarely
considered the production method of the foods consumed. The objective of the present
study, based on the NutriNet-Santé cohort, was to investigate the relationship between a
provegetarian score and diet-related environmental impacts. We also evaluated potential
effect modifications on the association between a provegetarian score and the environ-
mental impacts of organic food consumption.
Methods: Food intake and organic food consumption ratios were obtained from 34,442
French adults using a food frequency questionnaire, which included information on
organic food consumption for each group. To characterize the overall structure of the
diets, a provegetarian score was used to identify preferences for plant-based products
as opposed to animal-based products. Moreover, three environmental indicators were
used to assess diet-related environmental impacts: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,
cumulative energy demand (CED), and land occupation. Environmental impacts were
assessed using production life cycle assessment (LCA) at the farm level. Associations
between provegetarian score quintiles, the level of organic food consumption, and envi-
ronmental indicators were analyzed using ANCOVAs adjusted for energy, sex, and age.
Results: Participants with diets rich in plant-based foods (fifth quintile) were more likely
to be older urban dwellers, to hold a higher degree in education, and to be characterized
by an overall healthier lifestyle and diet. A higher provegetarian score was associated
with lower environmental impacts (GHG emissionsQ5vsQ1= 838/1,664 kg CO2eq/year,
49.6%, P<0.0001; CEDQ5vsQ1=4,853/6,775 MJ/year, 26.9%, P<0.0001; land
Abbreviations: GHG, greenhouse gas; CED, cumulative energy demand; LCA, life cycle analysis; Q, quintile; PUFA, polyun-
saturated acid; MUFA, monounsaturated acid; SFA, saturated fatty acid.
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO),
adopting sustainable diets at a global level is urgently needed
(1). Sustainable diets should include a large share of ecologically
based, local and minimally processed products and limited con-
sumption of animal products. Sustainable diets are also healthy
in terms of both nutrition and sanitary quality (1). Regarding
the environmental aspects of a sustainable diet, a shi from
current dietary patterns toward more environmentally friendly
habits appears necessary. Environmentally friendly habits include
reducing the consumption of animal products and increasing the
consumption of plant products (2). Indeed, livestock is consid-
ered to be responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions from anthropogenic sources at the global level, and this
pattern is comparable at the country level in France (3). More
specically, beef and milk production represent 41 and 20% of
the emissions from livestock, respectively (3). Livestock requires
substantial energy for multiple activities such as the production
of feed, breeding activities, production and spread of fertilizers,
electricity use, and operating costs of farm buildings (4). Intensive
livestock production is also responsible for a large part of the loss
in biodiversity due to important land use for grass and feed crops
(5). Conversely, extensive livestock farming is suggested to have
positive eects on biodiversity. Studies investigating these issues
have consistently reported that decreasing the consumption of
animal products would have a considerable benecial impact on
the environment (6, 7).
e FAO also mentions that alternative modes of produc-
tion may be important to the promotion and development of
sustainable diets. Organic agriculture is dened as a system that
relies on ecosystem services rather than external agricultural
inputs (8). It is generally considered a more environmentally
friendly production model that enhances the quality of soil
leading to higher plant and fauna diversity and lower nitrate
leaching. Nevertheless, disparities in agro-ecological practices
still remain (912). e sustainability of organic food systems
and their ability to feed the global population have oen been
questioned mostly due to their usually lower crop yields (13,
14). It is now largely recognized that organic production
requires less energy inputs than conventional systems (1517),
although benets in terms of GHG reduction are not straight-
forward (18). Moreover, rm conclusions about conventional
and organic systems are moderated by the functional unit
Despite ample literature on environmentally sustainable diets,
few studies have considered both dietary patterns and produc-
tion modes. It is, therefore, of interest to study both parameters
simultaneously to be able to estimate the extent to which organic
food consumption aects diet-related environmental impacts.
It is of considerable interest to consider both plant-based and
organic foods, which are consumed by vegetarians in Western
countries (21).
A review of Aleksandrowicz etal. revealed that the change
from a traditional western diet to alternative dietary patterns
(e.g., Mediterranean, vegetarian, or vegan) normally provides
benets for both individual health and the environment (22).
e reductions in environmental footprints should generally be
proportional to the magnitude of the restriction of animal-based
products (22). Despite lower environmental impacts when com-
pared to omnivorous diets (23), vegan or vegetarian diets are still
not culturally accepted, particularly in France, where meat-based
meals and cheese are an integral part of the traditional diet (24).
In this context, the provegetarian score (25), which characterizes
diets by the level of plant and animal product consumption, and
not directly by animal product exclusion, is highly relevant in the
French environment.
us, the rst objective of this study is to estimate diet-
related environmental eects according to the provegetarian
score. Second, we focused on studying the moderating eects of
organic food consumption according to the level of plant-based
food consumption. Data are based on a large sample from the
NutriNet-Santé study within the framework of the BioNutriNet
project, which enabled us to collect food consumption data and
environmental data on both organic and conventional products.
Study Population
e subjects are adult volunteer participants from the prospec-
tive NutriNet-Santé cohort, which was launched in May 2009 in
France. e NutriNet-Santé study has been previously described
in detail in another study (26). At inclusion in the cohort and
yearly thereaer, the participants completed three 24-h ran-
domly distributed accounts that were provided over a period of
15days. ey were also asked to complete a set of questionnaires
about their sociodemographics, anthropometrics, health status,
and lifestyle characteristics. Participants were also regularly
invited to complete complementary questionnaires. In 2014,
participants were asked to provide information on their organic
occupationQ5vsQ1=2,420/4,138m2/year, 41.5%, P<0.0001). Organic food consump-
tion was also an important modulator of the relationship between provegetarian dietary
patterns and environmental impacts but only among participants with diets rich in plant-
based products.
Conclusion: Future field studies should endeavor to integrate all the components of a
sustainable diet, i.e., both diet composition and production methods.
Keywords: provegetarian dietary pattern, organic food consumption, eco-friendly farming, diet-related
environmental impact, sustainability
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
food consumption as well as their motives and attitudes toward
organic foods.
Data Collection
Sociodemographic and Lifestyle Characteristics
e yearly updated inclusion questionnaire provided data on
sociodemographic characteristics including age, sex, highest
achieved degree (lower than high school, high school, or post-
secondary graduate), location (rural community, urban unit with
a population smaller than 20,000 inhabitants, between 20,000
and 200,000 inhabitants, or higher than 200,000 inhabitants),
and monthly income per household unit (lower than 900 euros,
between 900 and 1,200 euros, between 1,200 and 1,800 euros,
between 1,800 and 2,700 euros, and higher than 2,700 euros). e
monthly income per household unit was obtained by dividing
monthly income by consumption units (CU); the rst adult in the
household represents 1 CU, other persons older than 14 represent
0.5 CU, and other persons younger than 14years represent 0.3
CU (27).
is set of data also provided lifestyle characteristics such as
physical activity (measured by the IPAQ–International Physical
Activity Questionnaire) (2830), smoking status (never, former,
and current smoker), and alcohol intake (never, moderate, or
frequent drinker). Moderate alcohol consumption was dened
as an intake lower than 20g/day for women and lower than 30g/
day for men (31).
Dietary Data and Organic Food Consumption
Between June and December 2014, participants were asked to
complete an optional organic food semi-quantitative frequency
questionnaire (Org-FFQ) based on the original validated
Nutrinet FFQ (32). e Org-FFQ collected information on con-
sumption frequencies (yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily units)
and portion sizes for 264 food and beverage items over a year. e
total food intake was estimated by multiplying the consumption
frequency and portion size for each item. To estimate the share
of organic food consumption in the diet, for each item in the
Org-FFQ, participants indicated how oen they consumed that
item in an organic form. Organic food frequency was assessed
using a 5-point ordinal scale, “never,” “rarely,” “half of the time,
oen,” and “always,” which were weighted as 0, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75,
and 1, respectively, and yielded an estimate of the proportion of
organic food consumed in an individual diet. e contribution of
organic food consumption to the diet was calculated by dividing
the total organic food intake (g/day) by the total food intake (g/
day) excluding water. is ratio was multiplied by 100 to obtain
the contribution of organic food as a percentage of weight.
e development of the Org-FFQ and sensitivity analyses
for the allocation of arbitrary weightings has been described in
another study (21).
e NutriNet-Santé food composition database (33) was
used to estimate daily nutrient intake independently of the
production method. To assess the nutritional quality of dietary
patterns, two indicators were assessed at the individual level: the
PANDiet (based on the probability of adequate nutrient intake
for 24 nutrients) (34) and the mPNNS-GS (modied French
national nutrition and health programme (Programme National
Nutrition Santé), with the PNNS-guidelines score based on the
adherence to the PNNS recommendations excluding physical
activity) (35).
Environmental Data
e methodology for the environmental evaluation of indi-
vidual diets is described in detail in the Presentation S1 in
Supplementary Material. Data were collected via the French
diagnostic tool DIALECTE (36) using the life cycle assessment
method (LCA) (37, 38) at the farm level (from agricultural inputs
and animal feed production to harvest). To date, DIALECTE is
the only French database that covers such a large panel of data for
both organic and conventional agricultural products. is study
considers the three environmental indicators available: (1) GHG
emissions were estimated including carbon dioxide, methane
and nitrous oxide emissions and were expressed in kilogram CO2
equivalent per day. (2) e cumulative energy demand (CED)
indicator was dened as the consumption of renewable and
unrenewable energy in megajoules per day according to the CED
method (39). (3) Finally, land occupation was dened as the area
in square meters needed per day. e environmental database
includes information on 62 raw agricultural products based on
measurements from 2,086 farms in France and on 30 raw agricul-
tural products based on information from the literature. Among
these farms, 46% follow certied organic agricultural practices
(as dened by European regulations).
For each participant, organic and conventional food consump-
tion was multiplied by the environmental impact of each product
to estimate the impact of the overall diet for each participant.
Construction of the Provegetarian Score
e provegetarian score was developed to reect the proportion
of plant-based food consumed in a diet (25). Components of the
provegetarian score include seven vegetable food groups and ve
animal food groups (25) (Table S1 in Supplementary Material).
Sex-specic adjustment for total energy intake was made for
the consumption of each food group using the residual method
(40). Energy-adjusted, sex-specic quintile values for each plant
component were calculated by allocating 1 to 5 points. For animal
food groups, the quintile values were reversed (from 5 for the rst
quintile to 1 for the h quintile). Finally, the provegetarian score
was obtained by summing the quintile value of each vegetable
food group and the reverse quintile value of each animal food
group. e score ranges from 12 (low consumption of plant food)
to 60 (high consumption of plant food).
Data Treatment and Statistical Analysis
Among the 37,685 participants who completed the Org-FFQ,
participants with missing sociodemographic data or aberrant
data were excluded (N=1,390). To detect under reporting and
over reporting, energy requirements were calculated for each
individual using physical activity level (IPAQ) and basal metabolic
rate, estimated by Schoeld’s e quation (41) and taking into account
age, sex, and BMI. e ratio of energy intake to energy require-
ment was calculated, and participants with a ratio below 0.35 or
above 1.93 were excluded (N=1,099). Finally, only participants
living in mainland France and having complete data to calculate
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
the nutritional quality scores were included. e nal sample
included 34,442 participants, with 22,813 women and 7,569 men.
Sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics along with
food and nutrient intakes were presented across the provegetar-
ian score quintiles. For descriptive purposes, nutrient and food
data were adjusted for total energy intake by sex using the residual
method (40). Means, SDs and percentages were provided as
appropriate. P values referred to the Mantel–Haenzel chi-square
trend test for categorical variables and to the linear contrast test
(ANCOVA) for continuous variables.
e contributions (as percentages) of dierent food groups to
diet-related GHG emissions and CED across provegetarian score
quintiles are presented. All P-trends were obtained with linear
contrast tests (ANCOVA).
As an interaction between the provegetarian score and
organic food consumption was observed (P0.0001), data were
stratied by the level of organic food consumption. Associations
between the provegetarian score and environmental impacts for
the overall sample and the stratied tertiles of the contribution
of organic consumption to the whole diet were estimated using
ANCOVA adjusted with Dunett’s test. All models were adjusted
for sex, age, and energy intake. In addition, the ratio of organic
food consumption as a continuous variable was included in the
stratied analyses to account for residual confounding. e ordi-
nal margins option was used. In all the analyses, the environmen-
tal indicators were log-transformed to improve the normality of
the distributions. e data are presented as adjusted means with
their 95% condence intervals. Unadjusted models are provided
in the Table S2 in Supplementary Material. Two-sided tests and a
P-value <0.05 were used for statistical signicance.
All analyses were performed using SAS soware (SAS Institute
Inc., Cary, NC, USA).
Individual Characteristics
Tabl e 1 presents sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics
of the participants across provegetarian score quintiles. No dif-
ference in the sex distribution of participants across the quintiles
was observed. Participants with higher provegetarian scores were
more likely to be highly educated, physically active, non-smokers,
and moderate or non-drinkers. e Q5 of the provegetarian score
(reecting high consumption of plant food) included the highest
proportion of participants with the lowest monthly income per
household unit (<900 euros), while Q4 included the highest
proportion of participants with the highest monthly income
(>2,700 euros). e highest proportion of participants living in
population-dense urban units was found in the Q4. Finally, the
largest share of vegetarians was included in the Q5 of the proveg-
etarian diet (8.3% in Q5 versus 0.2% in Q1).
Food and Nutrients Intake by
Provegetarian Score Quintile
Tables2 and 3 present food groups and nutrient intake across
provegetarian score quintiles. By construction, the consumption
of animal-based products decreased while the consumption of
plant-based products increased across quintiles. Participants in
the highest quintile also consumed less fast food products (ham-
burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches), sweets, and alcohol and had a
higher intake of salad dressings, popcorn, or nuts. Overall, con-
sidering nutrient intake, a higher provegetarian score was associ-
ated with a lower overall protein intake but a higher proportion
of plant protein (50.5% in Q5 versus 22.2% in Q1) and a higher
polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and monounsaturated fatty
acid (MUFA) intake as well as a lower saturated fatty acid intake
and higher n-6/n-3 PUFA ratio. e intake of carbohydrates and
ber increased across provegetarian score quintiles. Participants
in the Q5 of the provegetarian score also displayed the highest
level of organic food consumption, as organic food represented a
50% share of their total food consumption.
Considering vitamins and minerals, iron intake increased
across the quintiles of the provegetarian score while haem iron
decreased. As expected, participants in the Q5 of the provegetar-
ian score also exhibited a higher intake of most micronutrients
(β-carotene, B1, B6, B9, C, E, K vitamins, and minerals Mg, K, and
Mn). According to both the mPNNS-GS and PANDiet scores,
participants in the last quintile showed the highest adherence to
the French dietary guidelines.
Environmental Impacts by Provegetarian
Score Quintile
Aer the adjustment for energy intake, age, and sex, diet-related
GHG emissions, CED, and land occupation decreased across
the provegetarian score quintiles by 49.6, 26.9, and 41.5%,
respectively, between Q5 and Q1 (Ta bl e 4 ). For all indicators, a
linear association was observed (P<0.0001). is reects that
the richer a diet is in plant products, the lower the environmental
impacts are. For informational purposes, crude means and SDs of
environmental indicators across the quintiles of the provegetar-
ian score are presented in Figure S1 in Supplementary Material.
Contribution of Food Groups to Diet-
Related GHG Emissions, CED, and Land
Occupation by Provegetarian Score
Figure1 indicates that the main contributor to diet-related GHG
emissions across the dierent provegetarian score categories was
animal-based products, particularly ruminant meat consump-
tion. Animal products were responsible for approximately
80% of the dietary GHG emissions for diets rich in animal
products (Q1 of the provegetarian score), between 70 and 80%
for diets moderate in animal products and approximately 60%
for diets rich in plant products (Q5 of the provegetarian score).
Specically, ruminant meat represented approximately half of
the diet-related GHG emissions, regardless of the type of diet
Concerning the CED (Figure2), consumption of fruits, and
vegetables was the major contributor (except for Q1 and Q2).
Estimates of the contribution of monogastric meat and ruminant
meat to diet-related CED were similar.
Finally, Figure3 presents land occupation by food group and
by quintile. e results were closer than those for GHG emissions,
TABLE 1 | Sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics by provegetarian score quintile, N=34,442, BioNutriNet study, 2014.a
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 P-trendb
N (%) (17.8) (23.6) (20.2) (16.8) (21.6)
Provegetarian score
Mean 27.4 (2.5) 32.6 (1.1) 36.0 (0.8) 38.9 (0.8) 44.5 (3.5) <0.0001
Median (IQR) 28 (3) 33 (2) 36 (2) 39 (2) 44 (2)
Sex (%)
Female 75.8 75.5 75.2 75.3 76.0 0.81
Male 24.2 24.5 24.8 24.7 24.0
Age (years) 52.0 (14.0) 53.0 (14.1) 53.5 (14.0) 54.5 (13.6) 53.4 (14.1) <0.0001
Education level (%)
<High-school diploma 21.6 21.5 21.5 21.0 19.1 <0.0001
High-school diploma 15.9 15.4 14.3 13.8 14.1
Post-secondary graduate 62.5 63.1 64.1 65.2 66.8
Monthly income per household unit (%)
Refuse to declare 5.8 6.2 6.3 5.7 7.1 0.01
<900 euros 7.4 6.6 6.0 6.3 8.7
900–1,200 euros 5.2 4.4 4.6 4.4 4.7
1,200–1,800 euros 24.2 23.1 23.6 22.1 22.4
1,800–2,700 euros 27.3 27.7 26.7 27.7 26.9
>2,700 euros 30.1 31.9 32.9 33.7 30.3
Location (%)
Rural community 22.9 23.2 22.3 20.7 22.3 0.11
Urban unit with a population of <20,000 inhabitants 16.1 15.4 15.7 15.0 15.2
Urban unit with a population of 20,000–200,000 inhabitants 17.8 18.5 18.4 18.8 19.0
Urban unit with a population of >200,000 inhabitants 43.2 42.9 43.6 45.6 43.5
Physical activity (%)
Missing value 11.6 11.5 10.9 10.3 9.9 <0.0001
Low 22.9 21.7 19.5 17.4 15.2
Medium 35.3 36.3 37.2 37.2 37.2
High 30.2 30.5 32.4 35.1 37.6
Smoking status (%)
Non-smoker 48.6 48.5 48.4 48.6 49.3 0.04
Former smoker 13.3 11.6 11.2 9.7 9.0
Smoker 38.0 39.8 40.5 41.7 41.7
Alcohol intake (%)
Non-drinker 4.9 4.8 5.2 4.6 7.9 <0.0001
Moderate drinker (<20g/day for women and <30g/day for men) 83.5 86.0 86.1 88.0 85.8
High drinker (>20g/day for women and >30g/day for men) 11.6 9.2 8.7 7.4 6.4
Diet (%)
Vegetarians 0.18 0.39 0.83 1.46 8.27 <0.0001
Vegans 0.00 0.01 0.04 0.12 5.28
IQR, interquartile range; Q, quintile of provegetarian score.
aValues are presented as the mean (SD) or as a percentage.
bValues based on linear contrast test or γ2.
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
showing a high contribution of animal products specically
ruminant meat to land occupation.
Moreover, the contribution of carbohydrates and oil to GHG
emissions and CED increased across the provegetarian score
quintiles. Of note, the contribution from cheese consumption was
more important than from the contribution from dairy products
and milk across quintiles.
Diet-Related Environmental Impacts
Considering both the Provegetarian Score
and the Level of Organic Food
Tabl e 4 presents the association between the provegetarian score
and the environmental impacts stratied by the level of organic
food consumption. Similar linear trends were observed between
the provegetarian score and environmental impacts across
the dierent levels of organic food consumption. Considering
diet-related environmental impacts in diets that contained low
or moderate (Q1, Q2, and Q3) amounts of plant products (i.e.,
70% animal protein for protein intake and 45% animal lipid
for lipid intake), the level of organic food consumption did not
signicantly modify the association between the provegetarian
score and the environmental impacts (GHG: PQ2vsQ1=0.97 and
PQ3vsQ1=0.28; CED: PQ2vsQ1=0.94 and PQ3vsQ1=0.10; land occupa-
tion PQ2vsQ1=0.78 and PQ3vsQ1=0.97). However, for diets rich in
plant foods (Q4 and Q5), the dierences in the environmental
impacts across the provegetarian score quintiles increased across
the organic food ratio tertiles (P<0.0001 except for land occupa-
tion PQ4vsQ1=0.01).
TABLE 2 | Food and nutrient intake by provegetarian score quintile, N=34,442, BioNutriNet study, 2014.a
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 P-trendb
Nutrients intake
Energy intake without alcohol (kcal/day) 2,218.8 (638.5) 1,969.9 (597.1) 1,885.6 (614.0) 1,868.2 (599.6) 1,982.9 (613.6) <0.0001
Proteins (%)c20.7 (3.6) 19.5 (3.3) 18.5 (3.2) 17.5 (2.9) 15.6 (2.9) <0.0001
Plant proteins (% protein)c22.2 (6.3) 27.0 (7.3) 31.3 (8.3) 36.1 (9.3) 50.5 (17.9) <0.0001
Animal proteins (% protein)c77.8 (6.3) 73.0 (7.3) 68.8 (8.3) 63.9 (9.3) 49.5 (17.9) <0.0001
Lipids (%)c41.2 (6.4) 40.2 (6.7) 39.8 (7.1) 39.9 (7.2) 40.2 (7.5) <0.0001
Plant lipid (% of lipid)c34.4 (10.4) 40.7 (10.8) 46.1 (11.5) 51.2 (12.0) 63.3 (15.0) <0.0001
Animal lipid (% of lipid)c65.6 (10.4) 59.3 (10.8) 53.9 (11.5) 48.8 (12.0) 36.7 (15.0) <0.0001
PUFA (%)c5.6 (1.7) 6.1 (2.0) 6.4 (2.3) 6.9 (2.4) 8.3 (3.0) <0.0001
MUFA (%)c15.4 (3.2) 15.5 (3.6) 15.8 (4.0) 16.2 (4.2) 17.1 (4.6) <0.0001
SFA (%)c17.0 (3.5) 15.6 (3.1) 14.6 (3.1) 13.8 (3.0) 12.0 (3.1) <0.0001
Omega 3 (%)c2.0 (0.9) 2.2 (1.0) 2.3 (1.1) 2.5 (1.2) 3.0 (1.6) <0.0001
Omega 6 (%)c10.9 (3.0) 12.1 (3.5) 13.0 (3.9) 14.0 (4.0) 16.8 (5.1) <0.0001
Ratio n-6/n-3 6.3 (2.7) 6.5 (3.0) 6.6 (3.1) 6.5 (3.1) 6.7 (3.3) <0.0001
Carbohydrates (%)c35.3 (7.1) 37.5 (7.2) 39.0 (7.2) 40.0 (7.3) 41.9 (7.6) <0.0001
Fibers (%)c1.7 (0.5) 2.0 (0.6) 2.2 (0.6) 2.5 (0.7) 3.0 (0.8) <0.0001
Alcohol (g/day) 9.9 (14.8) 8.9 (12.6) 8.5 (13.2) 7.95 (10.7) 7.17 (10.3) <0.0001
Food consumption (g or ml/day)d
Vegetables and fruits 424.4 (301.7) 564.3 (314.9) 660.6 (346.0) 734.8 (354.1) 881.7 (420.0) <0.0001
Meat 165.3 (85.4) 139.4 (65.8) 123.3 (60.2) 109.2 (54.2) 71.9 (54.8) <0.0001
Ruminant (%) 36.0 (15.7) 35.4 (16.0) 35.3 (15.9) 34.2 (16.4) 32.1 (18.1) <0.0001
Pork (%) 42.1 (15.9) 41.8 (16.2) 41.1 (16.6) 41.4 (17.4) 40.8 (19.9) <0.0001
Poultry (%) 20.7 (13.9) 21.4 (14.5) 22.1 (15.5) 22.9 (16.1) 25.5 (19.3) <0.0001
Rabbit (%) 1.2 (2.4) 1.4 (2.7) 1.5 (2.7) 1.5 (2.6) 1.6 (3.7) <0.0001
Eggs 13.5 (15.2) 11.2 (11.7) 10.1 (10.8) 9.4 (9.8) 8.4 (11.0) <0.0001
Fish 53.6 (56.3) 49.3 (39.1) 47.1 (39.8) 45.4 (34.3) 37.4 (38.0) <0.0001
Dairy products 320.6 (248.1) 265.7 (209.3) 227.6 (184.4) 185.5 (161.0) 112.1 (145.0) <0.0001
Starchy food 159.9 (82.4) 179.1 (86.7) 189.8 (89.1) 194.6 (91.4) 213.1 (110.6) <0.0001
Whole cereal products 33.3 (54.2) 47.0 (62.0) 54.0 (62.4) 63.7 (68.0) 84.1 (81.7) <0.0001
Soy products 1.1 (54.2) 8.5 (61.7) 16.2 (76.8) 27.2 (97.7) 70.6 (140.7) <0.0001
Fast food 38.7 (48.1) 36.1 (31.6) 33.9 (33.1) 32.7 (29.0) 27.3 (24.2) <0.0001
Nuts 2.00 (8.63) 4.03 (8.93) 5.39 (10.79) 7.14 (13.19) 11.36 (15.25) <0.0001
Extra food (excluding nuts) 9.55 (9.26) 9.84 (9.80) 9.93 (9.51) 9.59 (9.99) 8.50 (9.07) <0.0001
Sweet products 80.6 (60.6) 77.3 (52.6) 74.0 (46.3) 69.7 (41.2) 61.9 (39.1) <0.0001
Oil 8.9 (12.2) 13.0 (12.5) 15.8 (13.3) 18.3 (14.1) 22.7 (15.5) <0.0001
Butter 8.6 (7.9) 7.4 (6.7) 6.7 (6.2) 6.2 (6.1) 4.5 (5.6) <0.0001
Other fats 2.4 (4.6) 2.3 (4.7) 2.4 (4.8) 2.1 (3.9) 2.1 (4.6) 0.1
Non-alcoholic drink 1571 (769) 1600 (763) 1590 (739) 1607 (731) 1591 (755) 0.1
Alcoholic drink 180.7 (162.6) 177.7 (142.6) 174.0 (144.4) 170.5 (118.5) 158.1 (114.8) <0.0001
Level of organic food consumption (in % of weight) 18.2 (19.8) 22.5 (22.2) 26.3 (24.2) 32.1 (26.4) 48.2 (30.7) <0.0001
Median of organic food consumption 12 17 21 26 48
IQR 26 32 36 41 53
mPNNS score (/13.5) 7.6 (1.87) 8.3 (1.73) 8.6 (1.67) 8.8 (1.66) 8.8 (1.68) <0.0001
PUFA, polyunsaturated fatty acid; MUFA, monounsaturated fatty acid; SFA, saturated fatty acid; IQR, interquartile range; Q, quintile of provegetarian score.
aValues are presented as the mean (SD).
bValues based on a linear contrast test.
cAs percent of energy intake.
dValues adjusted on the energy intake.
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
In our study, participants with a high provegetarian score were
characterized by an overall healthier lifestyle, including healthier
diets, as reected by higher PANDiet and mPNNS-GS scores.
Diets rich in plant products displayed lower environmental
impacts (GHG emissions, CED and land occupation). Moreover,
the consumption level of organic products was shown to have a
positive moderating eect on diet-related environmental impacts
only in diets rich in plant-based food.
Overall, a higher provegetarian score was associated with lower
environmental impacts, particularly GHG emissions, across all
levels of organic food consumption. ese results at the individual
diet level were expected since livestock is the most substantial
agricultural contributor to GHG emissions, demands high energy
inputs, and requires important land resources (4244).
Similar results for GHG emissions were documented in the
EPIC-Oxford observational study. However, the estimations were
not adjusted for energy intake, and the LCA did not consider the
production mode even though it included all stages of produc-
tion, transformation, and distribution. e authors showed that
a diet rich in animal products emitted 2.5 times as much GHG
than a vegan diet. For women and men, GHG emissions from
the diets of meat-eaters were 46 and 51% higher, respectively,
than those of sh-eaters (or pesco-vegetarians), and 50 and 54%
higher, respectively, than those of vegetarians (45). Other studies
TABLE 3 | Consumption of micronutrients by provegetarian score quintile, N=34,442, BioNutriNet study, 2014.a
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 P-trendb
Retinol (μg/day) 769.42 (1,530.30) 667.23 (1,052.50) 590.84 (420.54) 558.82 (362.70) 432.86 (353.49) <0.0001
β-carotene (μg/day) 2,685.90 (2,025.9) 3,579.01 (3,040.9) 4,175.05 (2,459.7) 4,677.09 (2,956.2) 5,872.50 (3,443.6) <0.0001
Vitamin B1 (mg/day) 1.33 (0.40) 1.35 (0.40) 1.35 (0.38) 1.37 (0.38) 1.48 (0.52) <0.0001
Vitamin B2 (mg/day) 2.47 (0.70) 2.31 (0.61) 2.20 (0.55) 2.13 (0.52) 1.99 (0.51) <0.0001
Vitamin B3 (mg/day) 26.61 (8.44) 26.21 (7.29) 25.70 (6.68) 25.64 (6.41) 24.23 (6.30) <0.0001
Vitamin B5 (mg/day) 6.76 (1.65) 6.54 (1.44) 6.39 (1.33) 6.26 (1.23) 6.06 (1.19) <0.0001
Vitamin B6 (mg/day) 1.91 (0.50) 1.96 (0.47) 1.99 (0.46) 2.04 (0.46) 2.17 (0.56) <0.0001
Vitamin B9 (μg/day) 317.56 (122.44) 359.11 (123.69) 385.77 (116.52) 410.20 (123.12) 482.06 (157.47) <0.0001
Vitamin B12 (μg/day) 8.69 (9.07) 7.67 (6.41) 6.96 (3.14) 6.57 (2.77) 5.23 (2.93) <0.0001
Vitamin C (mg/day) 104.49 (70.41) 126.24 (70.54) 141.66 (81.21) 151.66 (78.85) 174.60 (90.83) <0.0001
Vitamin D (μg/day) 3.55 (2.22) 3.24 (1.63) 3.08 (1.70) 2.97 (1.47) 2.54 (1.63) <0.0001
Vitamin E (mg/day) 9.66 (4.36) 11.59 (4.37) 12.74 (4.63) 13.76 (4.63) 16.44 (5.67) <0.0001
Vitamin K (μg/day) 142.59 (122.15) 187.11 (143.88) 217.57 (140.31) 244.35 (205.46) 310.09 (201.96) <0.0001
Ca (mg/day) 1,172 (391) 1,094 (329) 1,044 (304) 998 (282) 915 (261) <0.0001
Fe (mg/day) 14.23 (3.78) 14.92 (3.44) 15.25 (3.25) 15.83 (3.40) 17.36 (4.00) <0.0001
Haem Fe (mg/day) 1.97 (1.62) 1.68 (0.85) 1.50 (0.75) 1.36 (0.67) 0.94 (0.65) <0.0001
I (μg/day) 160.20 (280.37) 177.08 (211.47) 193.07 (275.48) 203.11 (309.02) 329.66 (710.17) <0.0001
Mg (mg/day) 444.43 (138.26) 470.93 (134.19) 482.83 (130.29) 502.58 (132.78) 540.85 (140.23) <0.0001
P (mg/day) 1,550.19 (315.86) 1,471.20 (270.59) 1,420.12 (255.63) 1,379.49 (238.06) 1,322.24 (234.55) <0.0001
K (mg/day) 3,508.30 (840.07) 3,645.63 (825.93) 3,726.91 (831.23) 3,802.52 (835.48) 3,961.31 (904.80) <0.0001
Na (mg/day) 2,739.20 (592.86) 2,641.56 (492.86) 2,570.26 (491.03) 2,515.43 (475.96) 2,290.61 (550.78) <0.0001
Cu (mg/day) 1.74 (1.48) 1.90 (1.09) 1.98 (0.58) 2.10 (0.54) 2.38 (0.62) <0.0001
Zn (mg/day) 13.98 (3.13) 13.30 (2.60) 12.81 (2.31) 12.52 (2.19) 11.85 (2.23) <0.0001
Mn (mg/day) 3.65 (1.93) 4.40 (1.95) 4.84 (1.91) 5.32 (2.01) 6.53 (2.47) <0.0001
Se (μg/day) 83.19 (26.28) 80.68 (20.30) 78.94 (20.02) 78.04 (18.69) 75.43 (19.51) <0.0001
PANDiet score (/100) 62.43 (5.13) 64.90 (5.99) 66.37 (6.72) 67.99 (7.07) 71.12 (7.13) <0.0001
aValues are presented as the mean (SD).
bValues based on a linear contrast test.
cEnergy-adjusted mean (SD).
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
documented similar trends in regards to environmental impacts
of modeled substitutions for meat (4648). For instance, the mod-
eled substitution in the EPIC-Netherlands cohort demonstrated
that substituting meat with 35g/d of dierent combinations of
plant products including potatoes, pasta, vegetables, nuts, and
milky desserts could reduce GHG emissions up to 12% (49). In a
recent review, authors concluded that the isocaloric substitution
of meat by starchy food, fruits, nuts, and vegetables was more
sustainable in terms of GHG emissions. However, in that same
review, production modes (more or less agro-ecological modes)
were not distinguished (43).
Livestock results in GHG emissions such as nitrous oxide,
carbon dioxide, and methane due to high-energy feed production,
concentrating production and enteric fermentation of ruminants
(3). However, impacts related to ruminant meat are higher when
compared to monogastric animals because of methane emissions
and the need for substantial livestock feed production needed (43,
50, 51). As consumers in the Q5 of the provegetarian score ate less
meat, especially ruminant meat, compared to participants in the
other quintiles, the dierence in GHG emissions is further increased.
A previous study showed that a diet in which ruminant meat is
replaced by monogastric meat (pork or poultry) reduced GHG
emissions from 20 to 35% and land-use impacts from 30 to 50% (50).
In another study, the CED was computed at the farm level
using the LCA method, and it was shown that a 60% decrease
in daily meat consumption that is replaced by planted-based
products led to an up to 38% decrease in CED, according to
various scenarios of self-suciency in Austria (48). e review
by Perignon etal., which covers 10 cohort studies on the environ-
mental impact of observed individual diets, demonstrates that
low-meat diets are more environmentally friendly (43).
Livestock farming requires a substantial input of fossil energy
due to farm facilities and production of feed (3). Moreover, plant
products have higher energy eciency when considering the ratio
of outputs/inputs for each calorie (52). Regarding the CED by
food group and by quintile, there is no clear dierence in the CED
contribution between ruminant meat and monogastric meat.
Considering the level of consumption, food group contribution
to CED is probably driven more by the dierence in intake than
energy use for the dierent types of meat since the dierences
they are less noticeable than for GHG emissions (53).
Finally, similar results on land use were found when the aver-
age Danish diet was replaced by the new Nordic diet containing
35% less meat with a 24% decrease in diet-related land use. In
the model performed for the EPIC-Netherlands cohort, the
substitution of meat with 35g/d of plant products led to an up to
12% decrease in land use (49). Moreover, the review of Hallström
et al., which included 14 original studies (mainly based on
modeling methods), showed that vegan diets reduced land use
up to 60 and 50% for men and women, respectively (50). In fact,
livestock farming is the largest user of land due to the total area
need for grazing and feed crop production (5).
TABLE 4 | Association between provegetarian score tertile and environmental impacts according to the level of organic food consumption, BioNutriNet study, 2014.
Overall Level of contribution of organic food to the diet
Low (0.03) Medium (0.23) High (0.63)
Meana95% CL Meana95% CL Meana95% CL Meana95% CL
Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq/day)
Q1 provegetarian score 2.62 (4.51–4.6) 4.59 (4.53–4.65) 4.56 (4.48–4.63) 4.10 (3.99–4.22)
Q2 provegetarian score 2.33 (4.01–4.08) 4.13 (4.08–4.18) 4.05 (4–4.1) 3.74 (3.66–3.81)
Q3 provegetarian score 2.08 (3.62–3.66) 3.73 (3.68–3.78) 3.68 (3.63–3.74) 3.34 (3.28–3.41)
Q4 provegetarian score 1.86 (3.2–3.27) 3.45 (3.39–3.51) 3.38 (3.33–3.43) 2.94 (2.89–2.99)
Q5 provegetarian score 1.32 (2.27–1.33) 2.93 (2.87–2.99) 2.72 (2.67–2.76) 2.12 (2.09–2.14)
Pb interaction <0.0001
Pc Q1 vs Q2 0.9711
Pc Q1 vs Q3 0.2764
Pc Q1 vs Q4 <0.0001
Pc Q1 vs Q5 <0.0001
Cumulative energy demand (MJ/day)
Q1 provegetarian score 10.67 (18.43–18.67) 18.58 (18.4–18.75) 18.58 (18.39–18.78) 17.33 (17.05–17.63)
Q2 provegetarian score 10.02 (17.33–17.53) 17.62 (17.47–17.77) 17.47 (17.32–17.63) 16.53 (16.32–16.73)
Q3 provegetarian score 9.48 (15.52–16.58) 16.87 (16.7–17.04) 16.62 (16.47–16.78) 15.59 (15.41–15.77)
Q4 provegetarian score 8.98 (15.52–15.73) 16.42 (16.21–16.63) 16.10 (15.93–16.27) 14.62 (14.45–14.78)
Q5 provegetarian score 7.64 (13.21–13.37) 15.56 (15.33–15.79) 14.72 (14.56–14.89) 12.66 (12.56–12.76)
Pb interaction <0.0001
Pc Q1 vs Q2 0.9417
Pc Q1 vs Q3 0.1044
Pc Q1 vs Q4 <0.0001
Pc Q1 vs Q5 <0.0001
Land occupation (m2/day)
Q1 provegetarian score 6.51 (11.21–1.14) 10.94 (10.78–11.1) 11.58 (11.39–11.78) 11.66 (11.36–11.96)
Q2 provegetarian score 5.90 (10.17–10.35) 9.89 (9.76–10.03) 10.31 (10.17–10.45) 10.64 (10.45–10.85)
Q3 provegetarian score 5.37 (9.26–9.43) 8.95 (8.81–9.09) 9.43 (9.29–9.57) 9.61 (9.44–9.79)
Q4 provegetarian score 4.89 (8.42–8.6) 8.26 (8.1–8.43) 8.68 (8.54–8.83) 8.50 (8.35–8.65)
Q5 provegetarian score 3.81 (6.57–6.69) 7.03 (6.87–7.19) 7.09 (6.97–7.21) 6.49 (6.41–6.57)
Pb interaction <0.0001
Pc Q1 vs Q2 0.7782
Pc Q1 vs Q3 0.9696
Pc Q1 vs Q4 0.0111
Pc Q1 vs Q5 <0.0001
Models are adjusted on sex, age, and energy intake.
aAdjusted means were obtained with ANOVA models by the level of organic food contribution in the diet. P-trends across the provegetarian score quintile are all <0.0001 and were
obtained with a linear contrast test by the level of organic food contribution in the diet.
bP for interaction between provegetarian score quintiles and the level contribution of organic food to the diet.
cP-linear trend of Q*v.Q1 of provegetarian score. It reflects the linearity of the difference between the first and the other quintiles of the provegetarian score across the levels of
organic consumption.
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
It is worth noting that beyond the benets to the environment,
diets rich in plant products also provide important nutritional
and health benets (54, 55).
We showed that introducing organic food to ones diet had a
signicant positive environmental eect on GHG emissions in
only diets rich in plant products. However, when considering a
diet with a moderate amount of plant products, this eect was
not substantial.
e weak moderating eect of the organic consumption in a
diet with a moderate amount of plant products can be explained
by several hypotheses. First, no dierence in GHG emissions was
reported for both conventional and organic beef and milk produc-
tion systems (20). In addition, GHG emissions from chicken and
pork organic farming practices are higher because feed produc-
tion is more substantial due to a longer cycle of production and a
lower growth rate (in relation to a lower feed-eciency conver-
sion) (20). Moreover, GHG emissions from organic pork farming
practices can be higher because of the high level of nitrous oxide
emissions from straw litter (19). However, the dierences between
chicken and pork production systems have not yet been consist-
ently measured, and further research is needed to improve the
reliability of calculating GHG emissions for dierent farming
practices. Second, organic farming results in lower GHG emissions
when emissions are expressed by units of area, and no clear trends
emerge when they are expressed by units of product weight (18).
Finally, organic practices have obvious benecial eects on GHG
emissions in terms of plant production because of the exclusion
of synthetic fertilizers that result in high N2O and CO2 emissions
(19, 56). Finally, the proportion of organic food consumption in
the diet may be too low in the rst provegetarian score quintiles
to detect dierences in GHG emissions. Considering the CED
indicator, the ratio of organic food in the diet positively aects
diet-related environmental impacts with increasing eects across
provegetarian score quintiles. Organic practices prohibit the use
FIGURE 1 | Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by food group and by quintile of provegetarian score. Other food group includes whole products, soy products,
eggs, butter, other fats, and alcohol. Food group impacts are all significant (P-trend<0.05).
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
of synthetic fertilizers which induce high costs in energy for their
production and require the use of less mineral fertilizers and feed
concentrates (56). However, some studies have determined that
CED can be up to 40% higher in organic farming than in conven-
tional systems (19). Another explanation relies on the fact that
among the high consumers of organic foods, plant-based food
consumption was higher overall. However, the correlation coef-
cient between the provegetarian score and the level of organic
food consumption was estimated to be 0.4.
Regarding land occupation, the level of organic food consump-
tion had a positive impact on diets rich in plant products and had
no impact on diets with moderate level of plant product intake.
ese ndings are noteworthy since organic systems require
relatively more land (20, 56, 57) than conventional production
systems. ese lower crop yields are due to lower total nitrogen
inputs per hectare (20). Our results may be explained by the fact
that in the Q5 of the provegetarian score, consumers that eat a
substantial amount of organic food exhibited higher plant-based
consumption than their conventional counterparts and thus
may have exhibited a lower consumption of meat. Moreover,
according to Pimentel and Pimentel, grains and some legumes,
which were highly consumed by participants in the Q5 of the
provegetarian score, are produced more eciently than fruits and
vegetables (42). is may have led to a reduction in the negative
impact of organic production on plant production yields. e
absence of a dierential eect of organic food consumption on
land use for a diet with a moderate amount of plant products
may be related to the fact that the ratio of organic foods in the
diet is too low to detect any association, which is the same for
GHG emissions. ese ndings regarding land occupation need
further investigation since future improvements of management
techniques and crop varieties may reduce the dierence in crop
yields between organic and conventional systems (9). Although
this was not evaluated in our study, organic systems generally oer
environmental services, do not use pesticides, increase resilience
of agriculture and can mitigate the future eects of climate change
on yields (58).
e limitations of this study should be noted. An extrapo-
lation of these results to the general population should be
done with caution as the participants who completed the
BioNutriNet questionnaires were probably more concerned
with nutrition and health-related issues. It should be noted that
the percentage of participants with a very high consumption of
organic foods, as observed in our study, is likely to be minimal
in France. e use of a food frequency questionnaire may be
prone to incorrectly estimating habitual diets, which is similar
to other self-reported food consumption tools (59). Moreover,
the eects of the systems of production on the environment
should be considered with caution. Indeed, among similar
systems of production, eects can be largely dierent due to
climate conditions, soil types and farm management (18, 56).
Other indicators such as pesticide use, leaching, and soil qual-
ity would have been relevant to addressing the environmental
impacts of production systems (60, 61). In addition, our data
included neither the origin nor the seasonality of food products,
which may impact environmental assessments. Furthermore,
FIGURE 3 | Land occupation by food group and by quintile of provegetarian score. Other food group includes whole products, soy products, eggs, butter, other
fats, and alcohol. Food group impacts are all significant (P-trend<0.05).
FIGURE 2 | Cumulative energy demand by food group and by quintile of provegetarian score. Other food group includes whole products, soy products, eggs,
butter, other fats, and alcohol. Food group impacts are all significant (P-trend<0.05).
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
environmental impacts were assessed at the farm level and did
not consider all of the production, transformation and distribu-
tion stages.
However, our study also presents notable strengths. First, to
the best of our knowledge, this is the rst study to distinguish
production modes in the assessment of food consumption
Lacour et al. Environmental Impact of Diet
Frontiers in Nutrition | February 2018 | Volume 5 | Article 8
and several subsequent environmental impacts. is is also
the rst study to investigate moderating eects of organic
food consumption on the environmental impact of observed
diets. Modeling studies do not necessarily consider isocaloric
or representative substitutions. For example, replacing meat
with fruit and legumes may not appear entirely realistic. Meat
would probably be replaced by energy-dense products such
as cereals, potatoes, and legumes. Moreover, these modeling
studies rely on small cohorts. erefore, it was crucial to focus
on actual diets assessed in a large cohort to conrm or refute
the results from modeling studies. Concerning the strengths of
this study, our study is based on a large sample, which allows a
wide diversity of dietary behaviors to be considered and in par-
ticular eco-friendly behaviors, using accurate environmental
and consumption data. e provegetarian score also presents
several advantages when compared to other dietary indexes
commonly used in the literature such as the Mediterranean diet
score (62). Indeed, while the Mediterranean diet recommends
limiting milk and red meat, it also recommends consuming
sh even though a major part of the shing industry is not
sustainable (63) and degrades maritime ecosystem functions
by altering the food chain and sh habitats (64). Finally, the
provegetarian score reects dierent emerging dietary patterns
(e.g., exitarian diets) that tend to reduce consumption of
animal products.
In conclusion, diet-related GHG emissions, CED, and land
occupation indicators are negatively associated with a plant-
based diet, regardless of the level of organic food consumption.
Furthermore, the consumption of organic food showed additional
benecial impacts only in diets rich in plant products. is study
demonstrates that the environmental impacts of diets should not
only be evaluated in terms of dietary patterns but also should
integrate production systems.
e design was conducted according to the guidelines laid
down in the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the
Institutional Review Board of the French Institute for Health and
Medical Research (IRB INSERM no. 0000388FWA00005831) and
the “Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés”
(CNIL no. 908450 and no. 909216). All participants signed an
electronic informed consent.
EK-G, SH, PP, and DL designed the research; CL, LS, BA, BL,
PP, DL, JB, and EK-G conducted the research; CL, LS, BA, JB,
and EK analyzed the data; and CL and EK wrote the paper. CL,
LS, BA, BL, PP, DL, JB, and EK were involved in interpreting the
results and editing the manuscript. CL, LS, and EK had primary
responsibility for the nal content. All authors read and approved
the nal manuscript.
We especially thank Younes Esseddik, Paul Flanzy, and i Hong
Van Duong, computer scientists; Veronique Gourlet, Fabien
Szabo, Nathalie Arnault, Laurent Bourhis, and Stephen Besseau,
statisticians; and Cédric Agaësse and Claudia Chahine, dieti-
cians. We warmly thank all of the dedicated and conscientious
volunteers involved in the Nutrinet-Santé cohort.
e BioNutriNet project was supported by the French National
Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche) in the con-
text of the 2013 Programme de Recherche Systèmes Alimentaires
Durables (ANR-13-ALID-0001). e NutriNet-Santé cohort
study is funded by the following public institutions: Ministère
de la Santé, Santé Publique France, Institut National de la Santé
et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), Institut National de la
Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Conservatoire National des
Arts et Métiers (CNAM) and Paris 13 University. e funders
had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision
to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
e Supplementary Material for this article can be found online
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Conict of Interest Statement: e authors declare that the research was con-
ducted in the absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could be
construed as a potential conict of interest.
Copyright © 2018 Lacour, Seconda, Allès, Hercberg, Langevin, Pointereau, Lairon,
Baudry and Kesse-Guyot. is is an open-access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). e use, distribution or
reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the
copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited,
in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction
is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
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Inordinate consumption of natural resources by humans over the past century and unsustainable growth practices have necessitated a need for enforcing global policies to sustain the ecosystem and prevent irreversible changes. This study utilizes the Generalized Global Sustainability model (GGSM), which focuses on sustainability for the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus. GGSM is a 15-compartment model with components for the food-web, microeconomic framework, energy, industry and water sectors, and humans. GGSM shows that an increased per capita consumption scenario is unsustainable. In this study, an optimal-control theory based approach is devised to address the unsustainable scenario through policy interventions to evaluate sustainability by employing multiple global indicators and controlling them. Six policy options are employed as control variables to provide global policy recommendations to develop the multi-variate optimal control approach. Seven objectives are proposed to limit the human burden on the environment to ascertain sustainability from a lens of ecological, economic, and social wellbeing. This study observes the performance of the policy options toward seven sustainability indicators: Fisher Information, Green Net Product, Ecological Buffer, Carbon dioxide emissions, Nitrous oxide emissions, and Global Water Stress. The optimal control model assesses these multiple objectives by minimizing the variance in the Fisher Information. One significant result from this study is that optimizing for the Fisher Information based objective is adequate to attain sustainability and manage the other objectives under consideration. Thus, forgoing a multi-objective problem framework. The results show that cross-dimensional policy interventions such as increased vegetarianism and increased penalty on industrial discharge are shown to have a positive impact on scale.
Background: Public institutions have the opportunity implement environmental sustainability policies through leveraging their buying potential. Implementation of sustainable initiatives into hospital foodservices is a priority given the role of hospitals within the food system. Compared to conventional agricultural methods, organic food production uses more sustainable practices and warrants consideration for utilisation in hospitals. This systematic review aimed to synthesise the published literature to identify benefits, limitations and implementation issues regarding the use of organic foods in hospital foodservice settings. Methods: The review protocol was prospectively published (PROSPERO registration CRD42022322245) and reported consistent with PRISMA guidelines. A systematic search of four databases was undertaken from January 2000 to March 2022. Reference lists of eligible papers were checked; key outcome data were extracted and synthesised. Study quality was assessed using the Quality Criteria Checklist for Primary Research or the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist. Results: After review of 4102 titles/abstracts and 113 full-text papers, the final library comprised 10 papers of moderate to high quality. Implementation of organic foods increased quality in addition to environmental sustainability improvements. The price premium, additional production requirements, change to kitchen routines and concerns with food quality and security of supply were reported as barriers. Government targets for increasing organic food, organisational support, and staff knowledge and training supported implementation. Conclusions: This review identified opportunities for implementation of organic foods into hospital foodservices, but there are numerous barriers to be overcome through strategies including organisational support and staff training. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
To provide a preliminary reference point and a scientific basis for future comprehensive sustainability assessments of household food consumption (HFC) in China and beyond, this study develops an indicator system for sustainability assessment of HFC in urban and rural China. The system encompasses four dimensions (nutrition, the environment, economy and socio-culture) and a comprehensive assessment index (CAI, on a scale from 0 to 100 points) of analysis. The system is derived from an extensive literature review supplemented with an expert opinion survey and considers the current structure of diet in China. Environmental dimension involves indicators of environmental footprints and food waste. Nutritional dimension involves nutritional status and food security. Economic dimension involves food affordability, self-sufficiency and economic cost of food waste. Socio-cultural dimension involves consumption of traditional and ready-made food, food availability and accessibility. The assessment results show that nearly 50% of households fall into a relatively high sustainability zone (50-75 points) and a relatively low sustainability zone (25-50 points), respectively; and there are no households achieving a high sustainability score (75-100 points). Sustainability of HFC in rural China is higher than that in urban areas; sustainability increases as households grow in size and receive higher annual income. The study highlights measures required to improve the current structure of diet in China.
The proposed benefits of cultured meat fail to track our moral intuitions because they are focused on the practical aspect of cultured meat production and consumption. A virtue-oriented approach can show cultured meat in a different light.
The present study aims to characterize the functional properties of Spirulina protein isolate (SpPI) recovered at different solubilization pHs of 4, 7, 10, and 13. Results showed that the highest precipitation occurred at pH 7, producing emulsion with the highest aging and heat stabilities (77% and 56%, respectively). Moreover, it exhibits amphiphilic properties, with better oil and water absorption capacities. It also formed a reduced creaming behavior and significant foaming stability. These findings indicate that Spirulina protein isolate solubilized at pH 7 may be a versatile and dynamic potential emulsifier for use in food.
Background While research has shown that vegetarian diets have a low environmental impact, few studies have examined the environmental impacts and nutritional adequacy of these diets together, although vegetarian diets can lead to nutritional issues. Objectives Our objective is to optimize and compare six types of diets with varying degrees of plant foods (lacto-, ovolacto- and pescovegetarian and diets with low-, medium- and high meat content) under nutritional constraints. Methods Consumption data in 30,000 participants are derived from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort using a food-frequency questionnaire. Diets are optimized by a non-linear algorithm minimizing the diet deviation while meeting multiple constraints at both the individual and population levels: non-increase of the cost and environmental impacts (as pReCipe accounting for greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative energy demand and land occupation, distinguishing production methods: organic and conventional), under epidemiological, nutritional (based on nutrient reference values), and acceptability (according to the diet type) constraints. Results Optimized diets were successfully identified for each diet type, except that it was impossible to meet the EPA + DHA requirements in lacto- and ovolactovegetarians. In all cases, meat consumption was redistributed or reduced and the consumption of legumes (including soy-based products), wholegrains, and vegetables were increased, while some food groups, such as potatoes, fruit juices and alcoholic beverages, were entirely removed from the diets. The lower environmental impacts (as well as individual indicators) observed for vegetarians can be attained even when nutritional references were reached except for long-chain omega 3 fatty acids. Conclusions A low-meat diet could be considered as a target for the general population in the context of sustainable transitions, although all diets tested can be overall nutritionally adequate, except for 3-n fatty acids, when planned appropriately. NutriNet-Santé cohort is registered at:
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Food and beverage consumption has a great impact on the environment, although there is a lack of information concerning the whole diet. The environmental impact of 153 Italian adults (51 omnivores, 51 ovo-lacto-vegetarians, 51 vegans) and the inter-individual variability within dietary groups were assessed in a real-life context. Food intake was monitored with a 7-d dietary record to calculate nutritional values and environmental impacts (carbon, water, and ecological footprints). The Italian Mediterranean Index was used to evaluate the nutritional quality of each diet. The omnivorous choice generated worse carbon, water and ecological footprints than other diets. No differences were found for the environmental impacts of ovo-lacto-vegetarians and vegans, which also had diets more adherent to the Mediterranean pattern. A high inter-individual variability was observed through principal component analysis, showing that some vegetarians and vegans have higher environmental impacts than those of some omnivores. Thus, regardless of the environmental benefits of plant-based diets, there is a need for thinking in terms of individual dietary habits. To our knowledge, this is the first time environmental impacts of three dietary regimens are evaluated using individual recorded dietary intakes rather than hypothetical diet or diets averaged over a population.
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Despite convincing evidence of the very considerable impact that food systems and human diets exert on public and planetary health, concerted guidelines and policy action that include sustainable aspects, in addition to healthy nutrition, are lacking in Europe. Sustainable diets are nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy, while having low environmental impact. They are also culturally acceptable, accessible, equitable, economically fair and affordable, contributing to food and nutrition security and to healthy lifestyles for present and future generations. Food and nutrition policies can be powerful instruments for the promotion of population health and provide key levers for improving food systems; however, sustainable development involving food systems has been limited and fragmented. Key issues necessary to improve the quality of diets and to reduce damaging environmental impacts are increasing the consumption of more plant-based diets, including more vegetables, pulses, fruits and whole-grain cereals, as well as decreasing the consumption of animal-origin foods (i.e. red meat and processed meat), in particular when not coming from sustainable sources (e.g. over-exploited fish species), and avoiding foods and beverages containing trans fats, or with high content of saturated fats, added sugar or salt. Strategies to promote sustainable healthy nutrition should be planned and implemented at both EU and nation state levels, involving all sectors of society and all levels of the food chain, including governments, local authorities, farmers, environmentalists, and representatives of the food industry, of retail organisations, of catering, of marketing, of the media, of academia, of NGOs, of civil society and of consumers themselves. Public health professionals may provide an alternative, independent source of authority, suitably positioned to harness political and public support to prioritise implementation and monitoring of these strategies, through development of suitable metrics to measure both health and sustainability, and evaluation of the impacts of implementation in both the public and private sectors of the economy on population and planetary health. The private sector and all those implicated in the food chain should produce, promote and distribute sustainable and healthy products, with reliable and user-friendly consumer information (including food labelling), and implement commitments they have made regarding sustainable healthy nutrition.
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Background: Suboptimal diet is one of the most important factors in preventing early death and disability worldwide. Objective: The aim of this meta-analysis was to synthesize the knowledge about the relation between intake of 12 major food groups, including whole grains, refined grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy, fish, red meat, processed meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages, with risk of all-cause mortality. Design: We conducted a systematic search in PubMed, Embase, and Google Scholar for prospective studies investigating the association between these 12 food groups and risk of all-cause mortality. Summary RRs and 95% CIs were estimated with the use of a random effects model for high-intake compared with low-intake categories, as well as for linear and nonlinear relations. Moreover, the risk reduction potential of foods was calculated by multiplying the RR by optimal intake values (serving category with the strongest association) for risk-reducing foods or risk-increasing foods, respectively. Results: With increasing intake (for each daily serving) of whole grains (RR: 0.92; 95% CI: 0.89, 0.95), vegetables (RR: 0.96; 95% CI: 0.95, 0.98), fruits (RR: 0.94; 95% CI: 0.92, 0.97), nuts (RR: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.69, 0.84), and fish (RR: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.88, 0.98), the risk of all-cause mortality decreased; higher intake of red meat (RR: 1.10; 95% CI: 1.04, 1.18) and processed meat (RR: 1.23; 95% CI: 1.12, 1.36) was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality in a linear dose-response meta-analysis. A clear indication of nonlinearity was seen for the relations between vegetables, fruits, nuts, and dairy and all-cause mortality. Optimal consumption of risk-decreasing foods results in a 56% reduction of all-cause mortality, whereas consumption of risk-increasing foods is associated with a 2-fold increased risk of all-cause mortality. Conclusion: Selecting specific optimal intakes of the investigated food groups can lead to a considerable change in the risk of premature death.
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The Food and Agriculture Organization defines sustainable diets as nutritionally adequate, safe, healthy, culturally acceptable, economically affordable diets that have little environmental impact. This review summarizes the studies assessing, at the individual level, both the environmental impact and the nutritional quality or healthiness of self-selected diets. Reductions in meat consumption and energy intake were identified as primary factors for reducing diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. The choice of foods to replace meat, however, was crucial, with some isocaloric substitutions possibly increasing total diet greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, nutritional adequacy was rarely or only partially assessed, thereby compromising the assessment of diet sustainability. Furthermore, high nutritional quality was not necessarily associated with affordability or lower environmental impact. Hence, when identifying sustainable diets, each dimension needs to be assessed by relevant indicators. Finally, some nonvegetarian self-selected diets consumed by a substantial fraction of the population showed good compatibility with the nutritional, environmental, affordability, and acceptability dimensions. Altogether, the reviewed studies revealed the scarcity of standardized nationally representative data for food prices and environmental indicators and suggest that diet sustainability might be increased without drastic dietary changes.
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Food production is a major driver of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water and land use, and dietary risk factors are contributors to non-communicable diseases. Shifts in dietary patterns can therefore potentially provide benefits for both the environment and health. However, there is uncertainty about the magnitude of these impacts, and the dietary changes necessary to achieve them. We systematically review the evidence on changes in GHG emissions, land use, and water use, from shifting current dietary intakes to environmentally sustainable dietary patterns. We find 14 common sustainable dietary patterns across reviewed studies, with reductions as high as 70–80% of GHG emissions and land use, and 50% of water use (with medians of about 20–30% for these indicators across all studies) possible by adopting sustainable dietary patterns. Reductions in environmental footprints were generally proportional to the magnitude of animal-based food restriction. Dietary shifts also yielded modest benefits in all-cause mortality risk. Our review reveals that environmental and health benefits are possible by shifting current Western diets to a variety of more sustainable dietary patterns.
Technical Report
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Our food system and consumption practices have, since prehistoric times, shaped and transformed our world and our societies. There have been enormous advances - in agricultural practice and in systems of storage, distribution and retailing – that have enabled population growth and improved diets for many. But these developments have also carried severe costs. While the tools and actions needed to achieve the necessary changes in diets are many, this report specifically considers the role of national level dietary guidelines in providing a steer on what dietary patterns that are both healthy and sustainable look like.
Organically produced food is often considered more environmentally friendly than conventionally produced food, and Germany is one of the most important and rapidly growing markets for organic food in Europe. However, the carbon footprints and land use of organic diets, and how they compare to conventional diets, have not yet been quantified. Using food consumption data from the German National Nutrition Survey II, and carbon footprint and land-use data from life cycle assessment studies of conventional and organic food products, carbon footprints and land use of conventional and organic diets in Germany were calculated for three consumer categories: men, women and their combined unweighted average. Conventional diets are defined as the average diet of consumers who do not buy organic food products; organic diets are the average diets of consumers whose food purchases include a large share of organic food products. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change are not included. The carbon footprints of the average conventional and organic diets are essentially equal (ca. 1250 CO2-eq cap⁻¹ year⁻¹), while the land use to provide food is ca. 40% greater in the organic diet (ca. 1900 and 2750 m² of land cap⁻¹ year⁻¹ in the conventional and organic diets, respectively). The average conventional diet contains 45% more meat than the average organic diet, which on the other hand contains 40% more vegetables, fruits, and legumes (combined). Animal-based food products dominate the carbon footprints and land use (ca. 70–75%) in both diets. The organic diet, in particular that of women, is more aligned with health-based dietary guidelines. Diet-related carbon footprints and land use can be reduced by shifting toward diets with less animal-based food products (other measures are also discussed). General conclusions about the overall performance of conventional and organic agriculture are not supported by this study since only carbon footprints and land use were assessed, while other important issues, such as biodiversity, ecotoxicity impacts and animal welfare, were not considered.
We investigate how different global dietary scenarios affect the constraints on, and costs of, transforming the energy system to reach a global temperature stabilization limit of 2 °C above the pre-industrial level. A global food and agriculture model, World Food Supply Model (WOFSUM), is used to create three dietary scenarios and to calculate the CH4 and N2O emissions resulting from their respective food-supply chains. The diets are: (i) a reference diet based on current trends; (ii) a diet with high (reference-level) meat consumption, but without ruminant products (i.e., no beef, lamb, or dairy, only pork and poultry); and (iii) a vegan diet. The estimated CH4 and N2O emissions from food production are fed into a coupled energy and climate-system optimization model to quantify the energy system implications of the different dietary scenarios, given a 2 °C target. The results indicate that a phase-out of ruminant products substantially increases the emission space for CO2 by about 250 GtC which reduces the necessary pace of the energy system transition and cuts the net present value energy-system mitigation costs by 25%, for staying below 2 °C. Importantly, the additional cost savings with a vegan diet––beyond those achieved with a phase-out of ruminant products––are marginal (only one additional percentage point). This means that a general reduction of meat consumption is a far less effective strategy for meeting the 2 °C target than a reduction of beef and dairy consumption.
Organic agriculture is defined as an environmentally and socially sensitive food supply system. This publication examines its many facets, looking at the contribution of organic agriculture to ecological health, international markets and local food security. It builds on empirical experiences throughout the world and analyses the prospects for a wider adoption of organic agriculture. Numerous scenarios depicted in this publication represent the millions of people from all social and economic backgrounds who have adopted this new agrarian ethic on the integrity of food. The small farmers who seek fully integrated food systems are given recognition throughout the publication. This publication can be downloaded from: