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WWF has released its Livewell report, that looks at whether it is possible to eat a diet that is both lower in GHG  emissions and more nutritionally balanced than current dietary norms in the UK.

WWF-UK’s One Planet Food Programme (2009-12) has set goals to reduce UK food-consumption related emissions by at least 25% by 2020 and by 70% by 2050, based on 1990 emission levels.  The report does three key things:

  • it assesses the current ‘normal’ UK diet against government recommendations with respect to fat, protein, fruit and vegetable intakes, and so forth (the Eatwell plate)
  • it looks at whether it is possible to develop a nutritionally balanced diet which is 25% lower in embedded GHG  emissions than the norm today (ie. the 2020 target), and illustrates what this might look like by developing a one-week sample menu
  • it looks at whether it is possible to develop a nutritionally balanced diet which is 70% lower in embedded GHG  emissions than the norm today (the 2050 target).

The research was undertaken by the  Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen.  The report’s GHG data is based, with adjustments, on the FCRN-WWF-UK commissioned How low can we go? Report http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrnPublications/index.php?id=6#181 but all the nutrition analysis is completely new.

The study found (unsurprisingly) that the current UK diet is too high in fat, salt and sugar, and too low in fruit and vegetables and fibre.  Protein intakes are higher than needed.  It also identifies what the commonest items are that constitute the main food categories in the diet (ie. what are the top foods contributing to protein intakes, to  fat intakes, to  carbohydrates etc).  For example it finds that 9 out of 10 of the top contributers to protein in the average diet are from animal sources.  (Baked beans, heroically, account for 7% of our protein intakes). White bread tops the carbohydrates while apples, pears and bananas are top of the fruit and veg category.

To develop the 2020 diet the report  distinguishes between difference in male and female nutrient requirements and it also takes into account population growth.  Since the 25% reduction needed is an absolute one, the per capita reduction by 2020 will have to be more than 25%, because there will be more of us around.  The diet assumes that to achieve a 25% in GHGEs, overall it 14% would come from dietary changes and 11% from savings in production/processing methods of food (post-RDC– ie.  processing and distribution but not farming related). It doesn’t specify what these improvements are, since that is not the remit of the report.

The researchers find that it is possible to have a diet 25% lower in GHGs thatn today, that meets nutritional recommendations and that looks pretty normal too – they construct a 7 day illustrative menu and this is what Day One looks like.

The report points out that there are of course many ways in which foods can be combined and that this is not a definitative diet; substitution of food in the list could take into account variations in food preferences, seasonality, culture or nutrient needs.

The cost of food for the Livewell 2020 diet is estimated at £28.40 per person per week

based on mid-range supermarket products in August 2010, which is slightly less than the average household spend of £32.12 per person on food in 2009.

As regards the 2050 target (70% reduction in food emisssion) the report also shows that it is possible with the right combination of food to achieve this, assuming that approximately 39% of the reductions would come from dietary changes and 31% from post-RDC savings (ie. processing and distribution etc). while still achieving dietary recommendations for health, but the range of food would be limited.  Furthermore, it would be much more difficult to create a sensible diet from the list of food. A 2050 diet could include food such as meat and dairy, but in very much smaller amounts than the current diet; this would only be achievable by limiting the range of other food in the diet. It was concluded that it was unrealistic to create an actual diet as it could only be based on food available today and current estimates of GHGs for food commodities, both of which are likely to change over the next 40 years.

The report’s key messages are that a diet can be achieved which meets dietary recommendations for health and the GHG reduction targets for 2020, without eliminating all meat and dairy products. Rebalancing the UK diet in line with the Eatwell plate and reducing meat-based proteins could achieve a diet that would meet the 2020 GHG target. Meeting the GHG targets for 2050 and dietary recommendations will require a radical shift in food consumed, though it would be possible to include some meat or dairy products in verysmall amounts if other food in the diet were low in GHGs.

Broadly the diet recommends eating more seasonal, regionally grown fruit and vegetables; eating less meat (red and white) and eating less highly processed foods which are more resource-intensive to produce. It points out that this report just looks at nutrition in relation to  GHG emissions and that more work is needed to integrate wider issues of sustainability into the modelling process and to develop broader dietary advice.