Scientists have analysed the environmental impacts associated with the diet of an average Spanish citizen finding that reducing meat consumption and eating the nutrition and energy intake required by the Spanish Dietary Guidelines can lead to environmental benefits.
Researchers at the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF, the Research in International Studies and Economics (RISE) research group, and the Universidad de Cantabria have assessed the environmental impacts associated with current regional-average diets in Spain. Also, applying the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method—a systematic analysis of the environmental impact of products or systems during their entire life cycle—, the researchers have evaluated the environmental benefits of adopting a diet based on the Spanish Dietary Guidelines, which recommend larger consumption of plant-based products and less intake of red meat and sugary products.
Published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, the study has developed a fair method for diets’ comparison among the different regions in Spain using a novel measure of the performance of a diet that considers both the nutritional and the socio-economic dimensions. “By considering both nutritional values (energy content and nutrients) and food affordability, this study has confirmed the environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption and the environmental savings of eating the required nutrition and energy intake as well,” explains Laura Batlle-Bayer, first author of the study and leader of the Agrifood research line of the Chair.
The comparison has demonstrated how different eating patterns among regions can lead to different environmental results, and, in particular, to an interesting gradient from northern to southern Spain. “The study has found that diets in north-western regions have larger environmental impacts due to the high caloric energy and ruminant meat intake (about the double), as well as for being less affordable,” points out Batlle-Bayer. These regional differences reveal the potential need to establish regional strategies for those policies which encourage sustainable food consumption. “The adoption of a diet based on the Spanish Dietary Guidelines can potentially reduce the environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, blue water footprint, and land use, between 15 and 60% of current regional eating patterns,” she adds.
Overall, the results of this study have highlighted “the importance of considering both the nutritional and the socio-economic dimensions when assessing the environmental impacts associated with food consumption through a LCA,” the researcher concludes.
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