French scientists from INRAE (the French Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Research), Inserm (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), Sorbonne University and the company SOLAGRO conducted a multi criteria study on the new French dietary guidelines. Their results, published on March 23rd in Nature Sustainability, show that following these recommendations has a positive impact on both health and environment.

Since 2001, the French National Nutrition and Health Program (PNNS) publishes dietary guidelines seeking to improve citizens’ health. For the first time, its 2017 version includes environmental conservation considerations. For example, it presents advices on how to reduce the consumption of meat and sweet products or alcohol consumption, to incorporate more plant-based food (produces, legumes, whole grain products), and also encourages the consumption of organic food.

Three years later, a team of researchers from Inserm, INRAE, Sorbonne University and SOLAGRO conducted a study to determine to what extent these guidelines promote environmental protection and people’s health.

“Beyond health implications, current food systems are responsible for about one third of global Green House Gases (GHG) emissions, contribute to water and soil pollution and biodiversity destruction in a substantial level”, the scientists highlight in a press release.

According to the results of the study, the global impact of diets decreases by 50% after 2017 recommendations. The study included more than 28.300 participants, who were divided into two groups, one of them implementing the guidelines. The scientists also compared the results with those from 2001 nutritional guidelines. To outline the sanitary and environmental impacts of the individuals following the recommendations, the study includes several criteria such as: nutritional (calories, food type), ecological (GHG emissions, use of resources, land use…), economic (food cost) and toxicological (exposure to pesticides). Results show that individuals implementing the guidelines have decreased the environmental impacts related to their diet by 50% since 2017, compared to 25% in 2001. Although these changes in food consumption imply an increase of almost one euro per person per day, health improvements are consequent, as 2017 recommendations have resulted in avoiding 35.000 premature deaths (mainly linked to cardiovascular diseases).

“In terms of public health and in the context of climate change, these results confirm the reciprocal benefits of dietary guidelines for both individual health and environmental conservation. If they are adopted by a large part of the population, the 2017 dietary guidelines could contribute to prevent chronical diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers, while reducing the environmental impacts linked to food consumption”, conclude the scientists.

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