India’s National Dietary Guidelines Have One of the Smallest Carbon Footprints in the World
India’s national dietary standards are among the most environmentally friendly in the world, according to a new, seven-country study examining the carbon footprint associated with national nutritional guidelines.
“These findings hold insights for future development of dietary guidelines and highlight the importance of including sustainability considerations, such as reductions of protein food and dairy recommendations and/or the inclusion of more plant-based substitutions for animal-based products,” the study’s lead author, Brittany Kovacs, of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, said in a statement.
The study’s conclusions echo a 2019 report outlining a “planetary health diet,” aimed at improving human health while also minimizing environmental destruction and climate change. India’s recommended diet — rich in plant protein and low in dairy — was one of the example diets cited to defend the feasibility of a planetary health diet.
The U.S.’s dietary guidelines bottomed out the list, in the study published in the Nutrition Journal.
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“… previous simulations have shown that if the public were to eat according to their government’s recommendations, their diets would be both healthier and have a lower carbon footprint. However, for the U.S., the opposite has been shown: greenhouse gas emissions were simulated to go up, if people followed dietary guidelines,” study author Diego Rose, Ph.D., of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University, explained in a statement.
Indian dietary guidelines’ carbon footprint is nearly five times smaller than that of the U.S. This is due to India recommending only plant-based protein, and less of it, while the U.S. recommends animal protein and more total protein intake. Even the American vegetarian diet recommendations produced more than two times the amount of greenhouse gas than India’s, largely due to the inclusion of dairy and eggs.
Other countries in the study included Germany, the Netherlands, Oman, Thailand, and Uruguay. And while all had dietary guidelines in place that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions more than India, the researchers caution a carbon footprint is only one measure of environmental friendliness. Land and water use should also be considered, they said.
Still, the lessons from this study could have profound effects on human and planetary health, if we take them to heart. Sadly, evidence already suggests India’s changing food habits are offsetting the environmentally and health-friendly nature of its guidelines.
“By including more sustainable, yet still health-based, considerations into dietary recommendations, it is possible to influence the environmental impacts of the larger food and agriculture sector in various countries and worldwide,” Kovacs said.