The Arla Foods-commissioned research finds that the carbon footprint, biodiversity, packaging and animal welfare are the top priorities for consumers looking to follow a sustainable diet.
Only a third (34%) of the 8,212 consumers surveyed in the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Germany say they associate nutrition with sustainable diets.
“It’s great that we continue to grow our awareness of how food production and our diets affect the climate and nature,” says Professor Judy Buttriss, public health nutritionist, on the survey results.
“However, this research shows that many people tend to overlook the other determinants of sustainable diets, especially nutrition, which has always been the fundamental purpose of food and an essential factor for our long-term physical and mental well-being.”
British Nutrition Foundation
Professor Buttriss, who was the former Director General of the British Nutrition Foundation from 2007-2021, also highlights the issue of consumers becoming ‘nutrition blind,’ stressing the need to bring nutrition back into the conversation about sustainable diets.
The concept of nutrition-blindness applies to overnutrition as well as undernutrition in which calorie-rich foods, that while satisfy sustainability criteria may be nutritionally poor, contributing to the ongoing obesity problem.
“People at risk of micronutrient deficiency might not realise it,” explains Lea Brader, Nutrition Scientist at Arla Foods.
“If your diet is poor, you can still get your energy from the macronutrients such as carbohydrate and fat.
“However, you don’t necessarily get sufficient amounts of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, iodine, vitamin A, B-vitamins, and vitamin C.
“This is why micronutrient deficiency is also called ‘hidden hunger’,” adds Brader.
Additional results of the survey, conducted by YouGov, find a clear motivation among Northern European consumers to seek out more information to make their diets more sustainable.
However, half (49%) of them feel confused about how to eat sustainably and 52% state that they would like more information.
The motivation extends to buying choices as 63% say they try to make sustainable food choices whenever they can. However, 49% feel confused about how to eat sustainably.
National dietary guidelines
“With tonnes of information in the public domain that may or may not be scientifically validated, it can certainly be difficult to decide on what to eat to stay healthy and live sustainably,” advises Brader.
“A good place to start is to follow your national dietary guidelines. Official dietary guidelines promote diets that are nutritious, accessible, affordable and culturally acceptable.
“More and more countries have started to also include consideration of the climate impact of the food as well as food waste issues.
Referencing another survey result that shows 69% of consumers understand official recommendations for healthy diets in their country, Brader adds this is ‘very positive.’
“Basically, we should include much more vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains and complement it with dairy, eggs, fish and smaller amounts of meat. If everyone decided to live by these guidelines, we would be well on our way to eating sustainably as a nation.”