Sustainability Incorporation into Food Based Dietary Guidelines – who is paving the way forward?

Published on: Jan 26 2024

In recent years, the importance of ensuring that the food we eat is sustainably sourced and nutritionally complete has been to the forefront for consumers and policy makers alike. Many governments globally have begun to incorporate sustainability into their country’s food based dietary guidelines (FBDGs). They wish to ensure that the food that they recommend benefits the health of their public and the planet. By following a sustainable diet, the general population can meet their nutritional requirements; whilst also adhering to the environmental impact concerns that we currently face today.

What is a sustainable diet?

A sustainable diet as described by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – is a dietary pattern that promotes all dimensions of health and wellbeing; has a low environmental impact; is accessible, affordable, safe and equitable; and is culturally acceptable.

In essence, a sustainable diet is one that is nutritionally complete and that accounts for the environmental and cultural context of food consumption.1,2 If you’d like to learn more about this topic, check out the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute’s (KHNI) article here:

Sustainable Nutrition – What Does It Mean and How Do We Take Action? (

This definition of sustainable diets is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals (SDGs). The SDGs ensure that we promote prosperity whilst also protecting the planet. As we move forward towards a more sustainable way of producing food, it is very important for food manufacturers and consumers to be mindful of the role that sustainable FBDGs play in the future of food production and consumption.

How can we make our diets more sustainable?

Many countries have begun to incorporate sustainability aspects in their FBDGs. Some have more robust guidelines than others, however it is encouraging to see that year on year there are more countries taking ownership of sustainable diets by involving their national governments. In the current FBDGs set out by several countries, there are many overlapping topics, such as: biodiversity, reduction of food waste and incorporating more plants into the diet. 3,4

At home sustainability practices

During the most recent Federation of European nutrition societies conference (FENS) held in Serbia, several member countries presented their FBDGs, how sustainability is incorporated and how the messages were rolled out to the national populations. They discussed their campaigns, how the projects were communicated to the public and some of the key themes. Denmark and Flanders in Belgium highlighted key messages discussing the importance of eating plant rich foods, increasing vegetable consumption, decreasing meat consumption, choosing wholegrains, choosing plant oil, reducing sweet/salty and fatty foods,quenching thirst with water and choosing sustainably sourced foods. 5

The Italian government has also created a dedicated sustainability chapter in their FBDGs that discusses aspects such as packaging, socio-economic sustainability and myth busting of mis-interpreted statements related to sustainability. 6

Several organizations have commented on how important it is that the principles of sustainability are led by experts in the field. By correctly establishing these requirements in relation to public health, national governments can guarantee adherence to policy and feel confident that they can begin to transform their current food systems. 7,8

What can we do ourselves today?

We can also adopt steps ourselves in addition to FBDGs to eat in a more sustainable way. Variety in the diet is very important to ensure that we’re getting enough nutrients and fueling our bodies with enough energy. By incorporating more fruit, vegetables, and plant-based sources, we’re contributing to additional diversity. This in turn helps the planet.

Often we are told about how it is easier for the nutrients from meat to be absorbed in the body. However, there are ways that we can help the absorption of nutrients from plant-based sources too. For example, having a source of vitamin C (such as a glass of fresh orange juice with a meal) can assist with the absorption of iron. The KHNI have written a piece on this that explains this topic in more detail, if you wish to access, click the link below:

Nutrition for Plant-based Diets: Managing Nutrient Intake and Bioavailability (

In addition to increased diversity in the diet, we can aim to reduce the amount of high fat, salt and sugar foods in the diet (HFSS). This is effective to reduce carbon production as the production of these foods contribute the greenhouse gas emissions along with high water consumption. 9,10

Food waste also contributes a large component to climate change with approximately one third of food produced each year being wasted prior to consumption.11 This is why it is important to minimise food waste where we can by only purchasing what we are going to consume, eating seasonally and understanding the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.12,13


As we move toward transforming how we consume and produce food, we need to consider the role that achieving a sustainable food system will play in the future of food production. Many countries are including sustainable recommendations as part of their food based dietary guidelines to encourage their population to reflect on the environmental as well as the health impact of their food choices. Many governments globally have stressed the importance of citizen buy-in to ensure the effective implementation of these guidelines. Sustainability is a key word for our public to be aware of and by strengthening their understanding of this, it will be easier to integrate environmental recommendations into public health legislation and policy. Sustainability is everywhere, including in the food that we consume.

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