Food-Level Analysis to Identify Dietary Choices With the Highest Nutritional Quality and Lowest Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Price

Magaly Aceves Martins* (Corresponding Author), Ruth Slater, Leone Craig, Neil Chalmers, Graham Horgan, Bram Boskamp, Baukje de Roos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Introduction: Food systems are challenged to provide healthy, sustainable and affordable foods. From a consumer perspective, identifying healthy, sustainable and affordable choices based on individual food products rather than diets could promote better shopping choices.

Objective: To identify foods and drinks with the highest nutritional quality and lowest greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and price. We also assessed how a combination of these indicators (e.g., nutritional quality, GHGE and price) for food categories aligned with current United Kingdom dietary recommendations.

Materials and Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) nutrient databank year 11 (2018/2019). Spearman correlation coefficients were used to assess the strength of relationships between nutritional quality, environmental impact and/or prices per 100 kcal. In addition, we developed an optimized nutritional quality, GHGE and price score for each food or drink item based on the overall medians for each of these indicators.

Results: Median nutritional value was highest for fruit and vegetables, whilst median GHGE and price was lower for starchy carbohydrates, fats and items of which consumption should be limited. The relative proportions of foods considered the most nutritious and with a low GHGE and price in each of the food categories, on a per 100 kcal basis, were comparable to the proportions in the Eatwell Guide, except for the proportion of fruits and vegetables being smaller and the proportion of potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and other starchy carbohydrates being larger in our analysis.

Conclusion: Public health efforts should consider the impact of dietary choices not only in terms of nutritional quality but also in terms of environmental and economic impact. Our food-based analysis shows a large variation in nutritional quality, GHGE and price within and across food categories, which provides consumers with opportunities for “food swaps” that are more nutritious and have lower GHGE and price.
Original languageEnglish
Article number851826
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) and responsive opportunity funding from the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI).

Data Availability Statement

The datasets presented in this article are not readily available because described in the manuscript and R code will be available upon request pending application and approval from the authors and the institute. Requests to access the datasets should be directed to BR,


  • nutritional quality
  • sustainability
  • GHGE (greenhouse gas emissions)
  • ational diet and nutrition survey (NDNS)
  • food prices


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