Food production has an impact on the environment, for instance through land use, water consumption, acidification, eutrophication and soil depletion. Sustainable food is defined as food that meets people’s nutritional needs, both now and in the future, while at the same time protecting ecosystems.

RIVM is exploring what is needed in the Netherlands to achieve dietary habits that are both environmentally friendly and healthy. To that end, we are compiling and connecting data about food consumption and environmental impact. For instance, RIVM is working on a database that can indicate the environmental footprint of producing one kilogram of a food product. The Food Consumption Survey has shown us how much of a product we eat on a daily basis here in the Netherlands.

The EPIC cohort study has been following 40,000 Dutch people for 30 years to study developments in lifestyle (including nutrition) and health issues. By combining data, we can identify the environmental impact of dietary habits, making it possible to study the relationship between the environmental impact of dietary patterns and health results. We are also carrying out scenario studies to determine the environmental impact and nutritional value in various patterns of consumption. For instance, what would change if we only eat meat twice a week? Would eating according to the Wheel of Five be more environmentally friendly? Will we be healthier if we eat according to more environmentally friendly principles? And how can we decrease food waste?

4 steps towards a more sustainable dietary pattern:

Based on our studies, the following four steps can be taken towards a sustainable diet:

  1. Choose more plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods. Meat, dairy and cheese account for most of the daily greenhouse gas emissions of the Dutch diet. More plant-based food consumption is needed to achieve healthier as well as environmentally friendly diets. 
  2. Prevent water scarcity and global water use by choosing for seasonal products. Choose for example Dutch seasonal fruits like apples and pears instead of imported fruits.  
  3. Choose tap water , tea and coffee instead of (non-)alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks and juices to lower water use of the diet?. This also reduces  greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Choose a balanced diet and reduce overconsumption. Overconsumption causes avoidable environmental degradation and increased energy intake.