Understanding sustainable diets

Bearing the fruits of action

Four papers, three published in high impact peer-reviewed journals, further our understanding of sustainable diets.

Four papers, three published in high impact peer-reviewed journals, further our understanding of sustainable diets. 

Each paper is co-authored by Bioversity International scientists from the Nutrition and Marketing Diversity Programme, including Programme Leader Dr Bruce Cogill and post-doctoral Research Fellow, Thomas Allen. The papers are a result of collaboration with key partners and include contributions from Jessica Fanzo, member of Bioversity International’s Board of Trustees Inc. USA and expert in the fields of nutrition, immunology and biodiversity.

Speaking of the importance of this research, Programme Leader Bruce Cogill said:

"Choosing food forces us to consider a wide range of issues. Cost, quality, taste, the impact on our nutrition and health, and the impact on the environment are just some of the issues we think about. What we are doing is looking carefully at sustainable food and diets, what it means, how to measure it and how best to provide the best evidence to policymakers, farmers, manufacturers and consumers for the choices to be made. We are concerned about the impact of climate change, increasing population and diversity loss. By studying sustainable food systems, we will be in a better position to deal with some of the determinants of these changes and threats to food and nutrition security. The study of sustainable food systems enables us to understand how producing and choosing the right foods that meet our nutritional needs and minimize the impact on the ecosystems that are critical to our future. These papers provide a conceptual and practical basis for what is a sustainable diet, how to measure it and what can be done to improve policies and programmes."

Understanding sustainable diets: A descriptive analysis of the determinants and processes that influence diets and their impact on health, food security and environmental sustainability
Understanding the determinants, factors and processes that comprise a sustainable diet is increasingly important in an era of economic growth, rising incomes, climate change and dietary transitions. This open access paper examines five major determinants of sustainable diets (agriculture, health, sociocultural, environmental, socioeconomic) and their complex inter-relations. The authors present a causal model and framework from which to build tools to enable policymakers and consumers to better realize the potential benefits of sustainable diets and mitigate risks associated with unsustainable agricultural and consumption practices.


Agricultural biodiversity, socio-ecological systems and sustainable diets
In 2013, a joint meeting between the Belgian Nutrition Society and Société Française de Nutrition held in France, examined Sustainable Diets and Food Security. This paper, which came out of this meeting, proposes a review and conceptual modelling framework that articulate the synergies and tradeoffs between dietary diversity, widely recognized as key for healthy diets, and agricultural biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions - the benefits that people get from nature such as pollination, clean air and water, and natural pest and disease control.  


Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Sustainability and food and nutrition security: A vulnerability assessment framework for the Mediterranean region
This open access paper outlines for the first time an approach to develop metrics and guidelines to measure the sustainability of diets in a way that useful to inform stakeholders, measure change and aid decision-making processes at regional and national scales. The authors propose the conceptual framework to do this, moving from theory to practice, forming the basis for wider application. This paper is part of an ongoing collaborative process drawing upon the expertise of academics, researchers, consumers and policymakers from over 35 institutions throughout the world.


Metrics of sustainable diets and food systems. Technical brief
This brief describes a challenging and innovative research agenda implemented by Bioversity International and its partners to describe and measure sustainable diets and food systems. It builds on the early work of Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and Bioversity International to understand sustainable diets, identifying the rich cultural history of our food and the very real concerns about access and cost of foods as considerations within the ultimate goal of improving nutrition and health.

  • Download the paper here: 
    2012 Fanzo J.; Cogill B.; Mattei F. Metrics of Sustainable Diets and Food Systems. Technical Brief. Rome: Bioversity International; 2012. 8 p

Read more about our work on sustainable diets.

This story is part of the 2014 Annual Report