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The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines

20 January 2020


Original research

In their 2020 review, experts from the EAT Foundation analysed the health and environmental implications of adopting national food based dietary guidelines (FBDG) for 85 countries plus two sets of global sustainable dietary guidelines: the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet and the World Health Organization recommendations.

Study overview

The researchers initially compared current intakes to the various recommendations from national and global dietary guidelines. They then modelled the impact of adherence to each of the dietary guidelines and compared to six policy-led health and environmental targets, including: mortality from chronic diseases, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe), freshwater use, cropland use, and fertilizer application.

Key findings

Compared to current mean dietary intakes, nationally dietary guidelines generally recommend:

  1. More fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains as well as milk, fish and eggs

  2. Less meat, especially red and processed meat and less sugar

Additionally, the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet recommends increased intakes of legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and decreased consumption of all animal-based foods, with the exception of fish and poultry. The WHO dietary guidelines also recommend an increase in wholegrains and reduction in processed meat consumption, compared to current global intakes.

The researchers estimated the health and environmental impacts that could be achieved if populations adhered to dietary guidelines. They observed:

  • One-third of the national dietary guidelines were incompatible with the agenda on non-communicable diseases

  • Only a small percentage of national dietary guidelines were in line with meeting environmental targets for GHGe (13%), land use (22%), fresh water consumption (33%) and nitrogen fertilizer use (11%)

  • Two-thirds of national dietary guidelines met two or less of the six targets studied

  • The EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet was associated with 34% greater reductions in premature mortality, more than three times greater reductions in GHGe, and general attainment of the global health and environmental targets

Download the EAT Lancet Diets for Better Future Report


Springmann and team concluded that adherence to national dietary guidelines would improve population health and reduce dietary environmental impact, however in most cases the improvements are not adequate to meet environmental targets. Further development of national dietary guidelines is needed to meet current targets for a sustainable diet.

The EAT Foundation is calling national health authorities to update their national dietary guidelines taking health and environmental benefits into account. Limiting the consumption of animal-derived foods, in particular beef and dairy, has the greatest potential for increasing the environmental sustainability of dietary guidelines. Increasing the intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, while reducing the intake of red and processed meat, and attaining balanced energy intake were associated with most of the health benefits.

They concluded that national guidelines could be both healthier and more sustainable if they were closer to the EAT Planetary Health diet which is a predominantly plant-based diet.


  1. Springmann M, Spajic L, Clark MA et al. The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study BMJ 2020;370 :m2322 doi:10.1136/bmj.m2322

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The healthiness and sustainability of national and global food based dietary guidelines: modelling study

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