Research supporting Diet for a Green Planet

In the fall of 2019, Project MatLust initiated an update of Diet for a Green Planet. Part of this work is carried out by the researcher Johanna Björklund at Örebro University who has compiled references for further reading linked to the criteria of Diet for a Green Planet. Below you may read more about the research that supports the food concept.

(Criteria Diet for a Green Planet)
1. Tasty and healthy

EAT (2019) Healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Food planet health. Summary report of EAT Lancet commission.

Healthy and sustainable diets for 10 billion, is this possible to achieve and what do this diets constitute? 

Wood, A., Gordon, L. J., Röös, E., Karlsson, J. O.,  Häyhä, T.,  Bignet, V.,  Rydenstam, T., Hård af Segerstad, L. & Bruckner, M. (2019)  Nordic food systems for improved health  and sustainability. Baseline assessment to inform transformation. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm.

Provides scientific underpinning for the transformation of Nordic food systems in order to meet the EAT-Lancet (2019) healthy eating targets.

Tilman, D. & Clark M. 2014. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature, 5:518-522. [online] doi:10.1038/nature13959

The global transition of traditional diets to diets with more refined sugar, refined oil and meat results in increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased land use and impaired health.

(Criteria Diet for a Green Planet)
2. Organic, preferably from Ecological Regenerative Agriculture

Organic food and health

Hurtado-Barroso, S., Tresserra-Rimbau, A., Vallverdú-Queralt, A., & Lamuela-Raventós, R.M. 2017. Organic food and the impact on human health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,. 59 (4):704–714. [online] doi 10.1080/10408398.2017.1394815

Review of the present state of knowledge on health effects of consumption of organic food. More studies are needed but the review shows that there are positive health effects of eating organic food. This may be due to higher content of bioactive compounds and lower content of unhealthy substances such as cadmium, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in organic compared to conventional food.

Mie, A., Andersen, H.R., Gunnarsson, S., Kahl, J., Kesse-Guyot, E., Rembialkowska, E., Quaglio, G. & Grandjean, P. 2017 Human health implication of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review.  Environmental Health, 16:111 [online] doi 10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4

Review of the present state of knowledge on health effects of consumption of organic food. Consumption of organic foods may reduce the risk of allergic disease, overweight and obesity. More research is needed to sort out residual confounding effects, due to that consumption of organic food is closely correlated to other changes in lifestyles that may be beneficial for health.

Ecological recycling agriculture and nutrient leakage

Larsson, M. 2016. Towards a sustainable food system. Entrepreneurship, resilience and agriculture in the Baltic Sea region. Doctoral thesis in Planning and Decision analysis with a specialisation in Environmental strategic analysis, Stockholm University, Stockholm.

The thesis demonstrates, by scaling up empirical findings, that a conversion to ecological recycling agriculture in the entire Baltic Sea area may lead to a reduction of the nitrogen surplus in the agriculture with 47- 61% and would eliminate the phosphorous surplus, with a stable food production. 

Granlund K., Rankinen, K., Etheridge, R., Seuri, P., & Lehtoranta, J. 2015.  Ecological recycling agriculture can reduce inorganic nitrogen losses – model results from three Finnish catchments. Agricultural Systems, 133:167-176.

The study indicates that ecological recycling agriculture may be an efficient measure to reach nitrogen reduction targets set for agriculture in the Baltic Sea Action plan.

Granstedt, A., Schneider, T., Seuri, P.  & Thomsson, O. 2008. Ecological recycling Agriculture to reduce nutrient pollution to the Baltic Sea. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 26(3):279-307. [online] Doi 10.1080/01448765.2008.9755088

Results from nutrient balances at 12 Swedish farms indicate that the emissions of reactive nitrogen could be halved and phosphorus losses minimized with a conversion to ecological recycling agriculture.

Stein-Bachinger, K., Reckling, M. Bachinger, J., Hufnagel, J., Koker, W. & Grantedt, A. 2015. Ecological recycling agriculture to enhance agro-ecosystem services in the Baltic Sea region: Guidelines for implementation. Land, 4:737-753 [online] doi 10.3390/land4030737

Organic and biodiversity

Tuck, S.L., Winqvist, C., Mota, F., Ahnström, J., Turnbull, L.A. & Bengtsson, J. 2014. Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology, 51:746–755. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12219

An updated hierarchical meta-analysis comparing biodiversity at organic and conventional farms. Organic production was found to increase the biodiversity with about 30 %. These results have been robust over the last 30 years of scientific studies. The authors also state that the effect of organic production is greater in more intensive cultivated landscapes.

Muller, C., de Baan, L. & Koeller, T. 2014. Comparing direct land use impacts on biodiversity of conventional and organic milk – based on a Swedish case study. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 19:52-68. Doi 10.1007/s11367-013-0638-5

The study demonstrates that organic dairy production has lower negative biodiversity impact from direct land use than conventional, even if the figures are corrected for larger land use due to lower yields.

Chamorro, L., Masalles, R.M. & Sans, F.X. 2016. Arable weed decline in Northeast Spain: Does organic farming recover functional biodiversity? Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 223:1–9

A Spanish study that reports a dramatic reduction of weed species important for birds, pollinators and other invertebrates in agriculture. A significant higher frequency, richness and weed cover were found in organic agriculture than in conventional. 

More in-deepth studies on organic vs. scale and landscape mosaik

Winqvist, C., Bengtsson, J, Aavik, T., Berendse, F., Clement, L.W., Eggers, S., Fischer, C., Flohre, A.,  Geiger, F.,  Liira, J., Pärt, T., Thies, C., Tscharntke, T., Weisser, W.W. & Bommarco, R. 2011. Mixed effects of organic farming and landscape complexity on farmland biodiversity and biological control potential across Europe. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48: 570–579. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01950.x

Winqvist, C., Ahnström, J. &  Bengtsson, J, 2012. Effects of organic farming on biodiversity and ecosystem services: taking landscape complexity into account. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1249:191–203. Doi 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06413.x

Gabriel,D., Sait, S. M., Hodgson, J.A., Schmutz, U., Kunin, W.E., & Benton, T.G. 2010. Scale matters: the impact of organic farming on biodiversity at different spatial scales. Ecology Letters, 13: 858–869. Doi 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01481.x

Gabriel,D., Sait, S. M., Kunin, W.E., & Benton, T.G. 2013.Food production vs. biodiversity: comparing organic and conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50:355–364. Doi 10.1111/1365-2664.12035

The greater biodiversity in organic agriculture is mainly due to lower yields according to this study.

Two international reports in the catastrophic situation for biodiversity:

IPBES. 2018. Summary for policymakers of the regional assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services for Europe and Central Asia of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. M. Fischer, M. Rounsevell, A. Torre-Marin Rando, A. Mader, A. Church, M. Elbakidze, V. Elias, T. Hahn, P.A. Harrison, J. Hauck, B. Martín-López, I. Ring, C. Sandström, I. Sousa Pinto, P. Visconti, N.E. Zimmermann and M. Christie (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

Hallmann, C.A., Sorg, M., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N., Schwan, H., Stenmans, W., Müller, A., Sumser, H., Hörren, T., Goulson, D. & de Kroon, D. More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12 (10): e0185809. pone.0185809

Organic production, regenerative agriculture and the environment

Trydeman Knutsson, M., Dorca-Preda, T., Njakou Djomo, S., Peña, N., Padel, S., Smith, L., Zollitsch, W., Hörtenhuber, S. & Hermansen, J. E. 2019. The importance of including soil carbon changes, ecotoxicity and biodiversity impacts in environmental life cycle assessments of organic and conventional milk in Western Europe. Journal of Cleaner Production, 215: 433-443.

Points on the importance of including changes in soil carbon, biodiversity and ecotoxicity in Life Cycle Assessments while comparing organic and conventional agriculture. The impact of organic dairy production on freshwater ecotoxicity, on biodiversity and resource depletion was 2 %, 33 % and 20 % of the impact of conventional production. The global warming potential of organic milk was 5-18 % less when changes in soil carbon was included, which resulted in similar or slightly lower climate impact for organic milk production compared to conventional. Similar results were shown for eutrophication and acidification.

(Criteria Diet for a Green Planet)
3. Less animal products, more vegetables, legumes and whole grains

Martin, M. & B Brandão, M. 2017 Evaluating the Environmental Consequences of Swedish Food Consumption and Dietary Choices. Sustainability 2017, 9, 2227; doi:10.3390/su9122227

Scenarios shows great reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of a halved meat consumption, and of vegetarian and vegan diets. A potential increased risk of higher human and ecosystem toxicity may be reduced by consuming organic food, which also may lead to a less damage on biodiversity.

Henk Westhoek, H., Lesschen J.P.,  Rood  T., Wagner S., De Marco, A., Murphy-Bokern, D., Leip, A., van Grinsven, H., Sutton, M.A. & Oenema, O. 2014. Food choices, health and environment: Effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake. Global Environmental Change 26 (2014) 196–205.

A broad study on the effects on health and the environment of reduced consumption of animal products. The results of the study, based on a model of consumption of animal products in the EU, show that a 50 % reduction would lead to a 40 % reduction in nitrogen emissions, a 25-40 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 23 % reduce of the land use for food production per year and person. It would also lower the food related health risk, due to a 40 % reduction in saturated fat intake that may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Godfray, H. C. J. Aveyard, P. Garnett, T. Hall, W.J. , Key, T.J. Lorimer, J., Pierrehumbert, R.T. Scarborough, P.,  Springmann, M., Jebb, S.A. 2018. Meat consumption, health, and the environment. Science 361, eaam5324. Doi 10.1126/science.aam5324

The study conclude that it will be impossible to feed an increasing global population with the quantity of meat currently consumed per person in most high-income countries without substantial negative effects on ecological sustainability.

Clark, M. & Tilman, D. 2017. Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice. Environmental Research Letters 12: 064016.

Results from the analysis indicate that a shift towards vegetarian diets and an increase in agriculture input use efficiency will have greater environmental benefits than a shift to organic agriculture.

More studies on the importance of a reduced meat consumption

Röös, E., Bajželj, B., Smith, P., Pater, M., Little, D. & Garnett, T. 2017. Protein futures for Western Europe: potential land use and climate impacts in 2050, Regional Environmental Change, 17: 367.

Röös, E., Bajželj, B., Smith, P., Pater, M., Little, D. & Garnett, T. 2017. Greedy or needy? Land use and climate impacts of food in 2050 under different livestock futures. Global Environmental Change ,47:1–12.

Pelletier, N. & Tyedmers, P. 2010. Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050. PNAS,107(43):18371–18374.

Relates to the concept of planetary boundaries. Compare climate changes, nutrient loads and biomass production globally from production of beef, chicken and soy.

Nijdam, D. Rood,  T. & Westhoek, H. 2012, The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes. Food Policy, 37: 760–770.

Reynolds, C.J. Buckley j.D., Weinstein, P., & Boland, J. 2014. Are the Dietary Guidelines for Meat, Fat, Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Appropriate for Environmental Sustainability?  A Review of the Literature. Nutrients, 6:2251-2265. Doi 10.3390/nu6062251

Two reports on meat consumption and environment

WWF. 2019. Meat guide.

Lööv, H. (red) 2013. Hållbar köttkonsumtion. Vad är det? Och hur når vi dit? Rapport 2013:1. Jordbruksverket, Jönköping.

(Criteria Diet for a Green Planet)
4. Locally produced in season

Niera, D.P., Fernández, S.X., Rodríguez, D.C., Montiel, M.S, & Delgado Cabeza, M. 2016. Analysis of the transport of imported food in Spain and its contribution to global warming. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: 31(1); 37–48. doi:10.1017/S1742170514000428

Analysis of food import in Spain showing that “food-miles” form food import represented 12 % of the greenhouse gas emissions, due to a volume equivalent to 25 % of the national food production. Products that could be produced within the country, such as cereals, meat, vegetables and fruits contributed in total to larger impact on global warming from transportation than the import of ”exotic” products, such as coffee, tea and spices.

Sandström, V., Valin, H., Krisztin, T.,  Havlík, P., Herrero, M. & Kastnerd, T. 2018. The role of trade in the greenhouse gas footprints of EU diets. Global Food Security, 19:48–55.

Emission intensity in production in the exporting country and the kind of food are decisive for climate impact from imported food. Generally, a shift towards more vegetarian diet is more important than origin the food.

Environmental benefits from food produced in Sweden

Martin, M., Oliveira, F., Dahlgren, L. & Thornéus, J. 2016. Environmental implications of Swedish food consumption and dietary choices. IVL, Stockholm.

Steinbach, N., Palm, V., Cederberg, C., Finnveden, G., Persson, L., Persson, M., Berglund, M.,Björk, I., Fauré, E. & Trimmer, C. 2018. Miljöpåverkan från svensk konsumtion – nya indikatorer för uppföljning. Slutrapport för forskningsprojektet PRINCE. Naturvårdsverket, Stockholm.  

Jordbruksverket (2018) Hållbar produktion och konsumtion av mat. Rapport 2018:17

(Criteria Diet for a Green Planet)
5. Reduced waste

Eriksson, M., Persson Osowski, Malefors, C., Björkman, J., & Eriksson, E.  2017. Quantification of food waste in public catering services – A case study from a Swedish municipality. Waste Management, 61: 415–422.

An inventory from public kitchens in the municipality of Sala that found that the food waste averaged 23 % of the food served, but the difference between the kitchens were large. The serving waste was 64 % of total food waste, while the plate waste 33 %.  Kitchens that received food produced in other kitchens had 42 % larger waste than kitchens that prepared all food them self.

Engström & Carlsson-Kanyama 2004. Food losses in food service institutions. Examples from Sweden. Food Policy, 29: 203–213. Doi 10.1016/j.foodpol.2004.03.004

An inventory of food waste in school kitchens in the municipality of Stockholm showing that on-fifth of the food was wasted and that the plate waste was the largest.

National and international reports on food waste

FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome.

FAO. 2013. Food wastage footprint. Impact on natural resources. Summary report.

FAO. 2014. Food wastage footprint. Full- cost accounting. Final report.

FAO. 2015. Food wastage footprint and climate change.

Elander 2016. Matavfall i Sverige. Uppkomst och behandling. Rapport Naturvårdsverket, Stockholm. 

Livsmedelsverket, Jordbruksverket, Naturvårdsverket (utan årtal) Slutrapport Regeringsuppdrag för minskat matsvinn 2013-2015. En bra start.

Naturvårdsverket. 2009. Minskat svinn av livsmedel i svenska skolkök. Erfarenheter och framgångsfaktorer. Rapport 5979, Stockholm

Maria Micha

Research related collaborations, MatLust
Tel: +46 8 523 064 40

Latest update: 21 December 2020
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The scientific basis

Dietary Guidelines from Swedish National Food Agency Diet for a Green planet's guidelines for healthy eating habits are based on […]

Other reports

Here you can read about the scientific background of Diet for a Green Planet. Here we list examples of research […]


The municipality of Södertälje has for a long time participated in various types of development projects to drive the work […]

Diet for a Green Planet is a concept by Södertälje kommun via the project MatLust