Trinity College: New study shows Irish diet is unsustainable nutritionally, financially & ethically

Yvonne O'Halloran

Two new reports published by researchers from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences found that the Irish diet is rich in unsustainable foods which is leading to nutritional and financial problems. Ireland’s love of these foods are causing global warming and nitrogen pollution so change needs to happen.

One of the research papers, was an assessment that was performed on the Irish diet by comparing it with the EAT-Lancet Commission ‘planetary healthy’ reference diet. The key findings were that:

  1. The Irish diet is rich in unsustainable food items.
  2. Multiple sources of animal protein in our diets such as farmed fish, lamb and pork score poorly from a nutritional-financial cost perspective.
  3. Adopting the EAT-Lancet ‘planetary healthy’ reference diet could result in major financial savings per capita per day, increased nutritional density of the Irish diet, and up to 57% reduction in diet associated Global Warming Potential (GWP).
  4. Alcohol consumption accounts for 25% of Irelands daily nutritional cost.

The second report examined European countries and discovered similar issues. The key findings of this report included:

  1. As countries get ‘richer’, meat consumption increases and the ‘healthfulness’ of diets declines.
  2. It was found that no mediterranean country actually follows the true ‘Mediterranean diet’ – traditionally comprising lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and some seafood.
  3. The European diet is particularly unsustainable given the dependency on red meat, cereals, dairy and animal fats.
  4. Alcohol consumption is almost five times the calorie intake of legumes.
  5. Adopting the EAT-Lancet ‘planetary healthy’ reference diet could result in per capita per day decreases of up to 50% in reduction in diet associated Global Warming Potential (GWP).

The lead author in both papers and the assistant professor in botany in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences-Mike Williams, stated that diets around the world have become ‘more westernised, less healthy and more damaging to the environment’. He  explained that our poor dietary choices have lead us to health problems like ‘obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease and colon cancer.’

“The agriculture sector accounts for 26% of global warming, and in terms of mitigating the effects of agricultural nitrogen pollution, was costing each European approximately $1000 a year according to the 2011 European Nitrogen Assessment.”

“Effective change can be achieved only through education. Our research hopefully adds to the considerable database on sustainable foods, sustainable diets and informed dietary choice – but from an Irish perspective.”

Researchers say that major improvements are possible if Ireland adopts the EAT-Lancet ‘planetary healthy’ reference diet. This report details that a global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double while the consumption of red meat and sugar must be reduced if we are to achieve the goal of feeding 10 billion people by 2050.


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