Eating habits in Sweden don’t need to change much to be better for both the climate and health. With more plant-based foods, your diet-related greenhouse gas emissions can decrease by up to 53%, according to new research.

– Based on the latest representative food consumption survey Riksmaten 2010, we show that through optimization analysis, a diet can be developed that is both healthier and more climate-friendly than the average diet in Sweden.  The results show that it is absolutely possible without too drastic changes, says Liselotte Schäfer Elinder, professor at the Karolinska Institutet and one of the researchers behind the study.

A universal diet is not the only solution
In 2019 the EAT-Lancet Commission developed a healthy universal diet which does not exceed planetary boundaries. The new research from Karolinska Institutet shows that there are many variations of a Swedish diet that deviate from the EAT-Lancet diet but are still both climate-friendly and healthy.
– With this method, the diet can be adapted to different groups’ preferences and needs while meeting all nutritional recommendations and WWF’s recommendation for greenhouse gas emissions of 1.6 kg per day from food. The cost of food does not increase either, says Liselotte Schäfer Elinder. 

More plant-based
The most significant change we need to make is to replace some animal products on our plate with plant-based products.
– We can continue to eat the same foods but change the balance between animal products and plant-based ones, says Liselotte Schäfer Elinder. Many of us adults also need to eat a little less, especially foods and beverages with high levels of sugar, salt, saturated fat, and alcohol, to maintain a lower body weight. This would also lower the environmental impact and save some money for households.

A relatively simple transition
The hope is that the study can be of importance in helping people understand the changes they need to make in their diet and that it leads to change.
– By showing that this can be done relatively easy, that you don’t need to become vegetarian or completely give up animal products while also explaining why it’s so important, I believe it can get many people to take small steps in the right direction and change food consumption, says Liselotte Schäfer Elinder.

Klara Vedin

Read the full scientific article “Developing a novel optimization approach for keeping heterogeneous diets healthy and within planetary boundaries for climate change” here.

Liselotte Schäfer Elinder, Adjunct Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm
+46 8 123 37191