Carbon Footprinting Dietary Choices in Ontario: A life cycle approach to assessing sustainable, healthy & socially acceptable diets
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Recent studies have established the link between food consumption and its broad impact on the environment. However, environmental implications of dietary choices have not been previously studied in Canada. Given geographic variations of eating habits and environmental impacts, this study aims to explore current dietary patterns and their environmental implications in Ontario. This exploratory study assesses the environmental impact of seven dietary patterns and investigates the role of nutrition and dietary guidelines in evaluating sustainability of diets. Food baskets representing each dietary pattern were formed based on data obtained from dietary recall survey. Using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), greenhouse gas emissions were estimated for farm operations, processing, distribution and household processes associated with current food consumption. Canada’s dietary guidelines were used to assess the nutritional quality of current diets and propose nutritionally optimal dietary changes. Results showed that Ontario population overconsumes protein. Popular dietary patterns including foods rich in animal protein exhibit the highest impact. This interdisciplinary approach helps combine nutritional and environmental research which can facilitate the formulation of environmentally friendly, healthy and socially acceptable diets. The study outlines key limitations in diet-related LCA, provides recommendations for improvement and serves as a primer for further diet-related research in Canada.