25 Sep 2020

Every shopping basket allows insights into the themes of our daily lives. Choices reveal the availability of money and time, skills, culture and heritage, age and status. Retailers mirror this in their products, ensuring that they match what customers want. Most grocery retailers, like Aldi, also have their own strategies around health, wellbeing and sustainability as part of their commitments to responsible business.

Most shoppers have an interest in the pricing of items. Many shoppers have an interest in the nutritional quality of items. Increasingly, environmental and ethical issues drive differentiation of choices made. These are complex issues and this project looks at an approach to modelling a healthy, sustainable basket of popular foods with a further emphasis on meeting being affordable. We focus on small, achievable shifts in popular food choices which demonstrate the choices people can make to move towards recommendations for healthier and more sustainable shopping baskets.

Our basket

Recognisable food packaging has been used in the infographic for ease of application by Aldi customers. However, this is not an endorsement of these brands as healthier or more nutritious than similar products and generally the foods are available elsewhere in similar sizes and formats.

Criteria and approach

What we did

Criteria were defined for products, which were to be included in our healthy, sustainable, affordable basket. There is a discussion of these measures in the tabs across the top of this resource.

A Nutritious Shopping Basket

  • Balanced against the Eatwell Guide proportions (see 'nutritious tab' for more information)
  • Provides 40% by weight fruit and vegetables, variety of types and colours
  • Provides at least two serving of fish, one oily fish
  • At least half by weight grain and cereal choices are wholegrain
  • Not exceeding weekly red meat (beef, lamb, pork) maximum of 500g
  • No processed meats
  • Preference for less saturated fats options
  • At least one fortified breakfast cereal
  • No red ‘traffic lights’ for salt and avoid for sugar1

An Environmentally Sustainable Shopping Basket (see below)

  • Achieve significant progress towards Eating Better Alliance dietary targets of half (current average) amounts of total meat and dairy by 2030
  • More plant protein foods: at least 50% proteins from non-animal sources
  • Low amounts of red meat
  • Fish from certified origin sources
  • No bottled liquids (apart from milk)
  • Preference for non-air-freighted fresh product

An Affordable Basket

  • Costs less than the Office of National Statistics average weekly basket

The basket is for a UK household, with no defined number of people. It represents one shopping occasion, not necessarily a week’s shopping.

Our realistic approach to developing the basket

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) and DEFRA have lists of standard food and drink item, which reflect items bought by households. We have used the ONS food and drink categories as a basis to ensure our basket covers all commonly purchased items.

In order to align with our healthier and more environmentally sustainable goals, we made the following modifications:

  • Removal of categories represented in the ‘Eat less often and in small amounts’ section of the Eatwell Guide e.g. biscuits, muffins, pastries, crisps, ice-cream, chocolate, sugary fizzy drinks
  • Removal of alcohol and bottled drinks
  • Removal of butter as oil and spread included
  • Condensing beef and pork to a single ‘meat’ category in order to allow sufficient reduction of animal protein
  • Removal of unusual category of ‘dried vegetables’ and replacement with a new category ‘legumes’

In addition to the ONS categories, the market researcher Kantar have compiled a list of most frequently purchased items  , based on how many times theaverage UK household buys items per year). Their top 9 food and drink items in the October 2019 (source available on file) by order frequency are:

  • Milk, sliced bread, apples, ham, cheddar cheese, bananas, eggs, carrots, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.

These items are all included in our reference basket, with the exception of ham, a processed meat and hence excluded by the ‘Nutritious’ basket criteria. In this basket, ham has been replaced with sliced beef to mirror the eating occasion.

Using the ONS categories for guidance, along with the top Kantar items, products  for inclusion in our shopping basket were considered based on Aldi’s core product range and used sales data to ensure products selected were popular purchased items, working to make sure that foods selected were familiar and realistic. At least one item per ONS category was chosen, but in many cases several items were selected to achieve the Eatwell Guide section proportions e.g. there are five items in the category ‘Preserved or processed vegetables’.

We matched items chosen with criteria set out for the themes 1) nutritious, and 2) environmentally sustainable. Then, the nutritional composition and product weight were taken into consideration to match the proportions in the Eatwell Guide (calculated by total weights of foods and half weights of liquids).

The fresh fruits and fresh vegetables were chosen, firstly by the Kantar list (apples, bananas and carrots) and then using the available sales data to choose popular and familiar items with a preference to choices which are UK grown at least 5 months of the year and are robust (to reduce food waste). The weight totals to achieve proportions set out in the Eatwell Guide.

Basket contents

Category (from ONS)*

 

Item

Fruit and veg (40%)

Fresh fruit

  1. 4 loose bananas
  2. 6 small royal gala apples
  3. 5 mini pears
  4. Bunch red grapes (500g)
 

Tinned / frozen fruit

  1. 350g Raspberries, frozen, Four Seasons
  2. 410g *250g* Peaches, slices in juice, Four Seasons
 

Vegetables

  1. Carrots – 500g (7-8 carrots)
  2. Onions – 3 medium white
  3. Broccoli (whole head)
  4. White cabbage (small)
  5. Courgettes (3 medium)
  6. White button mushrooms (20)
  7. Cucumber (medium)
 

Preserved or processed vegetables

  1. 340g *285g* Sweetcorn, tinned, Four Seasons
  2. 400g Tomatoes, chopped, tinned, Di Leo
  3. 200g Tomato puree, concentrated, Cucina
  4. 907g Garden Peas, frozen, Everyday Essential
  5. 440g *154g* Beetroot, baby, Bramwells

Starchy foods (37%)

Bread, rice and cereals

  1. 800g, Bread, wholemeal, soft, thick sliced, Village Bakery
  2. 8 = 450g Wraps, Super Soft, Seeded, Village Bakery
  3. 150g Crispbreads, spelt & muesli, Foodie Market
  4. 250g Oatcakes rough, Savour Bakes
  5. 6 = 330g Crumpets, fluffy, Village Bakery
  6. 36 = 684g Breakfast cereal, wheat bisks, Harvest Morn
  7. 1kg, Porridge oats, Everyday Essentials
  8. 1 kg  Rice, brown/wholegrain, Worldwide
  9. 220g Malt loaf, Village Bakery
 

Pasta products

  1. 500g Fusilli, Cucina
  2. 500g Spaghetti, whole wheat, Cucina
 

Potatoes

  1. White baking potatoes, 4
 

Other tubers and products of tuber vegetables

  1. 500g Sweet potato fries, frozen, Champion

Dairy foods (8%)

Milk

  1. 2 pts semi-skimmed
  2. 1l soya drink (sweetened Actileaf)
 

Cheese and curd

  1. 200g Cheese, Cheddar mild, slices, Everyday Essentials
  2. 200g *125g* Mozzarella, Everyday Essentials

Protein foods (15%)

Meat (beef and pork)

  1. 130g sliced beef ready-to-eat peppered, slices, Ashfield Farm
 

Poultry

  1. 300g chicken breasts
 

Fish and fish products

  1. Cod fillets, The Fishmonger

 

  1. Salmon, pink, tinned, wild pacific, The Fishmonger
 

Eggs

  1. 6 Eggs, free range
 

Legumes (additional category)

  1. 400g *240g* Beans, mixed, tinned, Four Seasons    
  2. 500g Lentils, red split, Highland Kitchen
  3. 200g Houmous, The Deli
 

Dried fruit, nuts and seeds

  1. 280g Peanut butter, crunchy, The Foodie Market
  2. 200g Cashews, Everyday Essentials
  3. 250g Pumpkin seeds, Foodie Market

Oils, spreads / other

Margarine, other vegetable fats

  1. 500g Olive spread, Green Vale 
  2. 1l Sunflower oil, Solestra
  3. 80 tea bags, gold blend, Diplomat

Nutritious

About the UK’s healthy eating recommendations

The Eatwell Guide is the UK government’s food-based recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet (PHE 2016). This is a visual display of illustrative foods from five food groups, indicating the approximate proportions of each group that should be consumed over time, to provide a healthy and balanced diet.

The sections are: fruit and vegetables (40%), starchy foods (38%), protein foods (12%), dairy and alternatives (8%) and oils and spreads (1%). These targets vary from current typical UK diets, which are estimated as: fruit and vegetables (29%), starchy foods (27%), protein foods (20%), dairy and alternatives (14%) and ‘foods high in fats/sugar’ (10%) (Scarborough, 2017). This demonstrates the necessary shift from typical UK diets towards the recommended healthy, balanced diet.

Nutrient-based guidelines also exist and are used by dietitians in practice to tailor advice to individuals. The Eatwell Guide does not give quantities as these considerations depend on the individual.

Basket meets UK dietary guidelines                

 

Figure shows the % by weight of the foods in our basket as a % of the Eatwell Guide. The oil and spread was not included as these would be long-term items and their inclusion by weight would skew the proportions.

Basket meets our ‘nutritious’ criteria

  • Balanced against the Eatwell Guide proportions
  • Provides 40% by weight fruit and vegetables, variety of types and colours
  • Provides at two serving of fish, one oily fish
  • 70% wholegrains by weight
  • 130g red meat (below 500g upper weekly limit)
  • No processed meats
  • Preference for less saturated fats options in the dairy section
  • At least one fortified breakfast cereal
  • No red ‘traffic lights’ for salt or sugar (partially met*)

* Cheddar cheese is red traffic light for salt but included as slices to support portion control. Malt loaf has a red traffic light for sugar due to the dried fruit content

More sustainable

Defining an environmentally sustainable diet

In the UK the public are becoming more aware of how their eating habits impact on our planet. However, defining what is meant by a sustainable diet is difficult, and there is currently no consensus. Our section on other reports summarises some of the key reports which consider diet and environmental sustainability. It’s important to note that we are looking at the impact of an overall dietary pattern on the environment – not single products within the basket.

We have focussed on two key guidelines for our ‘environmentally sustainable’ criteria:

  • Overall, the scientific evidence consistently demonstrates some common traits between sustainable and healthy diets. In the main, the agreed shift is towards a shift to more plant-based proteins. The Carbon Trust analysis of the Eatwell Guide2 shows a lower environmental impact than the current UK diet attributed to a number of factors. The Carbon Trust estimates that if individuals moved from current eating patterns (NDNS 2010/2011) to the Eatwell Guide recommendations, it would give a 31% reduction in GHG emissions.
  • The Eating Better Alliance is supported by over 64 civil societies and professional organisations (including the British Dietetic Association). Their report ‘Better by Half: A roadmap to less and better meat and dairy’ detailed 24 actions across five sectors, with specific targets to reduce meat and dairy intakes in the UK diet by 50% in the next ten years (by 2030).

Basket Analysis

For our basket, we focus on meeting the Eatwell guide and achieving a significant shift towards the proportion of plant protein in the diet. This is a big shift, especially the Eating Better by Half targets, and this project demonstrates how dietitians are supporting the public on this journey, with a gradual approach towards 2030.

Reduced intakes and not avoidance of meat can significantly reduce our carbon foot print3. More recent UK consumption data (NDNS data set 2008/2009 and 2013/2014), further emphasise that increasing plant protein sources is key to reducing the environmental burden and improving the nutritional quality of the diet.

Achieving the criteria:

Criteria

Analysis

Achieve significant progress towards Eating Better Alliance dietary targets of half (current average) amounts of total meat and dairy by 2030

Estimates of weekly individual intakes of meat from the most recent DEFRA Family Food Survey (2017/18) ref report intakes of meat (carcase meat: beef & veal, mutton & lamb, pork plus non-carcase meat: bacon & ham, poultry, and convenience meat products) is 959g. This basket contains 430g (45%). The 2030 target of ‘half intakes’ is achieved.

Low amounts of red meat

The basket contains 130g of ruminant meat (beef or lamb), which less than half of UK population average weekly intakes4.

More plant protein foods: at least 50% proteins from non-animal sources

The 2030 target for half dairy intakes are also achieved. The DEFRA Survey weekly* individual intake of dairy figures are 3031g (as milk or equivalent). Our basket contains 893g (30%). The contribution of dairy plus alternatives (soya drink) within the basket matches proportions set out in the Eatwell Guide, and is just over half current ‘typical’ diet proportions (8% = Guide 8% vs ‘typical’ diet 14%). In the categories of Dairy & alternatives, and Protein foods, plant / animal  proteins are 368g vs 356g (51% proteins from plant). Further, some plant proteins will also be contained from foods in the Fruit & Vegetables and Starchy foods categories, so complete confidence can be given to the achievement of criteria for at least half of proteins from plant foods.

Fish from certified origin sources

The fish products have sustainable certifications – the tinned salmon and cod fillets are MSC accredited.

No bottled liquids (apart from milk)

The basket contains no liquids (other than milk and soya drink).

Preference for non-air-freighted fresh product

The issue of air-freight product is most linked to delicate fresh foods (fruit and vegetables), so this was considered (alongside the requirement to include the fresh items from the Kantar top 20 list). By weight, more was British or UK grown for the majority of the year if not all year around.

* We use weekly data as an indication only – no direct comparison is possible as our basket does not represent a week’s shopping

Packaging

Although retailers are working to minimise product packaging, it remains impossible for customers to do a packaging free shop in any mainstream supermarket. Packaging was a consideration in the product selection and we prioritised:

  • Tinned items which not only reduce food waste but are also fully recyclable from the kerbside
  • Loose fruit and vegetables wherever possible
  • Recyclable plastic bags on other fruit and vegetables
  • No black trays for the meat or fish as not commonly recyclable by local authorities
  • Minimal tetrapak products as not recycled at the kerbside

1. Based on front of pack labelling per serving.

2. The Carbon Trust. The Eatwell Guide: a more sustainable diet: methodology and results summary [Internet]. 2016 [cited Jul 2018]. https://www.carbontrust.com/media/672635/phesustainable-diets.pdf

3. Scarborough P, Appleby P, Mizdrak A et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fisheaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Clim Change.. 2014;125(2):179-92. https://link.springer.com/ article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

4. Reynolds C, Horgan GW, Whybrow S, Macdiarmid JI (2019). Healthy and sustainable diets that meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and are affordable for different income groups in the UK. Public Health Nutrition 22,8,1503-1517

More affordable

There is a perception that healthier eating, especially the higher consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, is more expensive, and we recognise that some communities have less choice.  Adults from lower income groups, for example, are known to be more likely to cite cost as an important influence on their eating habits.

There are many descriptions of relationships between economic incomes and assets, and household purchasing patterns in relation to food and drink. However, because there are always different methodologies, there will always be some variations in figures.

The Office for National Statistics1 calculate various measures used to define inflation including the Consumer Prices Index CPI (in line with EU standards) and the legacy Retail Prices Index (RPI). January 2019.

  • The financial year ending 2018 report showed average weekly household expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks from large supermarket chains to be £47.40, with additional purchases from other outlets to be £9.60, and from internet expenditures to be £4.00.

Other research, using varying methodologies and approaches has found that household weekly shopping estimates vary from £27.54 for a single person (DEFRA Annual Family Food survey. February 20202) to £61.90 for a household (ONS a Living Costs and Food Survey, March 2020).

Our basket is not defined for a particular household or person so comparisons cannot be made with these figures. However, at the time of this report the basket price was £43.95  which could be interpreted as affordable for most people in the context of the ONS data:

“Specific analysis by decile (tenth division) of disposable income, allows comparisons of spending choices. Average weekly household spend on food and non-alcoholic drink for financial year ending 2018, was £61.00, with ranges of £31 in the lowest ten per cent, and £92 in the highest ten per cent by income. For example, average spending on beef (fresh, chilled or frozen), was £2.00, contrasting with £0.90 in lowest decile compared to £3.50 in the highest decile. Expenditure on fresh fruit was 3.3 times higher, and fresh vegetables was 3.6 times higher, in highest compared to lowest decile groups. Predictably, absolute expenditure for every one of the 39 food and drink categories was higher in the highest income decile compared to the lowest decile.”

However, we must recognise that households on the lowest incomes may not find this basket affordable. Though we have aimed to select popular foods, low income households may not be able to afford to experiment with their shopping lists to this extent. This is where retailers can support with serving suggestions, recipes and even sampling and where our project can start to provide tangible information to support shoppers start their journey towards healthier and more sustainable baskets.

Diet quality, income and inequalities – why income matters in a discussion on food nutrition

The UK government definition of poverty is either relative (60% of UK median [50th percentile] income) or absolute (60% of UK median income in 2011 as reference). In the UK about 20% of households are described as living in poverty. Median UK household disposable income (post tax) in 2019 was £29,600.

The BDA believes that nobody should live in food poverty and that particular action should be taken to lift people out of food poverty and prevent others from falling into food poverty.

This aligns with Aldi’s position: “Access to affordable food is a right not a privilege”

There is much evidence that people on low incomes are less likely to access a healthy diet. Health inequalities and food poverty remain prevalent in the UK, and we must be especially mindful of this as our economy enters another recession and people are affected by job and income insecurity.

The Food Standards Agency report ‘Low income diet and nutrition survey (2007)’ was a very detailed survey captured quantitative food and nutrient intakes of 3728 individuals, described to be in the ‘bottom 15% of the population in terms of material deprivation’. While the survey does not describe expenditure details, it does describe the food and drink choices made in those on low incomes.

Compared to general population data, those on low incomes were less likely to consume wholemeal bread; more likely to consume soft drinks, processed meat, whole milk and table sugar. Nutritional analysis reported significant proportions of adults had low intakes of vitamins and minerals. More than 10% of adult women had ‘very low’ intakes of riboflavin, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. More than 10% of adult men had ‘very low’ intakes of vitamin A, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is funded by the Food Standards Agency and Public Health England. It is a continuous cross-sectional survey designed to collect information of food consumption, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the population. The current report is a review of Years 1 to 9 of the survey (OS, 2019). A NDNS publication in 2002 presented specific analysis of variations of food eaten by household in receipt of certain state benefits. Table sugar, whole milk, burgers & kebabs, meat pies and pastries were the food items consumed in greater amounts, compared to non-benefit households. In contrast, intakes of wholegrain bread and cereals, many types of fruit and vegetables, cottage cheese, yogurt, shellfish and oily fish were less likely to have been consumed in benefit households.

The Food Foundation is a charity with a mission to change food policy and business practice to ensure that everyone can afford, and has access to, a healthy diet. Their report Affordability of the Eatwell Guide (2018)3 carried out an analysis of costs of healthy diets (defined as matching Eatwell Guide description). In their analysis, families with lowest 20% by incomes would have to spend 42% of their after-housing incomes; this is four times the proportion spent by the highest 20% by income.

1. Office for National Statistics, ONS (2020). Living Costs and Food Survey. Family spending in the UK: April 2018 to March 2019. www.ons.gov.uk

2. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, DEFRA (2020). Family Food 2017/18. Annual report on household purchases of food and drink. www.gov.uk

3. Food Foundation: Scott C, Sutherland J, Taylor A, (2018). Affordability of the UK’s Eatwell Guide. www.foodfoundation.org.uk

UK reports on sustainable diets

There have been many UK reports and research projects since 2018 describing diets that are healthy (providing sufficient, but not excess, energy and nutrients), and that also consider diverse aspects of food production, processing and distribution in relation to environmental limits. Listed below are those that provide quantitative and/or qualitative advice on consumer food choices that align human and planetary health.

British Dietetic Association report One Blue Dot (BDA, 2018)

The BDA is the professional association and trade union for dietitians in the UK, and currently has nearly 10,000 members. The BDA issued a policy document on Sustainable Food in September 2013, updated in November 2017. In November 2018 the BDA issued a more detailed report produced by a small expert group: Eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability.

The expert group reviewed scientific literature on the nutrient intakes and patterns of UK diets and considered the emerging discussion of issues of environmental damage from the production of particular foods. The report considered in detail the themes of population-wide reductions of animal protein foods in relation to changes to intakes of particular nutrients and issued descriptive messages on the choice of sustainable diets for communication to the UK public.

The BDA environmentally sustainable diet recommendations for the UK population

Red meat

Avoid processed meats. Reduce intakes of red meat: 500g weekly maximum

Plant proteins

Increase

Fish

From sustainable sources

Dairy

Moderate intakes

Starchy foods

Recommend wholegrain

Fruits and vegetables

Increase intakes, especially seasonal and locally produced product, and tinned/ frozen. Reduce air freighted and pre-packed salad items

Portion control

Avoid high Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) foods. Reduce animal proteins and moderate dairy proteins

Hydration

Choose tap water and tea or coffee over soft drinks

Reduce food waste

Reduce, especially perishable fruit and vegetables. Recycle food waste

 

The One Blue Dot report recognised the particular nutritional requirements of some sub-groups of the population, such as pregnant women, young children or the elderly. For these groups, or for some people with medical conditions, further specific dietary guidance from dietitians was useful.

Reductions in animal source proteins generally, and with meats specifically, will result in the reduction of dietary intakes of some micronutrients. Dietitians advising on low meat or vegetarian diets, will consider intakes of iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin B12. Avoidance of fish may reduce intakes of iodine and the benefits of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. In many cases, fortified foods and/or the use of supplements would be recommended to ensure adequate intakes of particular micronutrients.

EAT-Lancet Commission report Food in the Anthropocene: healthy diets from sustainable food systems (Lancet, 2019)1

The EAT-Lancet commission is made up of 37 experts from 16 countries. The commission secretariat is based at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Stordalen foundation and the EAT foundation. Although the inputs and perspectives for this report are international, the project is hosted by the UK medical publication The Lancet.

The commission reviewed global targets for healthy diets defined to reduce premature deaths from chronic disease, and food production that affected planetary boundaries. Reference to boundaries directly linked to food production were assessed by six measures including, greenhouse gas emissions, cropland and water use, nitrogen and phosphorus application, and biodiversity scores.

The commission calculated a global healthy reference diet to achieve adequate and balanced macro- and micro-nutrient intakes (calculated from US nutritional recommendations) for an intake of 2500 kcals/day. These are reference figures that would obviously need adjustment for the current nutritional status of different global populations, and to allow for cultural and economic variations in relation to food consumption. For example, red meat consumption in Sub-Saharan and South Asian diets is below the EAT-Lancet dietary reference; global average diets exceed red meat reference levels by nearly three-fold; North American diets exceed levels by over six-fold.

EAT-Lancet healthy reference diet for 2500 kcal/day

 

Food intakes, g/day   

UK dietary estimates*

Energy intakes, kcal/day

Wholegrain – dry weight

 

 

 

Rice, wheat, corn and other

232

 

811

Tubers or starchy vegetables

 

 

 

Potatoes and cassava

50                           

96 ; 76

39

Vegetables

 

 

 

All vegetables

300                          

162 ; 162

 

Dark green vegetables

100

 

23

Red and orange vegetables

100

 

30

Other vegetables

100

 

25

Fruits

 

 

 

All fruit

 200                      

157 ; 132

126

Dairy foods

 

 

 

Whole milk or equivalents* 

 250                      

433; 221 (milk) + 51 (other dairy products)

153

Protein sources

 

 

 

Beef and lamb

7              

137 (beef.lamb.pork.poultry); 103 (as above)

15

Pork

7

 

15

Chicken and poultry

29

 

62

Eggs

13                        

17 ; 15

19

Fish

28                         

20 ; 17

40

Legumes – dry weight

 

 

 

Dry beans, lentils and peas

50             

? ; 30 (beans.nuts.seeds)

172

Soya foods

25

 

112

Peanuts

25

 

142

Tree nuts

25

 

149

Added fats

 

23

 

Palm oil

7

 

60

Unsaturated oils

40

 

354

Dairy fats

0

 

0

Lard or tallow

5

 

36

Added sugars

 

 

 

All sweeteners

31

 

120

* UK diet approximation (both not directly comparable figures). First figure from DEFRA Family Food Survey 2018. Second figure from Reynolds (2019), UK population average diet, from NDNS 2013

* 250g milk produces about ‘one tenth weight cheese’ i.e. about 25g medium-hard cheese

EAT-Lancet healthy reference diet for 2500kcal/day (summary chart)

 

Food intakes g/day

Energy intakes, kcal/day

Grains, preferably wholegrain

232

811

Plant protein foods

97

615

Vegetables

300

78

Fruits

200

126

Added fats

52

450

Dairy – milk or equivalent

250

153

Animal protein foods

56

111

Tubers

50

39

Sugars

31

120

 

Compared to the EAT-Lancet diet, current typical UK diets contain less fruits and vegetables, less fish, and less legumes, but more starchy tubers, more meat and dairy foods, and more sugars.

EAT-Lancet diet consumer messages (a selection)

  • Embrace plants as a source of protein. Aim to consume at least 125g of dry beans, lentils, peas and other nuts or legumes per day
  • Go easy on meat consumption. Excess meat can harm health and the planet. Aim to consume no more than 98g of red meat (pork, beef or lamb), 203g of poultry and 196g of fish per week
  • Approach food in moderation. Consuming too much food can lead to weight gain and other problems. Take time to share meals with family and friends
  • Cook more at home. Cooking and preparing food at home provides opportunities for shared family time
  • Waste not, want not. Consider food waste. Use leftovers in lunch boxes, use in creative recipes or keep for future consumption

UK Committee on Climate Change report Net Zero (CCC, 2019)2

The UK agreed binding legislation on government policy to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The CCC provide independent advice to the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets, and report directly to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Their report Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming includes specific dietary recommendations that UK dietary intakes of ruminant meat (mainly beef and lamb), and dairy should be reduced by 20%. In a public statement issued by CCC in May 2020, advising on direct consumer actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the general message, “Eat less beef, lamb and dairy,” was confirmed. (CCC, 2020)

Eating Better Alliance report Better by Half (EBA, 2019)3

The Eating Better Alliance is supported by over 60 civil society and professional organisations (including the British Dietetic Association). Their report Better by Half: A roadmap to less and better meat and dairy detailed 24 actions across five sectors, with specific targets to reduce meat and dairy intakes in the UK diet by 50% in the next ten years (by 2030).

For Food Retailers, specific recommendations are:

  • To provide full transparency to consumers on where animal products are sourced from, and under what conditions of production. Ban misleading method of production imagery.
  • To implement marketing strategies to support sales of plant foods (vegetables, wholegrains, plant proteins), and better meat and dairy.
  • To set sales targets and evaluate progress to rebalance the food basket. Include more vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit and pulses and commit to targeted reductions in meat and dairy sales.
  • Implement a comprehensive strategy across the business, to support sustainable diets.
  • Provide transparency on animal protein sourcing. Develop sourcing policies for sustainable animal feed and antibiotic use, better animal welfare and minimise waste.

Food Foundation & Food Climate Research Network report Plating Up Progress, Part 2 (2019)4

The Food Foundation is a registered charity with a mission to change food policy and business practice to ensure everyone can afford and access a healthy diet. The Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) is based at the University of Oxford and conducts and communicates research on food sustainability. (FCRN is merging with other academic institutes in Holland and Sweden, and will be renamed Table when the collaboration is launched in late 2020).

The report Plating Up Progress is a discussion about the assessment of healthy and sustainable foods provided by retailers, caterers and restaurants, with a view of providing valid and accessible SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Reliable, Timely) information for investors. The aim of the report is to develop agreement on valid metrics and reporting mechanisms, to allow assessment of food industry progress. Metrics for different industry sectors cannot be identical but general disclose and information quality is better from retailers, compared to that provided by caterers and restaurants.

Key metric proposed for retailers linked to climate change and nutrition include

  • % reductions in animal product (meat, fish, dairy, eggs), and increases in plant protein (‘sustainable protein’) and fruits & vegetables
  • % reductions in fats, salt and sugar (product content vs sales growth)
  • Science-based targets for reducing GHGs emissions from purchased food and drink products

National Food Strategy report – Part 1 (2020)

The consideration of both healthy, affordable diets and a resilient, environmentally sustainable and humane agricultural sector was announced by DEFRA, as core themes for the development of the first review of UK national food strategy in more than 75 years. The project is led by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon restaurants, and non-executive director at DEFRA. The first section of the report was released in July 2020; the second and final report covering the more detailed aspects of trade and agricultural strategy, will be released by year-end 2020. The first section made recommendations to support access to foods for children and families on low incomes, the limiting of the advertising of ‘unhealthy’ foods, energy labelling for alcohol, and possible dual tariff schemes to limit food imports not meeting particular quality or welfare criteria. The significance and influence of the National Food Strategy report in relation to healthy and sustainable diet policies can not yet be assessed, and will depend on the popularity and robustness of implementing measures.

 
1. Lancet (2019). EAT Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health; Food in the Anthropocene: healthy diets from sustainable food systems. www.eatforum.org

2. Committee on Climate Change, CCC (2019) Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming. www.theccc.org.uk

3. Eating Better Alliance, EBA (2019). Better by Half: A roadmap to less and better meat and dairy.www.eating-better.org

4. Food Foundation & Food Climate Research Network, FCRN (2019). Plating Up Progress, Part 2. www.foodfoundation.org.uk

Serving Suggestions

Meal Name

Items from basket  used

Breakfast

 

Wholegrain breakfast cereal with sliced banana &  pumpkin seeds

  • Wheat bisks cereal
  • Milk 
  • Banana
  • Pumpkin seeds

Wholemeal toast with peanut butter

  • Bread
  • Peanut butter

Poached eggs on wholemeal toast

  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Olive spread

Lunch

 

Homemade carrot soup served with hummus  oatcakes

Red grapes

For the soup

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Potato

Served with

  • Hummus
  • Oatcakes
  • Red grapes

Jacket potato filled with tuna

Beetroot & bean salad

Mini pear

  • Potato
  • Olive spread
  • Tuna
  • Beetroot
  • Canned beans
  • Oil
  • From store cupboard : vinegar
  • Pear

Roast beef & cucumber wrap

Apple

 

  • Wrap
  • Roast beef
  • Cucumber
  • Apple

Evening meal

 

Salmon fish cakes with sweet potato fries and peas

  • Tinned salmon
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Sweetcorn
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Peas
  • Oil

Mozzarella, tomato and broccoli pasta bake with homemade coleslaw vinaigrette

For the pasta bake

  • Mozzarella
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Tomato puree
  • Fusilli pasta
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Sweetcorn
  • Cheese sauce made with soya milk, cheddar slices, olive spread & from store cupboard: flour

For the coleslaw

  • White cabbage
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Oil
  • From store cupboard : vinegar

Chicken and cashew stir fry with brown rice

 

 

  • Chicken breast
  • Cashews
  • Oil
  • Mushrooms
  • Red peppers
  • Carrot
  • From store cupboard : soy sauce
  • Brown rice

Red lentil dahl and rice with peas served with grated courgette & cucumber side salad

  • Red lentils
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Brown rice
  • Peas
  • Courgette
  • Cucumber
  • Oil
  • From store cupboard: vinegar

Potato topped fish pie served with carrots and peas

  • Cod fillets
  • Potato
  • Olive spread
  • Onion
  • Sweetcorn
  • For white sauce :
  • Olive spread
  • Milk
  • From store cupboard: flour
  • Carrots
  • Peas

Oaty Fruit crumble  with soya custard

  • Canned peaches
  • Frozen raspberries
  • Apples
  • Oats
  • From store cupboard: flour
  • Olive spread
  • Soya milk
  • From store cupboard:, custard powder, sugar

Snack suggestions

  • Crispbreads with hummus or cheese slices
  • Carrot sticks and red pepper slices with peanut butter
  • Red grapes
  • Banana & peanut butter on oatcakes
  • Handful of pumpkin seeds
  • Handful of cashews
  • Crumpets or malt loaf with olive spread

Conclusion

For the average customer, moving to a sustainable basket is a significant change and taking smaller steps towards a more healthy, more sustainable diet is a more realistic and practical approach.

Our basket curated by the themes 1) nutritious 2) environmentally sustainable and 3) affordable has been achieved. A range of criteria linked to Eatwell Guide proportions, ONS category descriptions, and ambitious environmental targets that are distant from ‘typical’ UK diets, have all been considered, and attempts made to blend these with pragmatic choices that may be appealing to many shoppers. Food items are purchased in ‘defined’ units; milk is sold by the litre or the pint, and cannot, for example, be presented as 300ml to fit calculations.

The basket and supporting communications convey the many simple steps towards diets that are nutritionally and environmentally ‘better’ without costing more, are achievable.

The main themes are increases in plant protein foods without increasing portein overall, greater intakes in fruits and vegetables (compared to current typical consumption levels),  greater intakes of wholegrain versus white/refined starchy foods, and reductions in foods high in sugars and salt. 

With reference to academic paper by Reynolds and colleagues, 2019, their calculations, to achieve dietary GHGe’s of <1.78kg CO2e/per person per day, was no more than 252g meat and poultry, and 35g eggs per week (vs ALDI basket of 430g and 310g.) In relation to Reynolds targets, the basket contains nearly twice the amounts of meat and poultry, and nearly tenfold the target levels for eggs. The Reynolds targets have not been included in our criteria, but are an indication that many of the environmentally driven assessments of dietary change require greater modifications from typical diets, than the more familiar nutritionally focussed assessments of dietary change. This is why our realistic and practical recommendations to start consumers on a journey is an important step alongside policy change on a national and international level.

These are all very familiar messages, but need clear and continuous communication, to support both individual and population-wide aspirations for better health. Increasingly the newer but as urgent priorities considering the environmental links to food production and distribution need to be considered: governments and consumers and campaigners and professionals will want information and reassurance that these are built into retailer assessments and stocking decisions.

Conclusions

Dietitians are highly skilled, science-based health professionals, and have been leaders in implementing government dietary guidelines as a core part of their practice for many decades. They also have leading roles in the development and communication of dietary policies and strategies in catering, the food industry, education and media & communication environments. For example dietitians often support the implementation of food retailer policies and targets around sustainability, and and help to communicate the balance of food choices supporting human and planetary health.

Government dietary guidelines supporting human health are based on the consensus of scientific data linking foods and reduction of risk of disease and ill health. Assessment of environmental (planetary) links with food production and distribution are complex; current targets link to parameters known to be critical markers of sustainability eg greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity scores or nitrogen levels. There can never be perfect matching between data on optimal human health and environmental sustainability, but many themes align and are now the familiar messages of moderate (low) intakes of animal proteins, greater intakes of plant proteins and fruits and vegetables, and minimising waste.

By creating practical resources like the meal swaps in our original One Blue Dot toolkit and infographics like the visual in this project, we can show how these changes impact key environmental and nutritional targets, we can support the public to make the shift and take action.