Reducing meat consumption to protect the environment could lead to micronutrient deficiencies

Policies advocating reducing meat consumption to protect the environment could lead to micronutrient deficiencies. That’s the conclusion of a systematic review of the literature on the effects of a ‘green diet’ on micronutrient intake. The impact on micronutrient intakes was investigated as a global shift towards more sustainable diets is needed to protect the planet.

The FAO defines sustainable diets as those with low environmental burdens that are culturally acceptable, affordable, nutritionally adequate, and healthy. For those who consume large amounts of meat, this transition includes a move toward more plant-based diets.

The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, evaluated how dietary changes to reduce environmental impacts affected intakes of selected micronutrients of public health concern. The critical micronutrients considered were vitamins A, D and B12, folate, calcium, iron, iodine and zinc. As animal-based foods are the most bioavailable sources of vitamins A, B12, iron, zinc and calcium, the study indicated that the more ‘environmentally friendly diets’ based on plant-based foods may involve trade-offs in micronutrient adequacy.

The studies analysed largely looked at the intake of meat and animal-based foods, the environmental impacts of diets, and nutrition needs. Many outcomes suggested that intakes of zinc, calcium, iodine, and vitamins B12, A, and D would decrease with a dietary shift based on plant-based foods to reduce environmental impacts. The risk of inadequate zinc, calcium, vitamins A, B12, and D intake was more likely to increase because these micronutrients are less abundant or bioavailable in plant-based foods. The study concluded that lower intakes of key micronutrients are a potential outcome of dietary changes promoting meat reduction to reduce environmental impacts. It is clear that further consideration must be taken of human nutritional needs and health implications when promoting environmental policies that recommend meat consumption reduction as the solution for protecting the environment.