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Guiding principles for sustainable healthy diets

  |   SUN Donor Network, SUN UN Network

In the margins of World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) published a set of Guiding Principles for Sustainable Healthy Diets.

These guiding principles take into account nutrient recommendations and nutrient intake goals, and consider the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social/cultural, and economic sustainability. They are the result of an international expert consultation process between the FAO, the WHO and 24 invited experts from around the world, including JRC scientist Davy Vanham.

These guiding principles take a holistic approach to diets; they consider international nutrition recommendations; the environmental cost of food production and consumption; and the adaptability to local social, cultural and economic contexts.This publication aims to support the efforts of countries as they work to transform food systems to deliver on sustainable healthy diets, contributing to the achievementof the SDGs at country level, especially Goals 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and 13 (Climate Action).

Sustainable Healthy Diets

Sustainable Healthy Diets promote all dimensions of individuals’ health and wellbeing, have low environmental pressure and impact, are accessible, affordable and equitable, and are culturally acceptable.

The aims of Sustainable Healthy Diets are to

  • achieve optimal growth and development of all individuals and support functioning and physical, mental, and social wellbeing at all life stages for present and future generations;
  • help prevent all forms of malnutrition (i.e. undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, overweight and obesity);
  • reduce the risk of diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs); and
  • support the preservation of biodiversity and planetary health.

Guidelines to inform policy

These guidelines provide valuable policy recommendations for sustainable food systems that are healthy, environmentally friendly, and culturally and economically sustainable: an issue that is increasingly at the forefront of citizen’s concerns. They can, for example, contribute to the revision of national Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG).

In the past, such FBDGs generally only provided advice on foods, food groups and dietary patterns to provide the required nutrients to the general public to promote overall health and prevent chronic diseases (see e.g. the FAO’s Food-based dietary guidelines), thereby only addressing the “healthy” part of diets.

In the EU, some recently revised FBDGs now also include the “sustainable” part of sustainable healthy diets. For example, the Flemish region of Belgiumthe Netherlands and Germany revised their FBDGs to include certain aspects of environmental sustainability. It is hoped that these international guidelines will push this drive towards sustainable consumption to the global stage.

Sustainable healthy diets – Guiding principles


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