Jordklode på en gaffel. Foto:

A healthy and sustainable diet should also be safe to eat

Wednesday 08 Jan 20


Sara Monteiro Pires
Senior Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 40 21 34 89


Morten Poulsen
Head of Research Group, Senior Researcher
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 76 06

The UN has published a set of guiding principles for the composition of a diet that is both healthy and sustainable. The National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark (DTU), participated in developing the principles and was tasked with ensuring that the diet is also safe to eat.

The way we currently both produce and consume food has a greater impact on our environment than the world can handle. It is therefore a global challenge to find new dietary patterns that both benefit the environment and ensure a sufficient supply of healthy and safe food for all.

As an aid in promoting such dietary patterns, the UN has published a set of guiding principles on how to create a diet that promotes health and well-being, has a low climate impact, a high level of food safety, and is accessible and culturally acceptable.

The guiding principles have been published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Help from DTU’s experts on risk-benefit assessments

These guiding principles take a holistic approach to diets and they were developed with the support of UN-appointed experts within different fields. Among these, a group of researchers from the National Food Institute was tasked with identifying food safety challenges related to moving towards more sustainable and healthy diets.

The experts were appointed because of their expertise in estimating the burden of disease associated with consumption of contaminated foods, and in conducting risk-benefit assessment, e.g. assessments of both the beneficial and the harmful effects of foods, food groups or whole diets.

The group has pointed out that the burden of disease from consumption of contaminated foods is already high, particularly in low-income countries, and emphasizes the importance of taking the safety of food into account in the definition of healthy and sustainable diets.

As an example, populations that start eating more grains and nuts may be exposed to greater amounts of carcinogenic aflatoxins, which can form in these crops under warm and humid conditions. Furthermore, an increased consumption of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables will lead to an increased intake of pesticide residues.

Read more

The report is available on FAO’s website: Sustainable healthy diets – guiding principles

Calculations from the National Food Institute show that many Danes can reduce the environmental impact of their diet by following the official food-based dietary guidelines, reducing food waste, replacing some of the meat (particularly the red and processed meat) with e.g. legumes, eating more fruit and vegetables, and cutting down on consumption of alcohol and sweets. 

Read about the calculations in an e-article published by the institute (available in Danish only): På vej mod en sundere og mere bæredygtig kost

The e-article is part of a consultancy task commissioned by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. As part of this task, the institute is working to provide the scientific basis for sustainable and healthy diets in a Danish context.
21 OCTOBER 2021