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Many of the most nutritious foods are also the most sustainable

Enlarge (credit: Yagi Studio)

While it’s relatively straightforward to compare the environmental footprint of producing apples versus oranges (or even beef), these calculations become much trickier when foods contain multiple ingredients—and these make up the majority of what’s sold in a typical grocery store. Up until now, there haven’t been good methods to determine the impact of such foods, but a team at Oxford has recently published some of the first work toward developing a sustainability metric for everything (edible) one might find at their local grocer.

Beyond the approach’s sustainability estimates, the Oxford team went on to cross-reference its results with the standard nutrition metric NutriScore. With this, they found that there were many “win-wins” where foods were both sustainable and nutritious—although there were a few notable exceptions. And, while the results weren’t too surprising, this method offers a new metric for consumers, retailers, and producers to make more informed choices.

Secret recipes

One of the biggest hurdles to calculating the sustainability of multi-ingredient foods is that producers are rarely required to list how much of each ingredient they put into a product. Quite the opposite—these details are often closely kept trade secrets.

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