Energy and nutrient density of foods in relation to their carbon footprint - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Year : 2015

Energy and nutrient density of foods in relation to their carbon footprint


Background: A carbon footprint is the sum of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) associated with food production, processing, transporting, and retailing. Objective: We examined the relation between the energy and nutrient content of foods and associated GHGEs as expressed as g CO2 equivalents. Design: GHGE values, which were calculated and provided by a French supermarket chain, were merged with the Composition Nutritionnelle des Aliments (French food-composition table) nutrient-composition data for 483 foods and beverages from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety. Foods were aggregated into 34 food categories and 5 major food groups as follows: meat and meat products, milk and dairy products, frozen and processed fruit and vegetables, grains, and sweets. Energy density was expressed as kcal/100 g. Nutrient density was determined by using 2 alternative nutrient-density scores, each based on the sum of the percentage of daily values for 6 or 15 nutrients, respectively. The energy and nutrient densities of foods were linked to log-transformed GHGE values expressed per 100 g or 100 kcal. Results: Grains and sweets had lowest GHGEs (per 100 g and 100 kcal) but had high energy density and a low nutrient content. The more nutrient-dense animal products, including meat and dairy, had higher GHGE values per 100 g but much lower values per 100 kcal. In general, a higher nutrient density of foods was associated with higher GHGEs per 100 kcal, although the slopes of fitted lines varied for meat and dairy compared with fats and sweets. Conclusions: Considerations of the environmental impact of foods need to be linked to concerns about nutrient density and health. The point at which the higher carbon footprint of some nutrient-dense foods is offset by their higher nutritional value is a priority area for additional research.

Dates and versions

hal-02634229 , version 1 (27-05-2020)



Adam Drewnowski, Cohn D. Rehm, Agnès Martin, Eric E. Verger, Marc Voinnesson, et al.. Energy and nutrient density of foods in relation to their carbon footprint. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015, 101 (1), pp.184-191. ⟨10.3945/ajcn.114.092486⟩. ⟨hal-02634229⟩
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