New approaches are needed to assess in parallel the benefits and impacts of changes in the amount of dairy products in the US diet. Thus, we propose a framework to compare both nutritional/health benefits of food items and environmental impacts in a consistent way within an overall diet. We will combine in-depth knowledge from food and nutrition science with life cycle assessment and environmental sciences to bring greater relevancy and consistency to such comparative, comprehensive assessments. The present project aims to bring food and nutrition scientists and environmental scientists together to develop a method which enables a fair comparison of environmental impacts and health benefits among foods accounting for the nutrition and health value of respective food items in the context of an overall diet. The integration of dairy products within the full diet will be used as a model case study for the development of such a methodological integration of food and nutrition science with environmental science. The long-term objective is to provide a path toward maximizing health benefits of dairy products within the overall diet while minimizing their environmental impacts.
The following steps are proposed:
1.1. Literature review: Review existing approaches, including nutritional index-based functional units, to identify strengths and limitations of present approaches, and define needs.
1.2. Comparison framework: Develop a framework and method for appropriate comparisons between foods and, in particular, between dairy products and other food products within the overall diet, looking in a consistent way at both nutritional value - its positive (and negative) effect on health - and at environmental impacts. A choice point decision will follow this task.
DRI will determine whether to move forward to the scan-level case study (sections 1.2&1.3).
1.3. Proof of concept case study: Conduct a case study on the role of dairy products in the diet, starting with the current 1.7 servings of dairy products per day and modeling a move towards 3 servings of dairy products per day as recommended by USDA. At this stage, we will focus on two main impact categories, enabling a proper framing of the problem: GHG emissions, as well as human health benefits and human health impacts of dairy products.
1.4. Recommendations: Based on this case study, we will elucidate the potential and limitations of the proposed diet oriented approach, identifying issues requiring priority research in phase II. We will also position the proposed approach with respect to other functional unit based approaches.