The role of dairy foods in lower greenhouse gas emission and higher diet quality dietary patterns



There is conflicting advice about the inclusion of dairy foods in a lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emission dietary pattern. Our purpose was to assess the prevalence of dairy food intake among higher diet quality and lower GHG emission diets in Australia and within these diets assess the association between level of dairy food intake and adequate intake of a broad range of nutrients.


Dietary intake data collected using a 24-h recall process were sourced from the most recent Australian Health Survey. Diet quality was assessed by level of compliance with the food group-based Australian Dietary Guidelines. A subgroup of 1732 adult (19 years and above) daily diets was identified having higher diet quality score and lower GHG emissions (HQLE). Intake of core dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt) was assessed and nutrient profiling was undertaken for 42 macro- and micronutrients.


The HQLE subgroup had 37% higher diet quality score and 43% lower GHG emissions than the average Australian adult diet (P < 0.05). Intake of dairy foods was very common (90% of HQLE diets) and greatly exceeded the intake of non-dairy alternatives (1.53 serves compared to 0.04 serves). HQLE daily diets in the highest tertile of dairy food intake were more likely to achieve the recommended intake of a wide range of nutrients, including calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, folate, phosphorous, magnesium, iodine and potassium compared to other HQLE daily diets.


Core dairy foods have an important role for achieving adequate nutrient intakes in a healthy and lower GHG emission dietary pattern in Australia.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2019) Climate change and land, an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Vermeulen SJ, Campbell BM, Ingram JSI (2012) Climate change and food systems. Annu Rev Environ Resour 37:195–222

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Hendrie GA, Baird D, Ridoutt B, Hadjikakou M, Noakes M (2016) Overconsumption of energy and excessive discretionary food intake inflates dietary greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Nutrients 8:690

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Hyland JJ, Henchion M, McCarthy M, McCarthy SN (2016) The climate impact of food consumption in a representative sample of Irish adults and implications for food and nutrition policy. Public Health Nutr 20(4):726–738

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Vieux F, Darmon N, Touazi D, Soler LG (2012) Greenhouse gas emissions of self-selected individual diets in France: changing the diet structure or consuming less? Ecol Econ 75:91–101

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Rose D, Heller MC, Willits-Smith AM, Meyer RJ (2019) Carbon footprint of self-selected US diets: nutritional, demographic, and behavioural correlates. Am J Clin Nutr 109:526–534

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Murakami K, Livingstone MBE (2018) Greenhouse gas emissions of self-selected diets in the UK and their association with diet quality: is energy under-reporting a problem? Nutr J 17:27

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Heller MC, Willits-Smith A, Meyer R, Keoleian GA, Rose D (2018) Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected US diets. Environ Res Lett 13:044004

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B et al (2019) Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 393:447–492

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Chaudhary A, Krishna V (2019) Country-specific sustainable diets using optimization algorithm. Environ Sci Technol 53:7694–7703

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Garnett T (2016) Plating up solutions: can eating patterns be both healthier and more sustainable? Science 353:1202–1204

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Harwatt H (2019) Including animal to plant protein shifts in climate change mitigation policy: a proposed three-step strategy. Clim Policy 19(5):533–541

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Jay JA, D’Auria R, Nordby JC et al (2019) Reduction of the carbon footprint of college freshman diets after a food-based environmental science course. Clim Change 154:547–564

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Xu XM, Lan Y (2016) A comparative study on carbon footprints between plant- and animal-based foods in China. J Clean Prod 112:2581–2592

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Eshel G, Shepon A, Makov T, Milo R (2014) Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:11996–12001

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Behrens P, Kiefte-de Jong JC, Bosker T, Rodrigues JFD, de Koning A, Tukker A (2017) Evaluating the environmental impacts of dietary recommendations. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:13412–13417

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Sabaté J, Soret S (2014) Sustainability of plant-based diets: back to the future. Am J Clin Nutr 100(supp):476S–482S

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Westhoek H, Lesschen JP, Rood T, Wagner S, De Marco A, Murphy-Bokern D, Leip A, van Grinsven H, Sutton MA, Oenema O (2014) Food choices, health and environment: effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake. Glob Environ Change 26:196–205

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Pettinger C (2018) Sustainable eating: opportunities for nutrition professionals. Nutr Bull 43:226–237

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Millward DJ, Garnett T (2010) Food and planet: nutritional dilemmas of greenhouse gas emission reductions through reduced intakes of meat and dairy foods. Proc Nutr Soc 69:103–118

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Derbyshire E (2017) Associations between red meat intakes and the micronutrient intake and status of UK females: a secondary analysis of the UK national diet and nutrition survey. Nutrients 9:768

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    De Smet S, Vossen E (2016) Meat: the balance between nutrition and health. a review. Meat Sci 120:145–156

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Donovan SM, Hutkins R (2018) Introduction to the fifth global summit on the health effects of yogurt. Nutr Rev 76(S1):1–3

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Fernandez MA, Marette A (2018) Novel perspectives on fermented milks and cardiometabolic health with a focus on type 2 diabetes. Nutr Rev 76(S1):16–28

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Giglio BM, Duarte VIR, Galvão AF, Marini ACB, Schincaglia RM, Mota JF, Souza LB, Pimentel GD (2019) High-protein diet containing dairy products is associated with low body mass index and glucose concentrations: a cross-sectional study. Nutrients 11:1384

    CAS  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Gorissen SHM, Witard OC (2018) Characterising muscle anabolic potential of dairy, meat and plant-based protein sources in older adults. Proc Nutr Soc 77:20–31

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Phillips SM, Martinson W (2018) Nutrient-rich, high-quality, protein-containing dairy foods in combination with exercise in aging persons to mitigate sarcopenia. Nut Rev 77(4):216–229

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    González S, Fernández-Navarro T, Arboleya S, de los Reyes-Gavilán CG, Salazar N, Gueimonde M (2019) Fermented dairy foods: Impact on intestinal microbiota and health-linked biomarkers. Front Microbiol 10:1046

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Gómez-Gallego C, Gueimonde M, Salminen S (2018) The role of yogurt in food-based dietary guidelines. Nutr Rev 76(S1):29–39

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    van Hooijdonk T, Hettinga K (2015) Dairy in a sustainable diet: a question of balance. Nutr Rev 73(S1):48–54

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Drewnowski A (2017) Measures and metrics of sustainable diets with a focus on milk, yogurt, and dairy products. Nutr Rev 76(1):21–28

    PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Jeske S, Zannini E, Arendt EK (2017) Evaluation of physicochemical and glycaemic properties of commercial plant-based milk substitutes. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 72:26–33

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Mäkinen OE, Wanhalinna V, Zannini E, Arendt EK (2016) Foods for special dietary needs: non-dairy plant-based milk substitutes and fermented dairy-type products. Crit Rev Food Sci 56:339–349

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Hobbs DA, Lovegrove JA, Givens DI (2015) The role of dairy products in sustainable diets: modelling nutritional adequacy, financial and environmental impacts. Proc Nutr Soc 74(OCE5):E310

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Werner LB, Flysjö A, Tholstrup T (2014) Greenhouse gas emissions of realistic dietary choices in Denmark: the carbon footprint and nutritional value of dairy products. Food Nutr Res 58:20687

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Payne CLR, Scarborough P, Cobiac L (2016) Do low-carbon-emission diets lead to higher nutritional quality and positive health outcomes? A systematic review of the literature. Public Health Nutr 19:2654–2661

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Ridoutt BG, Hendrie GA, Noakes M (2017) Dietary strategies to reduce environmental impact: a critical review of the evidence base. Adv Nutr 8:933–946

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Ridoutt B, Baird D, Bastiaans K, Darnell R, Hendrie G, Riley M, Sanguansri P, Syrette J, Noakes M, Keating B (2017) Australia’s nutritional food balance: situation, outlook and policy implications. Food Sec 9(2):211–226

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Ridoutt B, Hendrie G, Baird D, Hadjikakou M, Noakes M (2016) The balance of core and noncore foods: a critical intervention point to concurrently address both health eating and dietary GHG emissions reduction objectives. In: proceedings of the 10th international conference on life cycle assessment of food 2016. University College Dublin, Belfield (Ireland), pp A1127–1134

  40. 40.

    Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary (2013) National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra

  41. 41.

    Kilvert N (2019) IPCC climate change report calls for urgent overhaul of food production, land management. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed 12 Aug 2019

  42. 42.

    Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results—Food and Nutrients, 2011–2012. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed 5 May 2016

  43. 43.

    Australian Health Survey: Users’ Guide, 2011–2013. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed 5 May 2016

  44. 44.

    Australian Health Survey (2019) Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Australian Bureau of Statistics.$File/43640do002_20112012.pdf. Accessed 6 Feb 2019

  45. 45.

    Suh S, Lenzen M, Treloar GJ, Hondo H, Horvath A, Huppes G, Jolliet O, Klann U, Krewitt W, Moriguchi Y et al (2004) System boundary selection in life-cycle inventories using hybrid approaches. Environ Sci Technol 38:657–664

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Wiedmann T (2009) Carbon footprint and input-output analysis—An introduction. Econ Syst Res 21:175–186

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Lenzen M (2001) Errors in conventional and input-output based life cycle inventories. J Ind Ecol 4:127–148

    Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Golley RK, Hendrie GA (2014) The Dietary Guidelines Index for children and adolescents: what is the impact of the new dietary guidelines? Nutr Diet 71:210–212

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand (2019) Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, and New Zealand Government, Ministry of Health. Accessed 4 Sept 2019

  50. 50.

    Fischer CG, Garnett T (2016) Plates, pyramids and planets. Developments in national healthy and sustainable dietary guidelines: a state of play assessment. Food Climate Research Network, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Wilson N, Nghiem N, Mhurchu CN, Eyles H, Baker MG, Blakely T (2013) Foods and dietary patterns that are healthy, low-cost, and environmentally sustainable: a case study of optimization modeling for New Zealand. PLoS ONE 8(3):e59648

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Notarnicola B, Tassielli G, Renzulli PA, Castellani V, Sala S (2017) Environmental impacts of food consumption in Europe. J Clean Prod 140:753–765

    Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Ridoutt B, Hendrie G, Noakes M (2017) Dietary strategies to reduce environmental impact must be nutritionally complete. J Clean Prod 152:26–27

    Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Selvey LA, Carey MG (2013) Australia’s dietary guidelines and the environmental impact of food “from paddock to plate”. Med J Aust 198:18–19

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Noakes M, Ridoutt BG, Hendrie G, Keating B (2013) Australia’s dietary guidelines and the environmental impact of food “from paddock to plate”. Med J Aust 199(7):456

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Green BS, Farmery AK, Buxton CD (2013) Australia’s dietary guidelines and the environmental impact of food “from paddock to plate”. Med J Aust 199(7):456

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Australia’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to a new Climate Change Agreement (2015). Accessed 13 Sept 2019

  58. 58.

    Ridoutt BG, Baird DL, Bastiaans K, Darnell R, Hendrie GA, Riley M, Sanguansri P, Syrette J, Noakes M, Keating BA (2014) A food systems approach to assessing dairy product waste. J Dairy Sci 97:6107–6110

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    The Eatwell Guide (2019). Accessed 13 Sept 2019

  60. 60.

    Canada’s Dietary Guidelines (2019). Accessed 13 Sept 2019

  61. 61.

    Yantcheva B, Golley S, Topping D, Mohr P (2015) Food avoidance in an Australian adult population sample: the case of dairy products. Publ Health Nutr 19:1616–1623

    Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Ridoutt BG, Baird D, Anastasiou K, Hendrie GA (2019) Diet quality and water scarcity: evidence from a large Australian population health survey. Nutrients 11:1846

    CAS  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was partially funded by Dairy Australia (, Grant Number C100003142.


This study was partially funded by Dairy Australia (Southbank, Victoria 3006).

Author information




The study was conceived and designed by BGR and GAH. Analyses were performed by DB and GAH. The first draft of the manuscript was prepared by BGR and all authors contributed to subsequent revisions. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bradley G. Ridoutt.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest. The authors exercised freedom in designing the research, performing the analyses and making the decision to publish research results. Dairy Australia (DA) partially funded this research. However, DA did not have any role in design of the study, analysis of data or interpretation of results. The decision to publish was made prior to funding and before the results were known. DA had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (XLSX 89 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ridoutt, B.G., Baird, D. & Hendrie, G.A. The role of dairy foods in lower greenhouse gas emission and higher diet quality dietary patterns. Eur J Nutr 60, 275–285 (2021).

Download citation


  • Micronutrients
  • Nutrient adequate intake
  • Nutritional quality
  • Protein
  • Public health nutrition
  • Sustainable diet