Research aims to make plant-based diets work for everyone

Published: 16 October 2023

Making plant-based diets a realistic and enjoyable option for all is the goal of a new project that aims to promote healthy diets that are environmentally sustainable.

Published 15th October 2023

A multidisciplinary team of scientists at the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Oxford has received a £940,000 award from the Wellcome Trust for the three-year project investigating the potential of plant-based convenience foods in encouraging healthy, climate-friendly diets that are affordable, practical and compatible with modern lifestyles.

By taking a ‘big picture’ view of the complex driving forces behind dietary choices – including social and practical considerations – the team aim to come up with realistic options for plant-based diets that remove barriers to adoption.

The study will work with groups of young women to understand the complexities of their lives and how this dictates their diets, developing real-life scenarios to create compatible advice that encourages plant-based choices.

Dr Esther Papies, a Reader in Behaviour Change at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, will lead the work to determine the appeal of plant-based foods and dietary decisions made by young women. She said: “I’m tremendously excited about this project because it recognises that a main driver of what people eat is enjoying the food, which is so often left out of healthy and sustainable diets. It also acknowledges that good food needs to be practical and affordable. Being realistic about real-life food choices will help us support policy that allows people to eat better and to really enjoy it.”

Professor Jennie Macdiarmid from the University of Aberdeen is leading the project.

She said: “Action needs to be taken to tackle climate change.  Transitioning towards climate friendly diets requires people to reduce meat consumption and increase plant-based food, as meat has a high carbon footprint, which contributes significantly to global warming. While there is a growing trend towards plant-based diets, we know that changing diets is notoriously hard which presents a barrier to meaningful change."

“So the question we have to ask ourselves is how can we make healthy and climate-friendly diets that are appealing, practical and affordable therefore giving them a good chance of success? The strength of this project is that we are working with scientists from multiple disciplines including health and nutrition, climate science, psychology, social policy, and the creative arts to build healthy diets that consider the impact on the planet and health, and have broad appeal. This interdisciplinary approach is essential, as we have to look at the big picture instead of taking a one-dimensional view of the issue.”

First published: 16 October 2023

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