Incorporating sustainability into healthy diets

Dr Priscila Machado is developing a new way to measure the quality of our diets considering the principles of both health and sustainability.

Diets are currently scientifically measured for the adequacy of nutrient intake, for health and/or prevention of chronic disease. Few published metrics attempt to account for the sustainability of diets. 

For her Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr Priscila Machado took a particular focus on the significance of ultra-processing on the nature of food and the state of human and planetary health – something that has been overlooked to date.  

“We face two massive challenges that are intertwined – unprecedented pandemics of obesity and chronic disease, and environmental degradation. We need to promote healthy, sustainable diets to help deal with these issues,” Dr Machado said. 

She said the existing metrics were insufficient to tackle the complexity of these problems because they didn’t consider important aspects such as the role of food processing. For example, ultra-processed foods already dominate diets globally, but no existing metric captures the intake of these foods. As such, she wanted to identify indicators of a global sustainable healthy diet based on the degree of food processing. 

For the first phase of the project, Dr Machado conducted a scoping review to assess 48 metrics used to measure diet quality globally. 

 She then surveyed national and international experts in nutritional epidemiology, environmental health, dietary assessment and food and nutrition policy, to determine the most important considerations for a healthy and sustainable diet quality metric. The results of the survey and the development of the SUSDIET (diet quality metric) will be published soon.  

 “Such a tool will be of immediate use to monitor the global performance and progress of populations’ diets against current sustainable healthy diet recommendations and towards the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” Dr Machado said. 

 “Our insights will help governments to create policies that support people to achieve a diet that is good for both human and planetary health, and help inform people to make healthier and more sustainable food choices,” she said. 

 Next steps 

Dr Machado plans to assess the impact of the SUSDIET on people’s health, such as BMI (body mass index) and blood pressure; and environmental outcomes including greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use. 

 Study findings 

Measuring Adherence to Sustainable Healthy Diets: A Scoping Review of Dietary Metrics 

 For more information, contact: 

Dr Priscila Machado 

Research Fellow 


Deakin University, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship, two years (2021-2023)