Environmental campaign group WWF has launched a report aimed at bringing together environmental sustainability and nutrition.

WWF claims its new report, Livewell – a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices, offers “a first full assessment of a diet that is both healthy and sustainable”.

The group commissioned researchers at the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health to come up with advice, based on the UK government’s nutritional guidelines, on daily eating choices which would both improve health and reduce the impact on the environment.

The ‘Livewell plate’ is modelled on the Food Standards Agency’s Eatwell plate concept but integrates sustainability criteria. Consumers are advised to eat more fruit, vegetables and cereals, especially those grown regionally and in season; eat less meat; and eat less highly-processed food.

“If we want to protect the species and forests that are at the heart of WWF’s work, then we have to fundamentally change our food system,” WWF head of campaigns Colin Butfield said yesterday (30 January). “Today’s report gives a picture of a way of eating that is good for the planet and good for your health too. For some, it might even be cheaper.”

Butfield believes the overlap between a diet that is good for people and good for the planet is “a win-win that should be exploited fully”. By creating the Livewell plate, WWF aims to “stimulate constructive debate and catalyse action by government and retailers to promote sustainable eating habits”.

Butfield continued: “When you add up the costs to the environment, health services and to people’s wellbeing it is astounding that this isn’t being tackled with more vigour.”

Environmental activists often demonise meat-eating as unsustainable, but the view taken in the report would appear to be deliberately less proscriptive. Indeed, WWF says that achieving a healthy and sustainable diet is about balancing the foods we eat rather than eliminating any.

“The debate on the environmental impacts of food has often been polarised around meat-eating versus vegetarianism. This is unhelpful,” Butfield said. “Certainly livestock is a hotspot in terms of environmental impact but what we should be debating is sustainable versus unsustainable food choices. This is about balancing our diet, not necessarily eliminating foods.”

That said, under the Livewell diet the UK average annual per capita meat consumption would be reduced from around 79kg to 10kg.