Greater diversity of main ingredients at meal times better for Britain

This is a key finding from a new report released today by the Carbon Trust, which investigates whether increasing protein diversity could deliver health and sustainability benefits in the UK.

The Case for Protein Diversity looks at the impact of some of the most popular protein-rich main ingredients eaten today in the UK, as well as some less common options that have the potential for wider adoption. These range from meat, fish and eggs, through to pulses, meat alternatives and insects.

Analysis found that greater levels of protein diversity would, in most cases, result in overall benefits to individual health, at the same time as reducing the UK’s impacts on climate change, water use and land use.

Tom Cumberlege, one of the report’s authors, explained the importance of the findings within the context of the wider challenges faced in the sustainable production and consumption of food:

"By the middle of this century the global population will have grown by more than 2 billion people, increasingly living more middle class lifestyles. This is likely to involve them spending some of their disposable incomes on eating more interesting, protein-rich foods, especially meat and dairy products.
But this demand for protein is unsustainable and will put a serious strain on agricultural resources, contributing to issues such as climate change, deforestation, freshwater availability and soil degradation. There are some great examples of organisations working to address production efficiency. However, we also need to think differently about how we meet our protein consumption, to ensure that we have a secure food supply for tomorrow and for generations to come." 

In order to understand how to drive positive change, the report also investigated the practical barriers to changing dietary behaviours, such as culinary skills and cultural attitudes to food. It found that greater diversity was a socially acceptable way to improve health and sustainability, at the same time as providing an enjoyable, interesting and affordable diet. Tom Cumberlege added:

"We believe that over time it is possible to shift UK diets quite significantly. Culinary styles have changed a lot over the last few decades. But, there is a need for stakeholders from across society to come together to ensure change occurs much more quickly, helping people to make food choices that are better for them and for the planet." 

Encouraging people to eat a greater variety of protein-rich main ingredients can be a big step towards creating a secure, healthy and resilient food supply for the UK by 2030. This will reduce the environmental impact of individual eating patterns, improve health and wellbeing, and ease the burden on the NHS.

The report makes a number of recommendations on how to improve the diversity of protein-rich main ingredients eaten in the UK. These include:

  • Flexitarianism: consumers should be encouraged to experiment in meal choices, for example trying one new dish each week that does not use meat as the main protein source.
  • Regulation and voluntary schemes: policy makers and industry should create or promote schemes that integrate health and environmental issues by changing consumer pricing, or improving nutritional information.
  • Food campaigns: as part of the change process, credible campaigns should use increased diversity of main ingredients as a key message to improve consumer behaviour.
  • Education and skills: there is a need to promote knowledge and capability to use a greater variety of protein-rich main ingredients.
  • Diversity of production and supply: UK farmers, food manufacturers and retailers should be engaged and encouraged to produce more diverse protein choices.
  • Improving choice architecture: retailers and food service businesses should consider how they can encourage greater diversity in protein choices using a combination of replacement, reformulation, marketing, and pricing.

Notes to Editor

For media enquiries please contact the Carbon Trust press office at or 020 7170 7050.

The Case for Protein Diversity: Accelerating the adoption of more sustainable eating patterns is a report produced by the Carbon Trust that was sponsored by Quorn Foods. For the avoidance of doubt the report expresses the independent views of its authors and was reviewed by a panel of experts from academia, industry, NGOs and the public sector.

The full report can be accessed here

About The Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. The Carbon Trust:

  • advises businesses, governments and the public sector on opportunities in a sustainable, low-carbon world;
  • measures and certifies the environmental footprint of organisations, products and services;
  • helps develop and deploy low-carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power.