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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Less meat, more legumes: prospects and challenges in the transition toward sustainable diets in Sweden

Roos, Elin; Carlsson, Georg; Ferawati, Ferawati; Hefni, Mohammed; Stephan, Andreas; Tidaker, Pernilla; Witthoft, Cornelia


The Western diet is characterized by high meat consumption, which negatively affects the environment and human health. Transitioning toward eating more plant-based products in Western societies has been identified as a key instrument to tackle these problems. However, one potential concern is that radically reducing meat in the current diet might lead to deficiencies in nutritional intake. In this paper, we explore a scenario in which meat consumption in Sweden is reduced by 50% and replaced by domestically grown grain legumes. We quantify and discuss the implications for nutritional intake on population level, consequences for agricultural production systems and environmental performance. The reduction in meat consumption is assumed to come primarily from a decrease in imported meat. We use data representing current Swedish conditions including the Swedish dietary survey, the Swedish food composition database, Statistics Sweden and existing life cycle assessments for different food items. At population level, average daily intake of energy and most macro- and micro-nutrients would be maintained within the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations after the proposed transition (e.g., for protein, fat, zinc, vitamin B12 and total iron). The transition would also provide a considerable increase in dietary fiber and some increase in folate intake, which are currently below the recommended levels. The transition scenario would increase total area of grain legume cultivation from 2.2% (current level) to 3.2% of Swedish arable land and is considered technically feasible. The climate impact of the average Swedish diet would be reduced by 20% and the land use requirement by 23%. There would be a net surplus of approximately 21,500 ha that could be used for bioenergy production, crop production for export, nature conservation, etc. Implementation of this scenario faces challenges, such as lack of suitable varieties for varying conditions, lack of processing facilities to supply functional legume-based ingredients to food industries and low consumer awareness about the benefits of eating grain legumes. In sum, joint efforts from multiple actors are needed to stimulate a decrease in meat consumption and to increase cultivation and use of domestically grown grain legumes.


Cropping systems; environmental impact; food consumption; health; meat reduction; nutrition; scenario analysis; sustainable diets

Published in

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
2020, Volume: 35, number: 2, article number: PII S1742170518000443