Healthy and sustainable diets: bringing the consumer perspective to the table

Shifting towards Healthy and sustainable diets are high on policy agenda’s. Yet, insight in the consumer’s perspective is often restricted to environmental and price factors; knowledge on essential factors, such as taste and beliefs, is lacking.

Sensory characteristics (taste), preferences and beliefs are important determinants of food choice. However, healthy and sustainable diets are currently formulated based on indicators of a healthy diet (e.g. dietary guidelines and, nutrient requirements (EFSA)), and on indicators of sustainability (e.g., greenhouse gas emission, land use, fossil energy use) using simple measures (e.g. the percentage of plant/animal protein) and advanced modelling (e.g. linear programming). To come to a better understanding of synergies and trade – offs for health and sustainability, these models need to be expanded by including consumer perspectives.

The current project will fill this knowledge gap and contribute to more realistic and effective dietary guidance, by building on the sampling frame and data collected in the NQ-plus study. In this study, validated food intake data of 1750 men and women aged 20 to 70 years have been collected. This dataset is currently being updated with greenhouse gas emission data, as an indicator of sustainability. Recently, a large sensory database was finalized, which includes taste and texture profiles of ~625 foods from different food categories, which covers about 90% of the normal energy consumption of the Dutch population. In the present project we aim to link these sensory characteristics to H&S diets, in order to assess how shifts towards healthier and more sustainable food consumption patterns might affect its taste and texture profile.

In addition, the project aims to investigate consumers’ affinity with H&S diets, by exploring both explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious) beliefs and associations with H&S diets, as there still is a gap between what consumers indicate as important issues for them (such as ‘health’ and ‘sustainability’) and the actual food choice. Certainly sustainability still does not seem to be a major driver of consumer behaviour. The project provides sensory characteristics and consumer associations with H&S diets as an extension to H&S-indicators used in ongoing research. To  facilitate data integration, a Linked Open Data approach will be used with methods (e.g. Rapid Ontology Creation) and ontologies (e.g. Ontology of units of Measure (OM) and Food Taxonomy) that enable reuse of data and public access. By doing so, this project will deliver unique and novel knowledge on the interrelationships between sensory properties of foods, healthiness and sustainability of diets, and the underlying attitudes and motives (explicitly and implicitly) of consumers towards H&S diets. These are key elements for behaviour change towards a healthier and sustainable food consumption pattern.