Finding the best diet for you and the planet


Fonterra’s Director of Sustainability Carolyn Mortland looks at finding a diet that’s good for you and good for the planet.

It’s hard enough working out what food is nutritionally good for us. But what about throwing in the question around what we eat and how it might impact the health of the planet? 

With the challenges we face around climate change and a rising global population, we’re starting to see more studies and assessment tools that look to draw conclusions on what is a healthy and sustainable diet. 

The debate is heating up around what foods have the smallest environmental footprint, and what proportion of our diet should be animal-based vs. plant-based. 

When thinking about sustainable diets, it’s important to properly evaluate the nutritional value of different foods against their environmental, social and health impacts.

Carolyn Mortland, Fonterra Director of Sustainability Carolyn Mortland, Fonterra Director of Sustainability

It’s not just about the best land use but also about the right diets to address undernourishment, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies, which co-exist in many countries.

There are studies that focus heavily on individual aspects such as adequate protein and greenhouse gas emissions, while ignoring complexities such as bioavailability – the body’s ability to absorb the nutrition. This can result in misleading comparisons between food groups. 

At times, dairy’s value as a high-protein quality and nutrient-rich food source isn’t fully recognised.

Products like milk, cheese and yoghurt provide essential nutrients like calcium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), B12 and indispensable amino acids that are generally lacking in plant-based foods.

Milk also contains high-quality proteins that are more easily digestible than other foods.

Consumption of dairy products is recommended around the world as part of a healthy, balanced diet. New Zealand’s Food and Nutrition Guidelines recommend at least 2-3 serves of milk and milk products each day. Still, there’s a sizeable gap between current and optimal intake of milk around the world according to recent research published in The Lancet medical journal.

When it comes to finding the most efficient place to produce dairy, New Zealand is right up there. 

Consumers can be reassured that farmers in Aotearoa can produce a litre of milk for about half the emissions of the world average.

Carolyn Mortland, Director of Sustainability, Fonterra

Our climate is perfect for pasture-based farming. This is likely to continue under most climate change projections, providing the country with a great opportunity to keep producing safe, world-class quality food products.

For Fonterra, a key focus is on taking the good work of its farmers to the next level through the Co-operative Difference approach to on-farm sustainability. This includes recognising those farmers who are taking extra steps to produce high-quality milk in a more sustainable way.

The Co-operative is also continuing to commission reports as well as welcome reports from others that look at ways to overcome the sustainability challenges around food. These in turn help to inform the debate and make it easier for consumers to decide on a diet that’s good for them, and good for the planet.



Achieving a healthy environment for farming and society.