Product‑group‑specific nutrient index as a nutritional functional unit for the Life Cycle Assessment of protein‑rich foods

Venla Kyttä, Anna Kårlund, Tiina Maarit Pellinen, Oona Pietiläinen, Hanna Tuomisto, Marjukka Kolehmainen, Anne-Maria Pajari, Merja Saarinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


PurposeSubstitution of animal-source foods with plant-based alternatives requires product-specific information from both the environmental and nutritional perspectives. The use of nutrient indices as nutritional functional units (nFUs) in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of food products has been developed to integrate nutritional aspects into the method (nLCA). However, the methodological approaches vary because the execution of LCA always depends on context.MethodsWe present a methodological approach for the nLCA of protein-rich foods with a product-group-specific nFU, as update to earlier development work. We compared three strategies for selecting nutrients to be included in the nFU index for protein-rich foods in a national context, considering Finnish nutrition recommendations to different age groups, and the population's dietary habits and nutrient intake. nFUs were demonstrated through cradle-to-plate LCA for foods made with beef, pork, broiler, trout, perch, chickpea, soya mince, and pulled oats as the main ingredients.ResultsThe selected strategies to format the nFU have a marked impact on the results especially for fish- and plant-based food. The results of each population group, especially children, also differ. The choice of nutrients in the index, the type of food assessed, and the system boundaries of assessment have a considerable impact on the results.ConclusionThe baseline nFU introduced in the study is valuable in producing sustainability information to support the aspiration to a sustainable dietary shift. The index used as the nFU should be formatted based on the study goal and scope, and vulnerable groups must be considered when interpreting the results.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational journal of life cycle assessment
Number of pages17
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Aug 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • Functional unit
  • Nutrient index
  • Protein-rich foods
  • Sustainable nutrition
  • nLCA
  • 3143 Nutrition

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