Integrating protein quality and quantity with environmental impacts in life cycle assessment

Andrew Berardy, Carol S. Johnston, Alexandra Plukis, Maricarmen Vizcaino, Christopher Wharton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluates environmental impacts of a product from material extraction through disposal. Applications of LCA in evaluating diets and foods indicate that plant-based foods have lower environmental impacts than animal-based foods, whether on the basis of total weight or weight of the protein content. However, LCA comparisons do not differentiate the true biological value of protein bioavailability. This paper presents a methodology to incorporate protein quality and quantity using the digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS) when making comparisons using LCA data. The methodology also incorporates the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs) to best represent actual consumption patterns. Integration of these measures into LCA provides a mechanism to identify foods that offer balance between the true value of their protein and environmental impacts. To demonstrate, this approach is applied to LCA data regarding common protein foods' global warming potential (GWP). The end result is a ratio-based score representing the biological value of protein on a GWP basis. Principal findings show that protein powders provide the best efficiency while cheeses, grains, and beef are the least efficient. This study demonstrates a new way to evaluate foods in terms of nutrition and sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2747
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Diet
  • Environmental impacts
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Plant-based diets
  • Protein
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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