Written by Emily Green @nutritionupontyne
Creating a sustainable diet for yourself is one way to reduce your environmental impact and make positive changes. However, finding a balance is key to ensure you are enjoying and satisfied by the foods you eat, meeting nutritional requirements and working to whatever budget is appropriate for you. If you’re suffering with disordered eating, you may want to think about how to support the environment that aren’t related to food until you’re in a place of recovery.
The FAO defines a sustainable diet as a way of eating with “low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respective of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimising natural and human resources.”
Eating sustainably is not about restriction or deprivation. Making small changes that work with your preferences, beliefs and your health as a priority is super helpful in creating beneficial habits for the long term.
CHOOSE SEASONAL PRODUCE
Seasonal eating encourages choosing food which is currently in season, such as strawberries and tomatoes in the summer or root vegetables and apples in the autumn.
An easy way to know what is in season right now is by the produce on offer at a local farmers market OR what is cheaper than usual at the supermarket.
Eating seasonally often makes your food shop more economical as seasonal fruit and vegetables can be grown locally in the UK instead of being grown and shipped in from overseas. Reduced air miles also mean a lower carbon footprint!
When produce is in season this means it is the optimum time of year for growth and harvest so it will have a richer nutrient profile and be of the best quality. This means you’ll be getting the best tasting food too.
EAT MORE PLANTS
A balanced diet is different for everyone and whilst meat is a significant contributor to climate change in terms of land and water usage and contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not essential for everyone to eliminate it from their diet.
One option would be to slightly reduce meat intake and replace it with satisfying plant based alternatives. Protein rich alternatives to meat include beans, lentils, tempeh and tofu.
Try one meat free day per week or enjoy a vegan breakfast but include animal products for dinner.
Seasonal eating can help here too. Following the natural harvest cycle may also increase the quantity and variety of plant based foods in your diet. This contributes to fibre consumption, getting a range of micronutrients, hitting your 5 a day and looking after your gut microbes.
Remember, eating more plants as part of a balanced diet includes whole grains, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, and herbs, as well as fruits and vegetables.
Shopping at local, independent or farmer-led markets is a handy way to be sure your products aren’t travelling hundreds or thousands of miles to get to you and racking up a hefty carbon footprint along the way. It also supports local farmers, growers and producers who are an essential part of our economy.
If you choose to eat meat, make sure you opt for British products in supermarkets or buy from the source at local farmers markets, garden centre food halls or directly from the farm.
Look out for the UK Red Tractor symbol, RSPCA Assured or Certified Organic for assurance of welfare standards.
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
One sure fire way to make your meals more environmentally friendly is to reduce the amount you waste. This could look like:
● Eating more of the plants you buy - including leaves, stalks, peels and skins
● Composting the plant waste you can’t eat
● Save leftovers for the next day
● Storing fresh produce properly to encourage a longer shelf life
● Plan ahead to prevent over-purchasing
But what's so bad about food being sent to landfill?
Apart from the financial waste of excess food being binned there are consequences for the planet too.
In landfill, your food waste will biodegrade over a relatively short amount of time, but due to the vast quantities of rubbish piling up it will be broken down anaerobically by bacteria and produce methane as a byproduct - a potent greenhouse gas.
So, what's the alternative?
Some food waste is unavoidable and composting is a great solution to this. If you have a garden, allotment or outdoor space you can get a compost bin or set up a compost corner for suitable food waste. Some lucky cities even have a food waste collection by the council!
BE MINDFUL OF PACKAGING
There’s been a tremendous amount of activism in recent years to increase awareness of the harms of single-use plastic, particularly on marine life.
Where possible, packaging-free items are the most environmentally friendly choice. However, this isn't practical for everything.
A great cheat to get around all packaging is to buy in bulk at a refill store. Here you can take your own containers and fill up without any single-use plastic.
If it’s not possible to avoid all packaging there are a few options to stop these from damaging the planet including recycling soft plastics at large supermarkets, reusing plastic trays as seed starter containers for growing your own, or repurposing plastic bags as small bin liners to extend their life.
GET A HELPING HAND
A few super handy apps can make things easier and help with maintaining an environmentally sustainable diet.
● Olio - list unwanted household food items for neighbours to collect so they don’t go to waste
● Too Good To Go - pick up end of day leftover food parcels from local cafes at discounted prices
Helpful resources if you want to learn more:
EAT Lancet Commission Summary report 2019 - healthy diet from sustainable food systems
One Blue Dot - the BDA’s Environmentally Sustainable Diet Project
By Emily Green - BSc Nutrition & Psychology (MSC Clinical Nutrition in progress)