What we eat has an impact on the environment. For example, our diets in the UK currently contribute to between 18% and 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and globally, food production is leading the cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution. Eating a more environmentally sustainable diet can help reduce the current pressures on our food system, to ensure there is healthy food available now and for generations to come.
What is a sustainable diet?
There isn’t a clear definition for a sustainable diet, however generally speaking a sustainable diet is:
- Predominantly based on plant foods; beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
- Less reliant on animal proteins, e.g. meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
- Low in pre-packaged and highly processed foods.
- Nutritionally adequate, accessible, economically fair and affordable.
- Has a low environmental impact.
Ideas for transitioning towards a more sustainable way of eating
Around 50% of us would like to change our diet to be more environmentally friendly, however intent doesn’t always lead to change. Below are some ideas to help you on your way to transitioning towards a more sustainable way of eating.
Reducing meat intake
Red meat is the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from our diets. However, you do not need to eliminate meat completely from your diet in order to have an impact, as reducing our population meat consumption in half would potentially see a 39% drop in our carbon footprint.
Meat free Mondays are a great starting point for those that are used to eating meat regularly, concentrating on one meat free day might seem more attainable. There are also lots of plant-based meat alternatives available, which can make swapping out a meat-based dish relatively easy.
Another idea is to create a meal that is half animal protein and half plant protein, for example a Bolognese made from beef mince and lentils or a curry made from chicken and beans.
Increase plant foods
Through increasing the amount of plant foods in our diet may consequently mean the number of animal-based foods naturally decreases. As a population, we struggle to meet the daily recommendations for fibre (30g) and fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day), therefore increasing the overall amount of plant foods in our diet will also help us to meet these recommendations too.
Shopping locally can help reduce food miles as the food doesn’t need to travel as far and is also a great way to help support your local farmers and business.
Fruits and vegetables that have the lowest GHG emissions are those that are grown outside, during their natural season. If you are unsure what is in season, EUFIC have an interactive that shows you what fruit and veg are in season for different countries in Europe.
Reduce soft drink intake
Surprisingly, soft drinks are the 3rd biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emission from diets. This is because they require lots of energy to produce and have significantly high transport costs due to the wide range of ingredients that are used. Tap water is the most sustainable drink choice, however tea and coffee are also good sustainable hydration sources.
Reduce food waste
If global food waste were a country, it would have the 3rd biggest carbon emissions after the US and China. Reducing food waste is an area that as individuals, we can potentially make a big difference. This is because around 70% of food waste is wasted in the home, mainly because we don’t use the food up in time. Love Food Hate Waste have lots of resources on their website to help reduce food waste, including a which shares the best place to store different food items to keep them fresher for longer.
Emily Stephens (RNutr)
The Good Eating Company