The United Nation’s definition of a sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food and nutrition security for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised”

Currently there is adequate food production to meet the needs of the global population. However, while some of the population exceed their needs, others struggle with hunger.  Unfortunately, around one third of all food produced is wasted or spoiled, resulting in wasted resources such as land, water and “unwarranted” carbon emissions, to name a few. 

Our current food system (including food waste) contributes 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions, is the foremost cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss, depletes fish stocks, damages ecosystems, pollutes soils and water, and accounts for a very high percentage of human water use.

Many countries throughout the world have considered sustainability when compiling national dietary guidelines, because not only does a plant-based diet have a positive impact on the sustainability of our food systems, but consuming more plant-based foods also provides numerous health benefits for individuals, including weight management and a decreased risk of non-communicable diseases.

Sadly, consumers may have negative attitudes towards plant-based diets because of the false belief that these diets are vegetarian or vegan and that meat can never be consumed again. This is not the case, rather the emphasis is on moderation. As a population we need to take greater ownership of our planet and the care thereof. The following are the focuses of a plant-based/sustainable diet and some tips on how to incorporate these guidelines into your diet:

Decrease Your Meat (Particularly Beef and Lamb) Consumption

  • Have reduced portions of meat (no more than 70g raw weight, 100g cooked weight).
  • Include some meat free days in your weekly diet.
  • Focus on including more plant food sources of protein such as beans, lentils, soya, nuts and seeds.
  • A major concern about decreasing meat intake is protein – will there be enough good quality protein in the diet? The quantity and quality of protein is not compromised when eating plant food sources of protein.
  • Replace some of your meat with plant protein foods. For example, add lentils or beans to your mince.  Stews, curries and casseroles can be made with half beans/legumes and half meat.
  • Focus on meat and animal products that have a lower impact on the environment such as chicken, eggs and occasionally, pork.

Consume Dairy in Moderation

  • Dairy can be replaced with plant-based milk (oat, rice or almond) or calcium fortified soya.

Focus on Vegetable Intake

  • Aim for 5 fruit and vegetable servings daily.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season and locally produced.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables that have been minimally packaged or opt for loose fruits and vegetables that you can weigh in reusable bags.

Eat Wholegrains and Tubers (e.g. Potatoes) and Limit Processed Foods

  • Ensure the tubers are in season and local. These foods have a low impact on the environment.
  • Processed foods have a greater impact on the environment; therefore, a focus should be on eating wholegrain foods rather than refined foods.

Drink Water, Sparkling Water or Tea

  • Soft drinks and fruit juice play a large role in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • When drinking water, remember to use a reusable water bottle, rather than purchasing small bottles of water from the store.

Look for Sustainable Fish Sources

  • Fish is important in the diet, particularly fatty fish, however over-fishing and poor fishing practices have become problematic. Read fish packaging labels to see if it is from a sustainable source.

Waste Less Food

  • Plan your meals ahead of time so that you do not over purchase.
  • Make soups out of vegetables that are going to spoil (freeze the soup).
  • Make a compost heap with wasted or spoiled food.
  • Buy frozen vegetables if you cannot consume fresh vegetables before they spoil.
  • Cook and freeze food that is nearing its expiry date.

Conclusion

Not only are our current dietary habits powering the rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, but they are negatively impacting on the earth’s resources and ultimately endangering the future security of our planet. After internalising these facts, there should be no doubt as to why we should change the way we eat.

LINDSAY HAYWARD
National Dietician – Capitol Caterers

Image courtesy of www.eufic.org

References:

BDA, The Association of UK Dietitians, 2018. One Blue Dot Eating patterns for health and environmental sustainability: A Reference Guide for Dietitians. Available at: https://forwardeating.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/One-Blue-Dot-BDA.pdf  [Accessed 7 April 2020].

BDA, The Association of UK Dietitians, 2018. One Blue Dot Making Our Favourite Meals More Sustainable. Available at: <https://www.bda.uk.com/uploads/assets/89de0ac6-5141-4258-9c34ff71566821ef/One-Blue-Dot-Meal-swaps.pdf> [Accessed 8 April 2020].

EUFIC, 2018. 9 practical tips for a healthy and sustainable diet. Available at: <https://www.eufic.org/en/food-production/article/practical-tips-for-a-healthy-and-sustainable-diet> [Accessed 7 April 2020].

Lewis, J., 2018. Sustainable Diets – A Toolkit For Dietitians. [online] Bda.uk.com. Available at: <https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/sustainable-diets-a-toolkit-for-dietitians.html> [Accessed 8 April 2020].

Lindgren, E., Harris, F., Dangour, A., Gasparatos, A., Hiramatsu, M., Javadi, F., Loken, B., Murakami, T., Scheelbeek, P. and Haines, A., 2018. Sustainable food systems—a health perspective. Sustainability Science, 13, pp.1505–1517.