Due to rising environmental concerns, more and more people are switching to a sustainable diet – which is generally healthy and has little to no impact on the environment.
A sustainable diet maintains health and makes sure that there are enough resources available for future generations.
The idea of a sustainable diet seems complex, but simply speaking, it has a great and positive impact on individuals and the environment now and in the future.
This diet does not set the specific rules to eat this and that. You may pick from a variety of food sources that are better for the environment and have a lower influence on its degradation.
Here you will learn about the sustainable diet and its impact on health and the environment.
What is a sustainable diet?
Several diets have a severe impact on the planet regarding land use, emission of gases, and depletion of resources. Generally, plant-based diets are considered safe for the sustainability of the planet.
The EAT-Lancet Commission examined the currently available information on different types of diets, waste, and demand for various foods.
This commission comprised of experts from 16 different countries – took a deep look at the current scenario of the planet regarding food and sustainability.
This commission examined that food production is the leading cause of change in the overall environment of the planet.
They also concluded that plant-based diets have less impact on the environment. They make less use of land and water and are involved in low emission of gases.
The increased production and consumption of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes lead to less consumption of refined foods, sugars, and animal-based foods.
Food production has a significant influence on greenhouse gases as well as modifying the environment through land clearing and other farming methods.
About 20-30% of global greenhouse gases are produced by food production. Also, about 66% of water is used during this process. (Source)
It is a fact you cannot only rely on a particular type of food. A diversified diet is crucial for your health, but a sustainable diet also considers the health of the environment.
Sustainable diets consider many factors and their impacts on the human, planet, and the overall food chains. The sustainability of certain diets is determined by its:
- Nutritional value and accessibility
- Environmental protection
- The general health of individuals and the environment
All these factors are taken into account while producing food for current and future generations.
There are plenty of dietary options available that are already following the guidelines of sustainability. Adhering to those diets will help you get the benefits of a sustainable diet.
These diets include:
Vegan or plant-based diets
Vegan or plant-based diets are more sustainable and have a good environmental impact. Shifting from a meat or animal-based diet to a plant-based diet benefits both human and environmental health.
While discussing sustainable diets, animal products like eggs, meat, and other dairy products are usually discussed.
It is because all these things make use of land and water and contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.
Livestock makes up almost 14.5% of emissions caused by humans. This impact can be reduced by enhancing agricultural practices or minimizing the need for animal-based products.
Animal manure is used to make the fertilizers by composting. Some farmers also capture the methane gas to fulfill the energy requirements during their agricultural practices.
It can be said animal products can still play a role in sustainable diets but it depends upon how much animal products are consumed per person while being sustainable.
Generally speaking, plant diets are more sustainable than animal diets because they make less use of resources and are involved in fewer emissions.
This diet mainly focuses on eating plant-based diets but is flexible. You can also add other foods to your diet but in moderation.
The idea behind this is to support the environment and health of a person. It encourages minimizing the consumption of animal-based products and processed foods.
You may add only fewer animal-based products to your diets, but it is not clear how much a person can add.
This diet can be a good choice as studies suggest people who rely on plant-based, vegetarian, and other sustainable diets have a low mortality rate. (Source)
Local food diets
Local food diets encourage eating the foods produced at the local level. It makes sure to reduce the distance requires different types of foods to reach the market.
Different types of foods are eaten on a seasonal basis. People solely depend upon the foods that are produced locally.
However, these diets must ensure that everyone is getting enough and all the essential nutrients. Like, the regions where only fruits and vegetables are produced – people must consider adding other foods to their diet.
Local food diets may offer some advantages by minimizing food packaging waste, travel distance, and resources necessary to cultivate nonlocal foods.
Few studies suggest its importance, while some say there are no health or environmental benefits of eating local foods when compared with nonlocal foods.
Partial vegetarian diet
A partial vegetarian diet mainly focuses on eating plant-based diets – but it also allows fish and poultry.
Pescatarian diet – is a type of partial vegetarian diet in which people only eat a plant-based diet and avoid meat except for fish.
Similarly, a pollotarian diet allows poultry but no meat.
Switching to a sustainable diet
You may find it difficult to switch to a plant-based or other sustainable diet at once. Taking small and gradual steps will help you make dietary changes.
If you are a non-vegetarian, you may find it harder to switch to plant-based diets. It is beneficial for those individuals to set aside one day every week to consume entirely plant-based foods.
Gradually, switch to other food starting with the least sustainable foods first like a lamb, beef, pork, cheese, and farmed salmon.
If you want to become a vegetarian, start reading the labels of food items. Check the ingredients of various foods containing eggs, dairy, and other animal-based products.
People concerned about their health, environment, and sustainability must cut out unsustainable and unhealthy foods from their diet.
You must plan to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes nutrient-rich options like fruits and vegetables.
Nutritional elements of different foods
It is safe to switch to a sustainable diet. A person can take some cautious steps to add more plant-based foods, reduce animal products, and meet all nutritional requirements.
Here you will see the nutritional elements of particular types of foods while switching to a sustainable diet.
Fruits and vegetables: Increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables is important as these food sources provide enough nutrients, and have less impact on the environment. According to CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans eats a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables.
Dairy: Dairy products are rich in calcium and other nutrients. They are affordable, but they have a high environmental impact.
Fish: It is a rich source of healthy fats and other nutrients. Though, it has a high impact on the environment due to unsustainable practices – adding a moderate amount from sustainable sources is a good option.
Meat: Meat is a rich source of various essential minerals and nutrients. It is rich in protein. However, it has a high impact on the environment and can lead to severe medical illnesses. It is good to limit the consumption of meat as part of switching to a sustainable diet.
Packaged and processed food: Packaged and processed food are one of the unhealthiest food choices. They also contribute to waste and affect the environment severely. Reducing or eating no processed foods at all will have less impact on the environment, and it will be healthy for you as well.
A sustainable diet is a diet that has less impact on the environment and which contributes to the food security and health of present and future generations.
The general rules involve eating less animal-based, processed, packaged, or unsustainable products and switching to plant-based diets.
It mainly focuses on eating vegetarian and plant-based diets – however, people may choose to eat meat and other animal products in lower quantities.
If you are planning to switch to a sustainable diet: it is good to take small steps and eliminate the unhealthy and unsustainable products from your diet gradually.