Sustainable Eating – Eating For You, The Environment And The Future

The sustainability of the food we eat every day is now a key global and public health issue. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 the world’s population will have reached 9.8 billion people, which is a lot of hungry mouths to feed. One of the greatest challenges the world faces today is to re-structure our food systems to deliver enough nutritious food for this rapidly growing population, while minimising the environmental impact of doing so (Macdiarmid, 2016).

Certain foods carry a greater carbon footprint than others, with experts suggesting that meat and dairy are the greatest contributors of human-derived greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs), while fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods such as legumes, pulses and nuts are the lowest (Vieux et al., 2017). The recently published EAT-Lancet Commission report described how we can eat for optimal ‘Planetary Health’, in a way designed to meet nutritional and environmental needs via a sustainable food system for the future (Willett et al., 2019). There are some very simple changes we can all make to how we eat that will benefit both ourselves and the environment. Let’s look at 3 examples, and some tasty recipe ideas!

  • Meat in Moderation, Not Deprivation

A great place to start to get in a more sustainable manner is to add some meat-free meals and/or days into your week. It is the simplest and most impactful thing we can change about our diets to help the environment, particularly in the case of red and processed red meat (British Dietetic Association, 2017). Many classic meat-based recipes can be made vegetarian easily and deliciously. For example, why not try a Spicy Bean Chili, or a Lentil Bolognese this week?

  • Power Up with Plants

National guidelines for Ireland recommend we consume 24-35g of dietary fibre every day, but shockingly, almost 80% of Irish adults are not meeting this target (INDI, 2018). By adding more plant-based foods to your diet, you will increase the diversity of your food intake, moving closer to your daily fibre target, and you will benefit from the wide range of micro-nutrients that plant-based foods provide. Simple ways to start include eating up to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, choosing wholemeal or multigrain breads, brown rice and pasta (in place of white varieties), having oats at breakfast, and best of all, trying great plant protein sources like lentils, peas, beans, raw nuts and seeds too. Why not try a Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry this week, and/or add raw nuts and seeds to your Overnight Oats!

  • Up to 7 A Day - Everyday

Just 27% of the Irish population in 2017 were meeting, at the time, their recommended daily intake of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (Department of Health, 2017). It is now recommended to eat up to ‘7 A Day’ every day. Fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, full of natural sugars, fibre and lots of micro-nutrients. For the best effect on the environment, we should aim to buy seasonal produce where possible, and ideally go for loose fruit and vegetables, minimising the plastic packaging. Approximately one third of all food produced ends up being food waste, so it’s essential to ensure we buy only the volume we need and use up these foods while fresh. This Lentil Bolognese recipe will allow you to put those vegetables to good use!

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References

British Dietetic Association (2017) ‘Policy Statement: Sustainable Diets.’ Birmingham: British Dietetic Association. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/improvinghealth/healthprofessionals/policy_statements/policy_statement_sustainable_food.pdf BDA 2017 

Department of Health (2017) ‘Healthy Ireland Survey 2017: Summary of findings.’ Available at: http://www.healthyireland.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Healthy-Ireland-Survey-Wave-3-Report-1.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organisation (2010) ‘Sustainable diets and biodiversity: Directions and solutions for policy, research and action.’ Rome, Italy: FAO. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3004e/i3004e.pdf 

Willett et al. (2019) ‘Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.’ The Lancet Commissions. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(18)31788-4.pdf?utm_campaign=tleat19&utm_source=HubPage

Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (2016). ‘Fabulous Fibre.’ INDI. Available at: https://www.indi.ie/images/fact_sheets/Fabulous_fibre_fact_sheet_2.pdf

Macdiarmid, J. (2016) ‘Shifting to Sustainable Diets.’ Available at: https://academicimpact.un.org/content/shifting-sustainable-diets 

Vieux, F. et al. (2018) ‘Dietary changes needed to improve diet sustainability: Are they similar across Europe?’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72 pp. 951-960.

World Health Organisation (2018). ‘Overweight and Obesity.’ Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight