- Ishi Juttla
A sustainable diet refers to one that is healthy for more than just the human body. Such diets are considerate of the impacts that food production and consumption have on animals, the wider community, the environment, and the economy. By choosing to transition into the world of sustainable eating, you are opening many opportunities for improvement in your own health and the health of our planet.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has defined a sustainable diet as a one that is characterised by its “low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to a healthy life for present and future generations” (MacDiarmid, 2016). Although this definition is quite complex and considers a range of different aspects, it is generally agreed that sustainable diets involve a reduction in production and consumption of animal-based foods and an increase in plant-based foods. This article will explore how plant-based sustainable diets encourage more than just improved human health; the diet provides a solution for food security and mitigating the effects of climate change.
On an individual level, eating a plant-based diet promotes good health due to its ability to enhance the immune system, support a high level of nutrition, and decrease the risk of some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease (Dagnelie, 2003). However, some plant-based foods such as refined grains and potatoes can actually be unhealthy for you and there is no denying that there are indeed a few health benefits of eating meat. This is why making good food choices is important. By no means do you have to become a vegetarian or vegan to benefit from a sustainable diet – you can place a greater focus on eating a more diverse range of plant-based foods, avoid over-consumption of unhealthy and processed foods, and moderate your intake of animal-based foods – such as red meats which are rich in saturated fats and are particularly harmful to our planet (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020).
On a global level, plant-based sustainable diets have positive impacts on the environment, in contrast to modern, mainstream diets which tend to be high in protein and processed foods. The WWF suggests that these diets are the cause of the lack of diversity seen in human nutrition and in the natural environment (WWF, 2020). The reduced pool of diversity in nature is not the only form of damage that mainstream diets have on the environment; mass meat production results in deforestation, ecosystem degradation, overfishing and substantial addition to greenhouse gas emissions from farming and transportation. Meat production requires a lot of land in order to raise and feed animals, making plant-based foods more sustainable for their reduced dependence on natural resources and fewer negative impacts on the environment (Sabate et al, 2014).
As well as improving health and benefiting the environment, sustainable diets can also reduce economic costs. A meta-analysis in the UK and Belgium revealed that since many individuals with plant-based foods at the core of their diets are healthier, the economic costs of their visits to hospitals and GPs are reduced and they demonstrate an increased number of independent, healthier years of life (Schepers et al., 2018). Although the global challenge of making healthier foods easily accessible and affordable still exists, brands such as Fullgreen and Strong Roots offer a range of plant-based, organic, and fair-trade products at a reasonable price. In addition to choosing these healthier and sustainable options, you can contribute to the sustainable movement by choosing foods that are packaged in recyclable materials, buy local and seasonal foods, and even grow your own fruit and vegetables in your garden!
All things considered, it can be intimidating to change your food habits but there are a breadth of online resources available to help you understand how to transition into a sustainable diet. The UN provides a great online Sustainable Diet course that will help you broaden your knowledge on how a sustainable diet affects your own health as well as your community and the environment. Adopting a sustainable diet is a great reminder for you that everything is interconnected and that the key role you play in looking after your own health, you can also apply to your community and environment.
The views and opinions that are expressed in this article belong to the author and are based on information that they consider to be reliable. Accordingly, the content provided does not not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TWM or any external institutions, official health organisations or bodies.