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What is a Sustainable Diet?

Updated: Mar 6

Sustainable diets are styles of eating with low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations.

We have long heard and know the benefits of healthy eating - more energy, decreased risk of disease, increased immunity, etc. But did you know you can make a bigger impact not only on your health, but the health of the planet and future generations?

“Eating mindfully and sustainably go hand-in-hand, meaning we can develop sustainable eating practices that improve our own health while also improving the health of the planet.”

Sustainability is a multifaceted issue, encompassing questions like, "How is my food produced?" "What ecosystems are affected?" "By purchasing this product, how am I contributing to the overall health and wellbeing of the people that created this?"

5 Tips to Eat More Sustainably

As I become more food savvy, I am choosing to make more mindful decisions about the products I purchase. What I put on my plate has a huge impact on the environment. Plus, mindful eating principles teach us to slow down and savor our food. To give gratitude to the hands that created it, to notice the textures, tastes and smells. This practice alone will help us to slow down and become more aware of our nutrition habits. Eating more mindfully and sustainably go hand in hand, meaning we can develop sustainable eating practices that improve our own health while also improving the health of the planet.

1. Minimize Meat Consumption

Livestock production (including meat, milk & eggs) accounts for over 40% of our global agriculture gross domestic product and uses over 1/3 of the world's fresh water. This is a very big impact! Meat production is a considerable contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The burden on the environment increases as raising and transporting livestock requires more food, land and energy than plants.

Consider grass fed beef and meat products from sustainable farms and purchase milk and cheese from your local dairy farmer. Free range, organic eggs are higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, essential nutrients that support brain health, reduce inflammation and improve heart health. Your money will go directly to helping your local food system and your neighbors, too!

At my house, my goal is to purchase as much local beef, dairy and eggs as I can. Plus, minimize my consumption of beef during the week and focusing on eggs and plant based proteins such as nuts, beans and legumes.

2. Avoid Highly Processed Foods

If you are pulling a boxed food product off the shelf at the grocery store, chances are it has been through many steps in manufacturing, with lots of ingredients coming from all corners of the world. This means that the carbon footprint is higher for that product, due to traveling, manufacturing, and distribution. Think about a nutrition bar with a long list of ingredients vs. a handful of nuts, which came from one source with minimal processing.

Get savvy with nutrition labels and choose foods with 10 or less (or better yet, 5 or less) ingredients. The ingredients are listed by quantity - highest to lowest amount. A good rule of thumb is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store first - this is where all of the whole foods are located. Then go back and mindfully choose any processed or boxed product you may need.

3. Buy Local

Shopping at your local farmers markets helps you find fresh produce grown locally, but equally important, you can meet the people who produce your food! These relationships are opportunities for education: you can learn how your food was grown, when it was harvested, and sometimes how to prepare it!

Better yet, join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It is a model where the consumer purchases a share of the farm and for a set amount of weeks, receives a box of produce each week. This keeps your money in the local economy and supports your local farmer's business. Check out this link to see if there are any CSA opportunities near you.

4. Go Plant-Based

A plant-based style of eating simply means you are focusing more on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts & seeds instead of animal products. Research shows there are numerous health benefits of consuming more plants. Growing these foods does not have nearly as much detrimental impact on the earth. Plus, increased consumption of these foods equals more daily intakes of essential vitamins and minerals such as Calcium Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Dietary Fiber and plant based protein.

Consider choosing a few meals a week to swap out meat for plant based sources of protein such as tofu, legumes, beans, tempeh or unsalted nuts or seeds. There are LOTS of fun vegetarian websites and blogs out there, though this one is near the top of my list.

5. Eat Mindfully

Perhaps my favorite tip, as this is something I am passionate about, is the practice of Mindful Eating. Focusing on the foods you eat gives you an opportunity to reflect on where your food came from and how it is nourishing your body. Additionally, by tuning in to your hunger and satiety signals you may get a better sense of how much you are eating, and resize your meals accordingly. By paying more attention to how we eat and thinking about the bigger picture, we have a chance to make more informed decisions on what our bodies need to thrive, reduce food waste, and become more encouraged to seek out more sustainable food sources.

Bottom line - there are many ways in which you can begin to eat more sustainably - for your health and the health of the planet. Choose from the list above or get creative with what works for you and your family. Small changes can have a big impact!

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