Our planet is supporting a growing population. To keep going now and into the future, we need to find ways to make food production and consumption easier on the environment. That is, sustainable. So I’ve collected seven ways you can make smart choices for your health, as well as the health of the planet.
1. Choose plant-based meals and snacks more often.
You could go vegan, but most won’t and that’s okay. In fact, it can be more complicated to get all the nutrition you need with a vegan diet. Boosting the plant content of your meals is helpful even if you still eat some animal products. Reasons why:
For the Planet: Growing plants is generally more land-and water-efficient than growing animals which eat plants.
For Your Health: Plants are great for our health, and come in such a wide variety of wonderful tastes. Eating more vegetables and whole grains is associated with lower rates of cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
2. Keep consumption of red meat moderate to low.
While a steak or hamburger can be a tasty and convenient source of many nutrients, there are so many other ways to meet your protein needs. Instead, consider sustainable seafood and plant-based protein from sources like soy, other beans, and lentils. Why:
For The Planet: Except where ranching is the only sustainable use of land, raising animals for meat will typically carry higher environmental costs than any other source of protein. There’s concern that increasing meat consumption is driving deforestation of the rainforest.
For Your Health: Overconsumption of red meat is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. A few servings a week or less does not appear to raise risk.
3. Consume seasonal, fresh, field-grown vegetables and fruit.
So if it grew locally, in someone’s garden or nearby field, and you can eat it fresh soon after harvest… this food is likely to be especially flavourful, as well as healthy and sustainable. Why:
For The Planet: Greenhouses use a lot of energy, while fields use the power of nature. Local and seasonal produce also means less storage and transportation concerns.
For Your Health: Peak nutrition is present in produce that’s just been picked. Eating seasonally also encourages eating a wider variety of foods throughout the year, for better nutrition. Your physical, and spiritual health may also be boosted by growing your own food or purchasing it from a local farmer.
4. Reduce waste.
We can only produce so much food on this planet. So choose with care and value your food. For example, join recent movements to eat the ugly fruit, not just the perfectly round and shiny apples. When cooking, try to make just the amount you need. If there’s extra, or scraps, save them for something else, such as soup stock or compost. Why:
For the Planet: All food production costs in terms like energy, water, and land. But a large proportion of what’s produced and is good to eat gets wasted. Eating more of what is produced is an easy way to improve our impact on the planet.
For Your Health: An important influence on our society’s weight gain has been increasing portion sizes of food, and foods being available everywhere. Reducing waste means reducing overconsumption and it’s associated health risks.
5. Breastfeed babies.
When babies stay with their mothers and feed on demand, there’s never any waste, little or no extra food to buy, and no transportation costs. I understand it’s not always possible, but firmly believe breastfeeding should be a normal choice that’s supported as much as possible. More reasons breastfeeding is great:
For the Planet: Reduce use of processing, packaging, and power.
For Your Health: Breastmilk is the normal food for human babies, and they grow best with it – not too fast & not too slow. Babies fed breastmilk also receive mom’s antibodies, protecting them from infections by bacteria and viruses in the home. For moms, breastfeeding helps stabilize hormones, and promotes bonding with baby.
6. Drink tap water.
Especially here in Regina & other major centres, tap water is generally of excellent quality. The infrastructure already exists to bring it easily to your home, workplace, shops, and more. Why not take advantage of easy access to this essential nutrient?
For the Planet: The alternative to tap water is bottled water, which has problems. Plastic water bottles often aren’t recycled, and end up in landfills or the ocean, where they can damage the local ecosystem. Water in bottles also requires transportation from the source to the store to your door.
For Your Health: Water is an essential nutrient. Choose the easy and convenient source. By drinking enough, you may feel a little more able to tackle your day.
7. Eat fewer highly processed foods.
You know what I’m talking about… the industrial foods that often come in boxes, bags or cans with complex ingredient lists, a best-before date far in the future, and/or little nutritional value.
For the Planet: While they may be plant-based (e.g. for flour and sugar) and therefore have a lower environmental footprint than some foods, processing takes energy, and these foods tend to require a lot of packaging. What happens to all that packaging?
For Your Health: Ultra-processed, industrial foods tend to be deficient in key nutrients.
Summary: Can you make one change to protect the planet and your health?
There’s at least seven ways.
Thanks to Registered Dietitian Roxane Wagner for providing the inspiration for this post. She’s a expert in the field of sustainable food systems, and was invaluable in providing background information, as well as giving feedback on a draft version of this article.
One of my favourite healthy changes is to introduce more beans & lentils. Saskatchewan is a leading producer of lentils, so we often eat our local products when enjoying this minimally processed, plant-based, protein-containing, healthy food. Try a lentil soup or a curry to start. Or hide them in spaghetti sauce (in place of some of the meat). Need more inspiration – or actual meal plans? It’s such a common need that I created “Mostly-Healthy Eating In Saskatchewan: The Cookbook” and “Mostly Healthy Eating in Saskatchewan: Meal Planning”. Available only to my individual clients … Ask me about it.