Is it possible to eat a diet that tastes good, meets your nutrient needs, doesn’t destroy your bank account and is actually good for the environment? A group of U.K. researchers believe they have developed a nutritious, realistic diet plan that just might meet all these criteria. All told, their sustainable eating plan, which is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, would cost about 10% less than a traditional British diet, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 36% — and it even includes meat.
The term sustainable, as it relates to food, products and other parts of our lifestyle, is relatively new, and defining it can be quite complex. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), sustainable food is defined as “those diets with low environmental impacts, which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations.
Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.” In other words, to be truly sustainable, our diets need to be not only good for the environment, but also for the people, animals and land involved in their production — for now, and for generations to come.
To assess sustainability, researchers often use a concept known as the life cycle assessment, or LCA. An LCA is a sophisticated, detailed look at all elements related to a food’s impact on the environment, ranging from the energy and resources needed to make the fertilizers to grow the food, to the energy required to store the food at every step along the way, to the resources needed to manage the waste produced by unused or spoiled food. Because only a limited number of LCAs have been published on individual foods and ingredients, the authors used greenhouse gas emission as a proxy for LCA.
The diet proposed by the U.K. research team met the average adult female’s needs for all major nutrients, including protein, fibre, iron, calcium, zinc, folate and vitamin B-12, and was within the recommended limits for calories, added sugars, sodium and saturated fats (the authors used a female diet because women of childbearing age have higher iron requirements than men).
When compared with the diet usually consumed by the British public, the sustainable diet was slightly higher in fruits, vegetables, grains and potatoes, milk and yogurt, but contained less ice cream, butter and cream. The sustainable diet also contained fewer high fat or high sugar processed foods, less than half the amount of meat, a little bit more fish and more than twice as many beans and lentils. Eggs were reduced slightly, and fish and nuts went up a touch.
Keywords: When compared with the diet usually