7 tips for environmentally sustainable and healthy eating

Excerpt: Eating in an environmentally sustainable way is good for the health of the planet and your health too. Eating less red meat and plenty of legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and other vegetables reduces green gas emissions substantially and lowers risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Eating locally and seasonally, while limiting consumption of ultra-processed foods, also lowers your carbon footprint and promotes your overall health.

The theme for World Health Day 2022,* celebrated on April 7, is our planet, our health. An environmentally sustainable diet fits perfectly with this theme, since eating foods that are healthy for the planet is also good for people’s health.

Sustainable diets are those with low environmental impacts, which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations,* according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, a group of scientists from 16 countries, presented The Planetary Health Diet, a flexible guide to sustainable eating that is healthy for both people and the planet.* The scientists’ goal was to highlight an optimal diet for human health and environmental sustainability that would feed a growing population by 2050 from sustainable food systems and prevent 11 million premature deaths each year caused by an unhealthy diet.* Food-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) would also be reduced by two-thirds.*

Here are some tips for sustainable, healthy eating in the spirit of these expert recommendations:

  1. Eat less red meat. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found diets that were lowest in GHGs were also lowest in meat. Eating less red meat reduces the risks of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes,* according to Mayo Clinic, while also lowering risks of colorectal, breast and prostate cancers,* reported a 2022 University of Oxford study.

  2. Eat more legumes, whole grains, and nuts. People who eat a diet rich in legumes, whole grains, and nuts, with plenty of fruits and other vegetables can add more than a decade of life,* according to a 2022 PLOS Medicine study. Choosing plant-based foods supports the environment because these generally use fewer resources such as land and water,* says Canada’s Food Guide.

  3. Limit ultra-processed foods. Buying less food with high-calorie content and low-nutritional value, such as sugary drinks and packaged snacks, could reduce food-related GHG emissions by 30% and lead to better health outcomes,* reported an Environmental Science and Technology study.

  4. Consume protein from diverse sources. Eating a variety of proteins such as fish, beans, hummus, tofu, and poultry rather than high-fat meats helps prevent heart disease,* according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and helps to lower GHGs.

  5. Eat locally and seasonally. When you consume locally grown foods this cuts down on fuel needed to ship food to your market and GHGs,* advises the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Growing fruits and vegetables in your garden and eating foods grown seasonally also supports sustainability.

  6. Consume less dairy. Drinking milk and eating cheese less often lowers your carbon footprint. Dairy products are the second largest food contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after meat,” reported a BMC Public Health study. Moderate consumption of low-fat dairy products is a heart-healthy option.*

  7. Reduce food waste. It’s estimated that each person on the planet wastes between 428 and 858 pounds (191-389 kilograms) of food per year,* according to Healthline.

Buy, prepare, and eat the food you need, store food well, and eat in moderation, which is good for your health and the planet.*