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Four Easy Changes for an Environmentally Sustainable Diet

July 19, 2023

Did you know that food production is one of the largest contributors to environmental change? It actually accounts for a third of the greenhouse gases emitted globally. This means that we as individuals can play our part in reducing climate change through the food we choose to eat.

The most common recommendation for reducing our environmental impact is making our diets plant-based. You might already be exploring vegetarian cuisine as a way to eat more plants, using alternative milks or experimenting with plant-based meat substitutes.

But if you don’t want to give up animal protein entirely you can still reduce your impact on the planet. In this blog we’re looking at four easy changes you can make today to start eating a more sustainable diet.

What is a sustainable diet?

A sustainable diet is one that looks after both the environment and the people involved in its production, now and in preparation for the future.

There are many factors that go into determining whether a food product is sustainable. This includes how it’s grown, the resources it uses (water, land etc), the impact of its production on local ecosystems and communities, and its nutritional value.

Sustainable food choices are those that have a low carbon footprint (relative to the alternatives), prioritise the wellbeing of the animals involved and support biodiversity. These foods will be nutritious, accessible, and affordable. They should not involve any negative working practices, such as unsafe working conditions or child labor. And they also shouldn’t contribute to any diet-related conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Looking at the longer-term, sustainable food will come from production systems that are future proofing their operations. This means that they are replenishing the supply of anything they are taking out of the environment; for example planting new trees to replace those that have been removed to make space for agriculture. These systems should also be capable of expanding to feed a growing population while minimising the impact of doing so.

So, how can we make our diets more sustainable?

Reduce the amount of meat you eat

One of the most significant diet changes you can make is to reduce the amount of meat you eat. Producing enough meat to fulfil the current demand accounts for twice the greenhouse gas emissions of plant-based food production. The less meat we eat, the more we can reduce this.

Research from the EAT-Lancet Commission for Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems recommends that in order to eat sustainably, we should build our diet around vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes. The researchers also suggested that we should reduce or eliminate our intake of refined grains, added sugars, red meat and processed food.

However, they didn’t rule out eating meat entirely. Instead, they suggested limiting your weekly intake to 100g of red meat and 200g of poultry, which equates to roughly one portion of beef, pork, lamb or venison, and 2-3 portions of chicken, duck or turkey.

Choose fish over meat (and choose wisely)

If stopping eating any animal protein is too big a step, eating fish is a more environmentally friendly choice. A recent study found that many types of seafood have a lower carbon footprint than meat, including chicken, which has the lowest footprint of all meats.

The fish you choose also makes a difference. The study found that small pelagic (open water-dwelling) fishes like herrings and sardines have low carbon footprints. It also discovered that farmed bivalves, such as mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters, are the lowest carbon emitters of all seafood, (alongside seaweed) and actually benefit the environment by sequestering carbon and cleaning the water around them. These clever creatures also don’t require feeding, antibiotics or other chemicals to support their growth, making them an excellent choice for seafood lovers.

Swapping out meat for fish in your favourite dishes can make this an easy change to make – try salmon curry instead of chicken, and fish tacos instead of beef to get you started! Or head to our collection of delicious fish recipes for inspiration.

Experiment with other sources of protein

Now’s the time to try new things! Beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa and eggs are all excellent sources of protein, and can be added to your meat and fish dishes to help them go further, or eaten as the main protein in your meal. Why not cook up a spicy lentil curry or bean chilli on your animal protein-free days?

We hope the changes we’ve suggested inspire you to think about how you can make small swaps that will have a big impact on the overall sustainability of your diet, and try something new today!

Reduce food waste

With food production already significantly contributing to climate change, making every effort not to waste that food is a no-brainer. Our favourite tricks to avoid waste include:

  • planning meals in advance, which stops you buying food that will go off before you can eat it
  • buying fish and some fruits and vegetables already frozen so they are ready for when you need them, with no risk of them going bad
  • freezing leftovers (this also creates easy dinners for later in the week that you can just defrost and warm up!)
  • using all parts of the food you buy, for instance making stock with the bones from meat or fish to use later in soups or stews.

For more tips on making your diet more sustainable, plus lots of delicious fish recipes follow us on Instagram.

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