By Dr Deborah Lee, Dr Fox Online Pharmacy
Are you confused about what you should be eating? A trip to the supermarket these days presents so many bewildering options. What should you be putting in your trolley, and why?
What is a sustainable diet?
A sustainable diet is a healthy diet, which is nutritionally balanced but puts less pressure on global food systems, and hence is kind to the planet.
In 2019, the Lancet published the EAT-Lancet Commission report. The Commission was an expert group, including representatives from 16 countries, who reviewed the current scientific data on global food production. They stated that greenhouse gases, created during food production, are a major cause of climate change. However, climate change – for example, floods, droughts, and other freak events of nature – affect food production. What can be done to break this vicious spiral? How is it possible to feed the world, but at the same time, protect the planet?
The Commission produced three recommendations 1) Change eating behaviour, 2) Improve food production, and 3) reduce food waste. Let’s consider each in turn.
- Change eating behaviour
Switch to a plant-based diet
If the population could reduce meat consumption to <50g per day (from >100g /day at present) this would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. Even better for a vegetarian diet which would reduce greenhouse gases by 47%, or a vegan diet which would reduce them by 60%.
Plant-based diets are rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. This type of diet is linked to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and dementia. Plant-based foods are high in plant proteins and dietary fibre. The diet also contains large quantities of antioxidants which are vital to combat oxidative stress – a potentially dangerous metabolic process which results in disruption to cellular repair mechanisms and damaged DNA. Plants are an important source of vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy, unsaturated fats.
Eat fewer processed foods
These are typically high-fat and contain additives, preservatives, and large amounts of salt.
Processed foods include bacon, sausages, salami, pate, breakfast cereals, cakes, pastries, crisps, biscuits, and ready meals.
Instead, cook from scratch, and use high-quality ingredients.
Which plant-based diet?
Examples of recommended plant-based diets are The Mediterranean Diet and the Eatwell Diet. These offer a wide range of delicious natural foods, with large amounts of plant-based foods, but also lean meat, fish, and shellfish.
- Improve food production
- Shop wisely – Look for local, seasonal produce. Food is expensive to transport and loses quality in transportation.
- Eat organic when you can – Organic foods are foods which are grown naturally with no harsh chemicals – no additives, pesticides, or chemicals. They are GM-free, antibiotic-free and produced to high standards of animal welfare. To be sure your purchase is truly organic, look on the product label for the EU logo.
- Look for sustainably-sourced fish – Two portions of oily fish are recommended per week, as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Check out the Good Fish Guide for how to buy sustainable seafood.
- Consider plant-based milk – This is an alternative to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is a perfectly healthy option; however, the production of plant milk has less impact on the environment. This will also increase your daily consumption of plant foods. Plant-based milk (e.g. oat, soya, and almond milks) contains higher quantities of healthy, unsaturated fats than cow’s milk.
- Reduce food waste
The UK throws out a staggering 4.5 million tons of edible food every year! 69% of this is from the household waste.
So, what’s the solution? Here are a few pointers –
- Write a shopping list and plan what you need. No impulse buying!
- Work out portion sizes and don’t cook what you can’t eat. Freeze any leftovers and be creative. The lovefoodhatewaste website has numerous ideas of what to with leftover food.
- Don’t confuse your labels. Food is still edible after the ‘best by’ date. It may not be at its best, but it will not be harmful. Don’t eat food after the ‘use by’ date as this is when food can be dangerous. You can freeze food so long as this is before the ‘use by’ date.
It’s time to shop with a difference! Supermarkets may be convenient but take a critical look at what they offer. Buy top of the range when you can. Know your labels and check your food sources. Check out what your local supermarket says on its website about how they source their produce and their commitment to the environment.
Find your local organic farm stores. Buy in bulk and freeze your own food. Choose seasonal, locally sourced, produce. Why not ‘bring your own’ packaging? Look for recyclable packaging and reduce single-use plastic.
Do all you can to reduce food waste. Get creative – try new recipes!
If you can’t go all-out vegetarian or vegan just reduce your meat consumption to only once or twice a week. (Have you tried vegan bacon?)
Drink more water – avoid sugary drinks and fruit juices.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and by eating sustainably – be kind to the planet!