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One of the most effective ways to improve our well-being status is by changing our eating habits as nutrition has a significant effect on our physical and mental well-being.

There are many diet models for an individual to choose from, the decision however, should be taken considering current health status and goals aim to achieve with the guidance and supervision of a registered nutritionist. 

Despite the type of diet, you will choose to follow, switching to sustainable eating habits is essential as what we eat, and how that food is produced, affects our health and the environment.

Facts:

In 2018 Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek published their results from the largest meta-analysis study on global food systems using data from more than 38,000 commercial farms in 119 countries.

Figure #1 helps us to understand from which supply chain stages and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced from different food items. 

This extends from land use changes on the left, through to transport and packaging on the right.

The most important finding from this study is the massive differences in the GHG emissions of different foods.

Overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher footprint than plant-based (Figure 2). Lamb and cheese both emit more than 20 kilograms of CO2-equivalents per kilogram. Poultry and pork have lower footprints but are still higher than most plant-based foods, at 6 and 7 kg CO2-equivalents, respectively. For most foods – and particularly the largest emitters – most GHG emissions result from land use change (shown in green), and from processes at the farm stage (brown). Combined, land use and farm-stage emissions account for more than 80% of the footprint for most foods.

Figure 1: Food: greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain.
Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food product.

Tips to a sustainable diet:

A healthy balanced diet plan recommends reducing red meat, and now there’s another reason to treat it more as a condiment than a main dish. Meat production is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – beef production especially – and the environmental burden deepens, as raising and transporting livestock also requires more food, water, land, and energy than plants.

To eat for our own health as well as that of the planet, we should consider picking non-meat proteins such as nuts and legumes.

Vegetables, grains, lentils, and fruits are part of an optimal diet while aiding the planet to heal faster.

Plant-based eating reduces freshwater withdrawals and deforestation —a win-win for both our personal health and the environment.

When you throw away food, you’re also wasting the energy, land, water, and fertilizer that was used to produce, package, and transport it.

Foods that are in season and are from local markets have very low food-related emissions.

One of the simplest things you can do to eat more sustainably is to practice mindful eating.

Focusing on what you’re eating allows you to reflect on where your food came from and how it is nourishing your body. Additionally, by tuning in to your hunger signals you may learn that you don’t need as much food as you thought and resize your meals accordingly.

By paying more attention to how we eat and thinking about all the factors related to each of our meals, we may alter our food consumption to only what our body needs avoiding extra calories and reducing food waste, as well as becoming encouraged to seek out more sustainable food sources.

References

  1. Mengyu Li, Nanfei Jia, Manfred Lenzen, Arunima Malik, Liyuan Wei, Yutong Jin, David Raubenheimer. Global food-miles account for nearly 20% of total food-systems emissions. Nature Food, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s43016-022-00531-w.
  2. Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Note: Greenhouse gases are weighted by their global warming potential value (GWP100). GWP100 measures the relative warming impact of one molecule of greenhouse gas, relative to carbon dioxide, over 100 years. OurWorldInData.org/environmental-impacts-of-food.
  3. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2022) - "Environmental Impacts of Food Production".
    Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food
  4. British Dietetic Association (2022) How to start a sustainable diet.
    https://www.bda.uk.com/food-health/your-health/sustainable-diets/bda-tips-for-a-sustainable-diet.html
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