Sustainable Diets and Plant Based Eating

It’s a new year! If you’re contemplating your goals for 2022 why not make some changes that have a lasting impact on both your health and the environment.  With the need to tackle climate change making headline news around the world in 2021 we are all more aware that the food choices we make have a direct impact on the environment. 

Our Diet & Climate Change

  • Food production contributes 15-30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK and contributes significantly to global warming.
  • The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report noted that livestock is by far the biggest contributor to dietary Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
  • The Eat-Lancet Commission recommendations published in 2019 include cutting back on meat and dairy consumption.
  • In the UK, 70% of food waste comes from our homes with a value of around £14 billion a year, and a cost of 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • 9.5 million tonnes of all food produced is spoiled or wasted in the UK every year with the majority (71%) occurring in the home.

One of the easiest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat and dairy consumption, food waste and eat more plant based meals.

The official definition of a sustainable diet from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations is:

‘Sustainable Diets are 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.’

What you choose to put on your fork is more powerful than any pill or medicine when it comes to our health and our environment.

What does this mean practically?

Firstly you don’t need to shift to an exclusively vegan diet to make a difference. There is a certain type of ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking many people are prone to, where if we make a mistake, we are tempted to pack it all in. Instead it’s about making small, incremental changes that fit into your lifestyle for a positive impact.

Here are my top 10 tips to eat more sustainably.

Keep it Seasonal. While the winter months may not be so abundant with fresh fruits and vegetables there are still plenty of options available. January for example is the month for apples and pears, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, kale, celeriac, citrus, chard and cabbage. Make up batches of warming stews and soups which can also be frozen in portions for a healthy quick ready meal.

Watch your Portions. Overindulged over the festive holidays? In the UK, 70% of food waste comes from our homes with a value of around £14 billion a year, and a cost of 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.  9.5 million tonnes of all food produced is spoiled or wasted in the UK every year with the majority (71%) occurring in the home. Cut back on how much food you shop, prepare and eat – good for the planet and your waistline.

Plant Heavy Meals. Eating ‘plant-based’ means you simply commit to adding more of these plant-based foods to each meal for a more ‘plant-focused’ approach. Give vegetables a starring role in your meals.  The more and higher proportion of plants and wholefoods consumed, the more benefits you are likely to see.

Meatless Mondays. Why not choose one or more entirely meat free days each week to boost the proportion of plants eaten. If the family need convincing make it fun – whether its tacos, curries, wraps, bakes, stir fries or noodle bowls there are plenty of delicious ways to make plants the focus of the meal.  Looking for inspiration? Get a copy of GO LEAN VEGAN which has a 30 day meal plan and wonderful plant based recipes

Mix it up. Make your meals go further by switching half or all of the meat you’d normally use to prepare meals like stews, curries, and Bolognese with plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, or tofu. Cut back on dairy and experiment with fortified dairy free alternatives in sauces and desserts.  

Simple Snacks. Swap your regular snacks for fruit and veg based options – vegetable sticks with dips, slices of fruit, fruit smoothies, fruit and yogurt pots, vegetable crisps and crackers are a few examples and great ways to use up leftovers in the fridge.

Budget Savvy. It is possible to live well for less. Build your meals around filling staples like beans and pulses, potatoes and wholegrains. Buy fruit and veg in season and local where possible. Batch cook and freeze. Cook a big portion of your favourite recipes and freeze in portions ready for convenient meals through the week. Have a selection of frozen fruits and vegetables and canned beans to hand as these are often a more cost-effective way of ensuring variety in your diet whilst preventing food waste. Liven up meals with spices and herbs rather than relying on shop bought prepared sauces.

Use up Leftovers. Those veggie peels and bones make for a lovely stock, so don’t discard them.  Likewise broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves etc can all be used to make delicious soups. Squash and pumpkin seeds are delicious roasted and if have stale bread blitz into breadcrumbs and freeze for use in gratins.

Reuse. From plastic bottles to cling film there are simple ways in the kitchen we can reduce packaging and reuse. Swap cling film and foil for reusable beeswax food wraps or those make from cotton & wax. These are breathable to keep food fresher for longer and can be washed and reused.

Batch Cooking Short of time?  Plan the meals for the week ahead and aim to cook once, eat twice. This means cooking up multiple meals that can be kept for the week ahead or popped into the freezer.  Not only will this save you time and money but ensures a nutritious meal when you’re lacking time or inspiration to cook.   

Looking for inspiration? Try our new Plant based Meal Plan as part of the lean and nourish membership