4 tips to eat healthy and sustainable!

I am a passionate foodie: I like eating in general and I absolutely love GOOD food. For me personally, eating is not just a necessity, good food is essential for my quality of life.

Still, or rather because of this, I put a lot of effort into how and what I eat: One the one side, I want to be healthy and eat what is good for me. Furthermore, I don’t want to support intensive livestock farming because of its influence on the climate and animal welfare. And finally, I want to live on a rather sustainable diet, too. Combining all of this seems complicated, but, is it? Here are 4 tips how you can make good choices for your health and the environment!

It is possible to eat healthy and sustainable at the same time? It is, and it is easier than you might think!
Photo by Paula Vermeulen on Unsplash

Tip 1: Limit your meat consumption

We all know by now that intensive livestock farming is responsible for massive Greenhouse gas emissions and therefore fuels climate change [1]. This effect is especially strong for red meat such as beef (data from [2,3,4]):

A low consumption of meat and animal products can be sustainable if food waste is used as animal food: In this case, highly efficient and valuable proteins can be made from waste. But our current usage of animal products can in no way be produced in this sustainable way.

Interestingly, red and processed meats also have significant impact on health: Studies link red and processed meat consumption to an increased risk for obesity, cancer (especially colon cancer), cardiovascular diseases and diabetes type 2 [5].

Of course, statistics is a numbers game: Your risk to get sick is linked to how much you eat of it. Just because you eat some meat every once in a while, you most likely won’t get sick. Moderate consumption of meats and animal products has no negative influence on health according to [7]. But the more you eat, the higher is your risk – and of course also your contribution to climate change.

To avoid both negative effects, the rule is pretty simple: Eat less red and processed meats to stay healthy and save the climate!

Tip 2: If you eat meat, focus on healthy options!

Meat is not all bad – it actually is a great source for proteins and was necessary to let us humans evolve to our current potential and capabilities. And surely, many simply like the taste and don’t want to deny themselves to enjoy it every once in a while – and that is OK!

If you enjoy eating meat and want to eat it without a bad conscience for your health and the environment, consider your options: As seen in the graph above, your best options in terms of Greenhouse gas emission are

  • Pork,
  • Fish,
  • and Poultry.

Due to the lower land and water use, these meats are also favorable for the environment. And from the health perspective, they are also the best options! The Mediterranean or Atlantic dietary styles have been reported as the healthiest ways to eat, judging by their nutritional scores [6] – both of these diets focus on fish and vegetable consumption while encouraging little to no red meats. The only dietary form outperforming the nutritional value of these options is a purely vegan dietary lifestyle [6,7].

So again, combining both environmental and health aspects is pretty easy: If you want to keep eating meat, focus on fish, poultry and pork. Prefer plain meat over highly processed meat products!

A plant-based diet is the healthiest option, and most of the time it also is the most environmentally-friendly.
Photo by Dose Juice on Unsplash

Tip 3: If you go vegan, watch what you eat!

Knowing what we have learned before, going vegan seems like a good alternative: It is great for the climate and healthy for your body! But sadly it is not all that easy: A vegan diet does not necessarily always lead to a low carbon footprint. On the contrary, it can lead to increased Greenhouse gas emissions if not evaluated carefully.

It all depends on what is being eaten: There are vegan options which cause high emissions. Especially the highly processed plant-based foods are an example here: Many highly-processed meat and dairy replacement products fall in this category [1].

From the health aspect, it also is a bit tricky: The vegan diet is most likely to lead to nutritional deficits if no replacement products are consumed. Especially the intake of vitamins B12, D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids is usually too low if not supplemented [9].

Both of these problems are perfectly manageable. The climate aspect can be addressed by reducing the consumption of certain vegan foods which are known to have a high negative influence on the climate, such as:

  • Avocados
  • Mushrooms
  • Almond and cashews (and products made from them)
  • Cocoa

And the nutritional value is something that can be addressed easily with supplements. For a pure vegan diet, monitoring the nutrition regularly with a doctor still is advisable to avoid malnutrition.

So if you are willing to go vegan, this will be fantastic for both health and the environment. Just make sure to be well-informed about your food options and keep track of your health!

Tip 4: Try vegan alternatives!

Instead of going all vegan, substituting some animal-based products by their plant-based alternatives can be a great way to reduce one’s climate impact without the risks involved in a pure vegan diet. There are so many options now in supermarket: Milk can for example be made from peas, almonds, cashews, oat or soy. Meat replacements can be made e.g. on mushroom base, from soy or tofu.

As mentioned before, especially the highly processed products are not always the best option for the climate. In addition, these products often have many additives to achieve the same texture and taste as the original animal-based product. These additives can be harmful in high doses: A prominent example is phosphorus, which can be found in some oat milks and which is associated with certain health risks in higher doses [8], which are achieved easily by oat milk consumption. Many oat milks however can make do without it, so all you need to do is check the label!

To make your Flexitarian diet more environmentally-friendly and healthy, mixing in some vegan replacement products is fantastic – just make sure to check the labels for nutritional content and unhealthy additives. Avoid highly processed products!

Meat and animal products should be something special again!
Photo by Thomas Q on Unsplash

Your diet has an impact on the environment – and your life!

Dietary styles nowadays are like our new religions. And in fact, their impact on our life is much bigger than many of us might expect: The right diet can cure diseases such as Diabetes type 2, can make your life more worthy to live and save the environment at the same time. While the vegetarian diet might in total be the easiest and from environmental and health aspects a favorable dietary form, eating some animal products can also be OK if done right.

The thing we have been missing in the last decades is keeping the balance: The growing hunger for meat has led to intensive livestock farming with all its negative affects on climate and animal welfare. Nowadays, this causes 87% of the fresh water use worldwide, 16% of the global methane and 80% of CO2 emission [10].

If we stop eating so much meat and many animal products, we won’t need intensive livestock farming. And if we eat less of those, we can buy better products that are made following organic standards from the same money. This will be beneficial for the animals, for our health and for the planet! And most of the time, those products will also be better for you since they are free of pesticides as well as antibiotics and the animals have lived a better life, making their products better!

Have you tried different dietary styles? What is your experience? Which one are you following now and why is that?

[1] https://doi.org/10.3390/su11154110
[2] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anifeedsci.2011.04.058
[3] https://doi.org/10.1071/CP11191
[4] http://www.fao.org/3/ca7130en/ca7130en.pdf
[5] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2016.04.008
[6] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.06.339
[7] https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980012000936
[8] https://dx.doi.org/10.3945%2Fajcn.113.073148
[9] https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N
[10] https://www.jstor.org/stable/1313020

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