I recently came across an excellent handout on a sustainable diet through the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (HEN DPG), of which I am a member. HEN is a special interest group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, formerly known as the American Dietetic Association.
This handout was compiled by Mary Meck Higgins, a Human Nutrition Specialist and Registered Dietitian working with the Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service. I think she does an excellent job of highlighting some of the principles helpful in promoting personal health as well as the health of the planet. She reminds us of the importance of personal choice- we can’t expect the government or big industry to solve the world’s sustainability problems. These entities are shaped primarily by consumer demands. So how are you, as a consumer, going to respond?
Her suggestions are organized into seven categories:
- Choose nutrient-rich foods: Base meals on whole grains, fruits, legumes, and dark green, red, and orange vegetables. Choose fat-free or low fat dairy, lean red meats, and poultry without skin to reduce calories and saturated fat intake. Vary your protein- try non-animal sources. Choose water most of the time, and cook at home often. For more specific recommendations for your age, gender, and body size, visit myplate.gov.
- Eat locally produced foods when available: Choose foods that are in season. Visit a local farmers market or farmstand, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or try growing something of your own.
- Buy from businesses with sustainable practices when possible: This can affect not only the health of the environment, but local economic vitality. Support local restaurants who purchase from local producers. Choose certified sustainable seafood products. When you buy tea, coffee, or chocolate, choose at least some that is certified fair trade.
- Minimize avoidable food losses and waste: On average, households in the US throw away at least 14 percent of food purchases. Store perishable foods appropriately. [An example: since I shop for myself and I don’t eat a loaf of bread very quickly, I often store it in the freezer and simply pull out a slice or two and toast it to prevent waste]. Even excess milk can be frozen if you won’t drink it by the expiration date! Instead of peeling potatoes or apples, simply wash them well and eat the peels. Extra fiber, less scraps. Speaking of scraps, try composting them! For a variety of reasons, restaurants often generate a sizable amount of food waste- another reason to cook and eat at home.
- Limit energy use: Of the energy consumed in the U.S., nearly 20 percent is used for food production, transport, processing, packaging, distribution, storage, sales, and household food handling. Limit how often you drive to the grocery store. Better yet- walk or bike to get a bit of exercise at the same time! Wash with hot water, but rinse with cold water. Let your dishwasher air dry instead of using the heated dry cycle.
- Limit water use: Conserve water when preparing food by keeping an empty pitcher to capture water from the faucet while waiting for it to heat up. Use this to water plants. Use water-efficient kitchen appliances. Turn off the faucet in between rinsing dishes.
- Minimize packaging and wrapper waste: Carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying packaged bottled water. Keep your reusable grocery bags in the car so you remember to actually take them with you to the grocery store! Eliminate packaging when possible: purchase whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Instead of buying small packages of food (i.e. individual yogurt cups), try buying a larger container and separating the amount you plan to eat out into smaller containers.