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Sustainable Eating and Drinking

With the Climate Change Conference, COP28, now in action we can reflect on how and what we eat can affect our earth.

According to Bioversity International agriculture occupies 38% of land globally. From the millions of species on our planet only 5 livestock and 12 crops are widely utilised for animal and human nutrition. Farming represents the biggest use of fresh water and contributes to 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. There is a large emphasis on dairy and ruminant meat (beef and lamb), which due to the methane these animals produce, are believed to significantly contribute to an increase in CO2 emissions and thereby global warming.

In the UK, it is estimated that a considered plant-based diet requires only one third of the fertile land, fresh water and energy of the typical British meat-and-dairy-based diet. Thus, reducing dairy and red meat and choosing a wide variety of plant foods can be symbiotically beneficial to the planet and our health. Latest diet recommendations such as the more sustainable One Blue Dot Diet and the EAT-Lancet Diet take account of not only the health of the population but also the health of the planet.

These recently recommended sustainable food system diets focus on:

  • using locally and in-season sourced foods

  • reducing meat and dairy consumption

  • increasing wholegrain, legume, fruit and vegetable consumption

  • hydrating with water

  • reducing food waste

  • selecting food that meets a credible certified standard such as Fairtrade (protecting farmers and workers in developing countries), RSPCA Assured (farm animal welfare assurance scheme) and MSC Certification (fishery meets international best practice for sustainable fishing)

Eating more healthfully and more sustainably go hand-in-hand, meaning we can develop sustainable eating practices that improve our own health while also benefiting the health of the planet. As we follow a more suitable diet there is great emphasis on reducing the emphasis on dairy and ruminant meat (beef and lamb) in our food chain. Contrary to common belief it’s cow belching that produces the most methane, though a small percentage of methane is also produced in the cow’s large intestine and then expelled. Settling ponds and lagoons for processing manure also produce copious amounts of this greenhouse gas. Due to the methane these animals produce, they are believed to significantly contribute to an increase in CO2 emissions and thereby global warming. Therefore, increasing the emphasis on plant-based eating particularly vegetables, beans and nut munching may help our planet.

Some hints and tips to consume less of these greenhouse gas producers:-

  • Replace some of the beef and lamb in our diet with chicken and fish or even better lentils, beans, mushrooms or veggies. Some of the minced beef in your spaghetti bolognese, lasagne or chilli con carne can be replaced with red lentils, sliced mushrooms, peppers or red kidney beans. Many lentils need some pre-soaking so try to think ahead when preparing such a meal.

  • Have a vegan day or two of the week – though vegetables are super tasty remember many of our winter comfort foods are plant based too – think baked beans on toast, a warm bowl of tomato soup with a wedge of granary bread or a jacket potato loaded with veggie chilli con carne.

  • Try a different milk or yoghurt - have a plant-based coconut or oat yoghurt or non-dairy milk such as a fortified rice, oat, almond, hazelnut, coconut, quinoa and potato milk on your porridge or cereal and a splash in your tea and coffee. Do look out for the fortified versions so you maintain your levels of essential minerals.

  • Experiment with a plant-based cheese. Probably not a replacement for an after-dinner cheese board though non-dairy cheeses work well when used as part of a dish. Try plant-based mozzarella on your homemade pizza, a cheddar style cheese-on-toast or a vegan mozzarella or feta in your salad.

If you would like help achieving a more sustainable diet then please contact me to arrange your personal consultation.

Happy eating,

Nina Thomas

BSc (Hons), MSc, ANutr

Registered Associate Nutritionist & Food Scientist

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