A ‘Sustainable Diet’ Deserves A Look

According to the World Health Organization, a ‘sustainable diet’ (or sometimes called planetary health diet) is one that promotes health, has low environmental impact, is affordable, and is culturally acceptable. The picture above shows examples of sustainable diet dishes. The dishes are largely plant-based (e.g., whole grains, vegetables and fruit, nuts, beans and lentils, and soy) with some small but optional amounts of dairy, poultry, eggs, fish, and red meat. Interestingly, traditional Mediterranean and Nordic eating patterns seem to be examples of sustainable diets. (For more, check out: eatforum.org)

Research on following a sustainable diet shows a link to healthy living. In a study published last year, researchers from Sweden found that, among over 22,000 participants, following a sustainable diet was tied to a 25% lower risk of premature death, mainly deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

With an emphasis on plant-based nutrition, a sustainable diet lowers the carbon footprint. For background, it’s estimated that food production accounts for approximately one-third of our total greenhouse gas emissions. (And livestock production accounts for nearly one-half of these emissions.) No doubt making changes to an entire food system is a big complex issue. On an individual level, though, there are steps you can take to reduce your diet’s carbon footprint. And you don’t have to go vegan to do so. The goal should be to make achievable changes that can be implemented consistently.

Implementing a Sustainable Diet
Cut back animal protein, red meat: As mentioned before, it takes a lot of energy and resources to produce animal foods, especially for red meat. As a result, animal foods release far more greenhouse gas emissions than grains, fruits, and vegetables.

If meat makes up a large part of your meals, downsize its importance. Fill one-half of your plate with vegetables, one-quarter with whole grains, and only one-quarter with meat. Substitute one-half of the meat in recipes containing a sauce such as tacos, burritos, chili, stir-fries, and spaghetti with plant protein. For example, if you currently add a pound of hamburger to your spaghetti sauce, replace it with one-half pound of hamburger and 1 cup of dried, green lentils (1 cup of green lentils has 32g of protein and a whopping 36g of fibre). Make sure you gently boil this sauce for 25 minutes or so to soften the lentils to a hamburger-like consistency (you may need to gradually add some water, too).

Eat more plant-based meals: Establish a weekly target for the number of plant-based meals you’ll eat, then go from there. Consider setting a goal for one or more meat-free days each week. Include plant-based breakfasts, lunches and snacks in your goal, too.

Make bean or lentil soup, Kenna’s Roasted Chickpea Salad, veggie stir-fry with spicy peanut sauce, or as mentioned above a lentil spaghetti sauce. 

Limit processed foods: The more a food is processed, the more emissions are generated in its production. The worst culprits seem to be: processed meats, dairy-based desserts such as ice cream and frozen yogurt, and high calorie foods with little nutritional value (for example, potato chips, candy, sugary drinks).

Reduce food waste: Food waste that ends up in landfill produces methane gas, a significant source of greenhouse gas. Plan meals in advance so you’ll buy and cook only what you need. If you don’t eat everything you cook, freeze it for later use instead of throwing it away. Consider using vegetable peels and scraps to make stocks and broths.

A 'Sustainable Diet' for Endurance Athletes
Endurance athletes will likely find that they don’t need to skimp on calories or on healthy foods when following a sustainable diet. Yet, one area that athletes may have questions about is protein intake. As I wrote about in an earlier post on protein intake for running, nutritionists recommend 1.0 to 1.6 g of protein per kilogram (.45 to .72 g per pound) of body weight daily for endurance exercise. In comparison, this source recommends 1.6 to 2.0 g of protein per kilogram of body weight for strength and power exercise. (Check out: Nutrition for Runners: Protein) Nevertheless, keep in mind that the protein needs of masters athletes increases over time.  For instance, research has shown that athletes over 70 years of age need about 40g of protein for post-exercise muscle growth; whereas, younger athletes can build muscle with just 20g of post-exercise protein. (Check out: The Changing Nutritional Needs of Masters Athletes).
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Thank you for reading.

In a future post, I’ll write about my experiences with Mediterranean and Nordic eating patterns. 

For other plant-based recipe ideas sprinkled throughout Experiment of One Coaching, check out:

This post is part of the Green Runner Series which I started to bring attention to opportunities for increasing sustainability in endurance sports and health & wellness (#GreenRunner #SustainableLiving). So far in the series, it’s been shown that sustainable practices not only apply to diet, but to caring for running shoes in order to last longer. Check out:
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Email me at: info@experiment1coaching.com


Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel. I usually post once or twice a month.


A reader on Facebook commented: “ Super interesting read… I really would like to reduce meat! Just need to DO IT!!” Reply: “And it doesn’t have to be an ‘all or none’ approach, like with some diets. It can start by replacing SOME meat with vegetables or having one plant-based meal a week.”
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A reader on Facebook commented: “ Good points and tips! The diet within planetary boundaries can be and is beneficial for people and planet 🌎” Reply: While doing the research for this blog, I was surprised that one-third of our total greenhouse gas emissions comes from food production.