Next step: A sustainable diet

SUSTAINABLE – definition: capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage

Recent conversations about a healthy diet have encompassed the idea that the food we eat should be beneficial for us but not detrimental to the health of the planet. This is the basis of a sustainable diet.

The World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org.uk) says that we can reduce our impact on the environment and improve our health by changing the way we eat, which can be relatively easy and something that we can do everyday. Generally, this would involve eating more plants, eating a variety of foods and wasting less food. See Livewell 2020 for more details.

LIVEWELL 2020: 7 day sample menu

Eating a less processed diet, containing fewer processed foods, fewer ‘high calorie’ foods and less meat may have health benefits, since populations that eat a wholefood diet tend to suffer less with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, stroke and cancer.

Meat is a nutritious food, but in general we eat too much of it. Environmentally we cannot sustain the level of meat-eating most of us have enjoyed in the Western world. Start with eating meat occasionally, rather than everyday. Consider meat-free days, such as Meat-free Monday, or have ‘meat-light’ meals, meaning that just a little meat (eg: bacon) is added to meals for flavour. Meals made without meat are often easy to make and are great value.

In terms of health, the British Dietetic Association says that protein can come from a variety of sources and that eating a mixture of foods and different plant proteins will enable your body to get the nutrients that it needs. The SACN Iron & Health report (published by UK government agencies) advises that adults require an average of just 70 grams per day (cooked weight) of red and processed meat to maintain iron levels.

Make the most of pulses

Pulses are incredibly healthy and good value. Keeping a few cans of pulses in your kitchen cupboards is a good idea because pulses can make you meals go further, they provide protein and fibre, and a serving counts towards your goal of 5-a-day fruits and vegetables.

  • Use less meat in dishes – add beans chickpeas or lentils to bulk out stews, soups and pies – for example, when making spaghetti bolognaise I use half the recommended amount of meat for a recipe and substitute green lentils (tinned or dried)
  • Toss beans into salads – try a leafy salad with added cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, chopped parsley and a garlicky dressing; or, a Mexican-style salad with kidney beans, sweet corn, chopped avocado, red onion, coriander and a pinch of chilli (to taste; or, fold a tin of beans through a rice salad, along with your favourite accompaniments
  • Puree beans with garlic for a quick dip or as an alternative spread to butter or margarine – serve with wholemeal crackers or vegetable crudités
  • Mash butter beans with garlic and olive oil – as an alternative to mashed potatoes
  • Beans are very versatile but you could choose to have a simple meal such as beans on toast or with a baked potato

So, while developing a healthy diet, also consider making it a sustainable diet and including an ever-greater variety of foods. .

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