Nutritional guidelines with a sustainable focus are hard to come by. This is a guideline combining such diverse goals as a healthy lifestyle, weight control, a nutritious diet, animal welfare, biodiversity, a fertile soil, waste and energy reduction, good labor conditions, affordable prices and a fair income.
It’s easy to attribute good health to our diet. However, there is a limited truth in this. Our age, the height and weight of our body, our lifestyle, hereditary factors, our hormones, medication, and in general our health status, contribute to how we feel.
Of course, as far as food can make us feel better, it is good to reflect on our dietary intake with a nutritional guideline. The governments of more than 100 countries issued such guidelines.
However, even a quick scan of these guidelines shows that none of them incorporate sustainability goals. This article gives some clues how we can focus our dietary intake on nutrition, health and sustainability at the same time.
Table of contents
Balance your dietary intake
Although there is an abundant amount of information on the Internet on food, it’s very easy to get totally at loss. Just try to answer the question of how you can combine the goal of a steady and acceptable weight, with good health and nutritious and sustainable food.
The UK National Health Service provides an excellent plan with a food and activity chart on which you can register the progress you make when you want to lose weight. However, this plan only balances the aim of losing weight with our health, and our dietary intake.
The plan provides all kinds of suggestions and links, not the least for very tasty recipes. The consequences of the plan for sustainable goals such as mentioned above are unclear though. There is not even a reference to the reduction of food waste.
The once a week meat challenge
From the perspective of nutritional guidelines the easiest way to contribute to sustainability goals is by skipping our meat habits. If you are used to eat meat: start with the once a week meat challenge. Don’t eat more than 150 gram portions. And make this an organic meat portion.
Don’t mix meat with grain products and potatoes or rice. Eat it with fresh baked or steamed vegetables or a salad with a thin dressing of the finest olive oil and vinegar. Boost the flavor with bell pepper and cucumber.
The reduction of meat consumption contributes substantially to sustainability goals. The production of meat comes with the growing of soy for which tropical forests are destroyed, comes with cruel animal welfare and unfair trade conditions (huge subsidies go to pig and chicken farmers).
Let’s control our portions
Throughout the year supermarkets offer an abundant amount of food. They invest a lot in ways to seduce us to buy as much as possible. Moreover, much food in supermarkets comes in plastic or has to be put in plastic bags at the fresh food department.
Having been seduced and bought too much food in the supermarket, we tend to put far too many calories on our plates. To get rid of this ‘portion distortion’ some rules of thumb:
- Eat before you go shopping;
- Try to buy as much fresh food as possible;
- Use smaller plates and bowls (and cutlery I might add);
- Serve two types of vegetables (preferably of different colors);
- Supplement your food with nuts and seeds, or buy ready-made supplements;
- Spice your food with homegrown fresh herbs;
- Eat slowly (and chew your food accordingly);
- Turn off the TV (my advice: dump the TV altogether);
- Weigh the food you serve (don’t overdo this, try to learn to estimate the calories of your food).
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Let’s control our calories
When we control our portion, we control our calories. If we want to maintain our preferred weight, men need a daily calorie intake of 2500 Kcal and women 2000 Kcal. To lose weight it is safe to lower our daily calorie intake to 1900, for men, or 1400, for women. Provided you have some weight to lose.
If we want to be sure how many calories we serve at a meal, we try to estimate the weight of the portions we prepare. By adding up the calories of the different portions we eat, we’re able to work out the total calories we take in during the day.
We’re careful not to turn the search for calories into an obsession. The NHS calorie checker is an excellent way to get a first impression. Remember, a piece of carrot cake contains ten times more calories as four small raw carrots. And I love carrot cake.
I don’t like oatmeal porridge
In 2050 the earth inhabits 10 billion people. If we can’t balance this amount of people with our agricultural and environmental capacities, the only thing we will all eat within the next 30 years is oatmeal porridge.
I am not a fan of porridge, let alone oatmeal porridge. To only eat oatmeal porridge is all but healthy. Moreover, agricultural mono-cultures are already bad for the environment and biodiversity.
To prevent this food catastrophe we need to radically change our agricultural customs. Organic farming should be the standard. This is a challenge because a more sustainable agriculture requires more land.
Of course there are some interesting alternatives, such as vertical city gardens and water culture boxes you can install at home. Although they are promising, the question remains whether these alternatives can provide enough food.
Nutritional guidelines with a sustainable focus
We try to nudge the bar of our lifestyle with a sustainable focus. To integrate food, health and sustainability goals is not a piece of cake though. We are regularly confronted with setbacks. However, in general we move forward, albeit slowly.
There are 5 ways in which we learn to combine nutritional guidelines with a sustainable focus:
- From information on the Internet and by participating in citizen initiatives that focus on a more sustainable agriculture;
- By exchanging ideas and insights with our friends;
- We experiment with our kitchen garden and with very small steps we vary our food intake;
- By helping others to grow organic food;
- We only buy and eat organic food.
An important source to integrate our food, health and sustainability goals are dietary guidelines. There are many of these guidelines in the world, but only a few of them integrate these goals.
Rules of thumb
In summary, the best nutritional guideline with a sustainable focus is a plant-based diet. This has tremendous advantages over a meat based diet. The impact of meat production and consumption and agricultural mono-cultures on the environment and biodiversity is horrendous.
We buy and eat organic food because this serves at the same time health and sustainability goals. In organic agriculture no chemical fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides or fungicides are used.
Nutritional guidelines with a sustainable focus come with the following practical rules of thumb:
- Restrain the consumption of poultry to once a week;
- Only eat a very small amount;
- Don’t eat pork or beef or processed meat or fish;
- Eat as much fresh food as possible;
- Prefer carrots, tubers and turnips over salads;
- Eat fruits and vegetables from the season and preferably from where you live (for us this is easy because we live in Spain’s fruit and vegetable basket);
- Alternate raw foods with steamed or cooked versions;
- Eat 500gr vegetables daily;
- Use little amounts of water and (only olive) oil for cooking;
- Try not to overcook our food;
- Chew your food with some perseverance.
Can you relate to these rules of thumb? Tell us in the comment box below.
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