Sustainable Eating: Impact of Sustainable Diets on Your Health

5 Simply Ways You Can Eat More Sustainably

Ever wondered how sustainable your eating is? It will surprise you what the impact of what you’ve been putting on your fork has been having on your health and the planet – it’s not what you may think. With the world’s leading scientists highlighting the need for us all to eat more sustainably, it’s helpful to know exactly what is sustainable eating and is it good for your health.

5 Simple Ways to Eating More Sustainably

It’s easy to eat more sustainably using these 7 simple tips:

  • Eat more plants
  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Waste less food
  • Moderate your meat and fish consumption
  • Buy credibly certified foods

What does it mean to eat sustainably?

Putting foods on your fork that are good for the planet, and your health is sustainable eating – and it’s worth learning more about. If we can help the planet make a shift towards more plant-based eating, it would not only improve our health, as shown in research papers. Such a shift would also help ensure there is a sustainable supply of food to feed the world’s growing population and preserve this beautiful planet we inhabit. For example, food production emits 30% of global greenhouse gases and accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals.

Is Sustainable Food Healthy?

When researchers looked into the impact dietary choices have on health and the environment, they made an astounding report in the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Food linked with improved adult health also tends to have low environmental impacts. In other words, moving towards a more sustainable diet is a healthy choice.

There are food groups that are associated with negative health outcomes and are commonly linked with environmental degradation: unprocessed red meat and processed red meat, with fish, chicken, dairy, and eggs being slightly lower. Eating more sustainable is also a healthy choice! The foods with the greatest environmental impacts are also those that the consumption of them is linked with a higher risk of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, and cancers (account for 40% of global mortality). Of note, the exception was sugary processed foods which are linked with poor health but have a low environmental impact.

What is the Most Sustainable Food?

Of the foods linked with improved health in the study (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish), all of them had low environmental impacts, with the exception of fish. The most sustainable foods you can eat are vegetables, according to researchers.

What is the most sustainable diet?

The most sustainable diet is one that considers the following factors in as many food choices as possible:

  • Eating plants is a sustainable diet.
  • Choosing a variety of foods, instead of too many people relying on the same chicken dish, we help diversify the pressure of our demand on the food system. Food production is the largest stress on biodiversity through habitat destruction, jeopardizing over 70% of birds and mammals listed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  • Planning meals, and finding creative ways to use leftovers, is a great way to reduce the 30% of food that is wasted on average in Western households.
  • Moderating your meat consumption, both red and white is a more sustainable diet – alternatively, reaching for plant-based proteins (beans, legumes, nuts, seeds).
  • When buying food, look for credible certified standards, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which ensure your food has been sourced and produced sustainably. Other standards to look for include Fairtrade, which protects farmers and workers in developing countries, and RSPO on palm oil products.

How Sustainable Eating is Impacting Your Health

Our current animal protein production-consumption relies heavily on energy- and protein-rich feed crops, which have altered the amount of nutritious omega-3 fatty acids found in animal products, and increased the amount of unhealthy saturated fatty acids present. You’d have to eat six extensively reared chickens today to get the same nutritional omega-3s found in one chicken in the 1970s. Studies suggest farmed fish are also noting similar declines in their omega-3 content.

Is Meat a Sustainable Food?

Western diets include meat-centric meals, typically amassing to the consumption of 64 to 88g of protein per day, of which 37% is meat and meat products, and is far greater than the recommended 45-55g by nutritional guidelines. It’s impressive how much more chicken and fish we’re eating today, with projections showing our appetite for these foods will push further demand on crop-feed farming. In order to feed the animals we are consuming, extensive and intensive feed-crop farming has to occur, which isn’t sustainable. It’s requiring farmers to convert more land into fields, further reducing natural territory for wildlife and forests needed for climate health.

Simple Ways to Eat More Sustainable

Eating a more plant-based diet is easy when you have great recipe ideas on hand. Here are some to get you started, from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition’s Distance Education graduates. You could be one – here’s how.


Appetite for destruction: summary report. World Wildlife Federation, 2017.

Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet 2015 Dec; 386 (10010): 2287-323.

Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of incident of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all-cause mortality in a general population of middle-aged adults. J Am Heart Assoc, 2019 Aug;8:e012865.

Multiple health and environmental impacts of food. Proced Nat Acad Sci of USA, 2019 Nov;116 (46): 23357-23362

Contributed by Allison Tannis

Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at Follow @deliciouslygeeky.