Posted on: March 1st, 2023

By: Grace Mooney, MS, RDN, LDN

The theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month is “Fuel for the Future,” with a focus on sustainability.  Wondering what it means to eat sustainably? We’ve got some tips to help you preserve the health of the earth while improving your own health and well-being.

Eating for the Earth

There are multiple ways to eat and shop in a way that supports the environment, including eating more plant-based proteins (while reducing meat consumption), reducing food waste, and buying local produce.

Prioritize Plant-Based Proteins

Especially as grocery costs rise, swapping your beef or poultry for a plant-based protein can cut down on costs, reduce your carbon footprint, and provide some additional health benefits.  Plant-based proteins include foods like beans, legumes, tempeh, tofu, and nuts. Meat production requires significant water and contributes to an increased carbon footprint, but producing plant-based proteins, specifically legumes, has been shown to improve soil health and biodiversity.

Reduce Food Waste

We’ve probably all had the experience of tossing a neglected bag of spinach at the end of the week. If you know you struggle to finish fresh produce, buying frozen and canned produce can be an excellent way to reduce food waste. Other ways to reduce food waste (and food-packing waste) include using creativity with leftovers, buying foods with minimal packaging, and opting for reusable containers and bags over disposable containers.

Buy Local

Buying produce at the farmer’s market (or even growing your own!) is a sustainable option because it cuts down on the amount of transportation – and carbon emissions – needed to get food from the farm to your table.

For more tips on sustainable eating, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Website.

Health Benefits of Eating Sustainably

Can eating for the environment help you live longer? It’s possible! One study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that eating more plant proteins may lengthen lifespan. Plant-based proteins are generally low in saturated fat and have fiber, which is beneficial for blood sugar management, heart health, digestion. Even for plant-based proteins with fat, like nuts and seeds, these are healthy fats that may benefit cardiovascular health.

Eating fruits and vegetables – whether canned and frozen or fresh from the farmer’s market– are also beneficial for our health. A study published in the Lancet found that a plant-rich diet, including fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals help keep our bodies healthy. Especially in the hot summer months, fruits and vegetables can help with our hydration due to their high water content. When opting for frozen or canned produce, opt for for labels like “no added sugar” and “low sodium”.

Needs some inspiration to start your sustainability journey? Check out these ideas for some nutritious, sustainable meal swaps to fuel your future:

  • Black Bean Tacos: replace the beef or ground turkey with low-sodium canned black beans)
  • Sweet Potato Chili: swap the beef for an extra can of beans and chopped sweet potato and add extra fresh or frozen veggies like bell peppers, carrots, celery, or whatever you enjoy
  • Egg Scramble: swap the eggs for crumbled, firm tofu and season with your favorite herbs and spices. Worried about missing the classic yellow color? Use a dash of turmeric.
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