We speak to nutritionist Sophie Scott, who is also a lecturer at Endeavour College of Natural Health, about how to factor in the environment, as well as our waistlines when it comes to food choices.
Climate change is squarely in the spotlight thanks to the recent COP26 Climate Change Conference and the COVID pandemic.
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There’s no doubt that veganism, plant-based and flexitarian or reducetarian diets have become increasingly popular in recent years but with climate change the biggest issue of our generation, Climatarianism is the diet of the future. The aim of the climatarian diet is to make more educated choices about the climate impact of the food we buy and consume.
So how do we eat for the environment and take climate change into account when meal prepping or dining out?
We might soon see ‘C’ alongside GF, DF and V on food products and menus as a way of guiding us towards food that has had less of an impact on the earth. Potentially, carbon labelling will become as common as nutrition advice and health star ratings as we shift from counting calories to counting carbon emissions.
Here are five ways to be a climatarian:
1. Aim for zero food waste
According to the UN, an estimated 30 per cent of all food produced for human consumption never makes it to our plates. In Australia, it’s estimated we throw out 20 per cent of all the food we buy, usually because it goes off or is past its use by date. Even more frightening than the waste is the cost. Each household throws away almost $4000 worth of groceries each year, mostly potatoes and bananas.
If your fruit or veg is getting a bit old, freeze it, pickle it, or stew it. Stewed apple and rhubarb with prunes and orange juice makes for a tasty, healthy breakfast. Even cooked couscous and rice, and raw nuts, can be frozen to prolong their life.
- Store food correctly to help it last as long as possible and don’t waste anything
- Freeze basil leaves and then use them in spaghetti sauce
- Keep citrus fruits like oranges and lemons in the fridge to maximise Vitamin C
- Grate broccoli stalks and add to soups and omelettes
- Celery leaves can be used as garnish instead of parsley
- Sourdough bread that has gone a bit hard can be blitzed with garlic, parmesan, salt and basil to make delicious breadcrumbs
- Put parsley and coriander in a glass of water in the fridge
- Make banana and zucchini bread with over-ripe bananas
Another way to reduce mass food waste is to buy odd-shaped fruit and vegetables to encourage food retailers to buy all shapes and sizes from farmers. One day we’ll hopefully live in a world where there’s no distinction between odd and normal shaped foods, it will all just be food.
We know red meat has the highest climate impact of all foods, so reducing our meat intake can make a real difference. It doesn’t have to be a strict meat-free diet but try meat-free Mondays, go half-half when making a meat dish, for example half mincemeat and half lentils, or introduce a few healthy, tasty, easy and filling meat-free dishes into your repertoire such as veggie frittatas, cauliflower and cheese bakes, or stir fry tempeh and veggies. You could try switching out red meat for some lower carbon, yet still high protein, options like eggs, fish and pork.
Also, try to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet. The UN indicated in a recent climate change report that plant-based diets present an opportunity to mitigate climate change impacts so when in doubt, go green.
To produce the meat in a standard burger, as much greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere as driving a car 60 kilometres. Vegan food swaps are growing rapidly in Australia including faux meat burgers which look and taste like the real deal. Watch out though, processed faux meat alternatives can be high in salt, sugar and fillers, so go for wholefood options like lentils, chickpeas and tofu over “facon” and faux sausages.
Even the American Heart Association is considering the issue of sustainability in line with heart health. In its first new dietary guidance in 15 years, the association has recommended a shift from red meat and ultra-processed foods to plant proteins to help improve individual health and the environment. It’s expected the new Australian Dietary Guidelines, to be released in 2024, will follow suit.
Watch what you eat and when
One of the most important aspects of a climatarian diet is choosing climate friendly foods. Plant-based foods create far fewer carbon emissions than animal products, in some cases up to 50 times less. Fruit and vegetables such as bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, peas and tomatoes have the least impact on the environment.
Buying in-season foods not only reduces food miles (the food items in a typical shopping basket in Victoria have travelled a total of 70,803km to reach the table, which is almost the equivalent of travelling twice around the circumference of the earth), it maximises the nutrition content.
Remember, the longer a food has been sitting around before you buy it, the more nutrients, particularly Vitamin C, are lost.
This isn’t about being trendy, this is about the environment. Pesticide and fertilisers have a large carbon footprint, not to mention the impact on our health, so buy organic when you can.
Start with foods that you eat the skin of such as stone fruit, berries, tomatoes, and leafy greens like spinach and kale to reduce pesticide consumption.
Reducing our intake of junk food is another way of reducing emissions, while also benefiting health. More than a third (35%) of the energy in the average Aussie diet comes from junk foods and alcohol.
Ready-made food and drinks mightn’t create as much carbon as meat production, but because of the quantity we consume and all that packaging and processing, the climate impact adds up.
By Endeavour College of Natural Health nutrition lecturer Sophie Scott, who is also a clinical nutritionist and environmental scientist. Follow Sophie on Instagram @fitandfedau or for more information on Endeavour College of Natural Health, click here.
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