As we approach March, National Nutrition Month, our focus will be on how to shift your mindset and lifestyle to encompass food choices that are good for you, others, and the planet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2023 campaign theme is “Fuel for the Future,” designed to ultimately guide you to make food choices with sustainability in mind, as well as helping you understand why this is important for you and for our world.
Healthy Food - Healthy People - Healthy Planet
Our Food Choices Impact the Environment.
As humans our own health is impacted by the everyday choices we make, especially regarding our dietary habits. Our health isn’t solely impacted in a physical way, however. Our food choices – the “what we eat and drink,” but also the “from where” and “how we get the food” – impact the environment. So, how do we take what we already know about nutrition and healthy habits and combine that with ways we can support our environment? Here are a few thoughts to consider:
Lead with fruits and vegetables
Prioritize good fiber, protein, and vitamins/minerals from plant-based sources
Limit packaged foods and plastics
As leaders in the world of wellness, we often refer to “mindset” as a tool for behavior change. This is just as important when we discuss nutrition, as when we discuss your environment, your social well-being, and even your occupational success.
To increase vitamins, and minerals in your diet, we ask you to “lead with fruits and vegetables”-- for better health! Yes, animal-based protein sources have their benefits, but as Harvard School of Public Health writes, the traditional Western diet pattern is “characterized by high consumption of calories, highly processed foods, (refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats.” This typically results in more saturated fat, less fiber, and lack of exposure to a variety of healthy nutrients in one’s diet. Any combination of these may lead to a higher risk for various chronic diseases. However, a plant-focused diet, in combination with the other principles of our Take 5! program may inspire and guide you to find your optimal wellbeing.
The Planetary Health Plate is a spin on the more well-known MyPlate. It highlights balanced portions, but also prioritizes environmentally friendly food choices. You may also refer to Portion Control for Weight Management for a few quick strategies you can implement in your routine, today.
If you’d like to learn more about the environmental impact of your diet, take this quick Footprint Calculator survey and find your carbon, nitrogen, and water footprints!
By focusing on nutrient density versus caloric density, you have the ability to eat more, feel better, and weigh less (if that’s one of your goals). That’s because fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are perfect examples of nutrient dense foods, being lower in calories, higher in fiber, and abundant in essential micronutrients (like calcium, omegas, B vitamins, iron, etc.), versus their more often consumed animal product counterparts (more calories, less nutrients). A well-balanced and achievable example of a nutrient dense meal is the Physicians Committee Power Plate. Like the Planetary Health Plate, the Power Plate hones in on a flexible, but plant-focused approach, with easy steps to increase fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals in your diet every day.
Since beef, poultry, and pork are common staples in different regions and cultures, including the typical Western diet, it is understandable if this sort of dietary transformation seems intimidating or simply not worth it. However, like we mentioned above, not only is plant-focused nutrition good for you and our planet, it’s beneficial for those around you, too - and not just environmentally speaking. Decades of research makes it clear that our food choices influence the food choices of those around us and vice versa. We can inspire others to make a shift toward a healthier, more environmentally friendly AND nutrient dense power plate by making these choices for ourselves. A perfect illustration of how and why “the company we keep” impacts our daily habits. Which motivates you most? Hold onto that motivation, that “why,” and support your own health, the health of those around you, AND the health of our planet!
If you are in need of inspiration for a hearty and savory protein replacement for some of your favorite meals, look no further! Harvard School of Public Health suggests steps for using the texture and flavor of nuts, seeds, legumes, and a variety of vegetables to satisfy the desire for umami– the fifth recognized taste associated with meat!
Over the past few decades, paper, glass, and cotton have been replaced by plastic, creating a cheaper and sometimes faster way to produce and package goods. Just like with food, cheaper isn’t always better! We are surrounded by plastics – much of our furniture, electronics, utensils, food packaging, and more are partially or totally made of them! Because of contamination, we eat, drink, and breathe in plastics every day. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, we consume almost the equivalent of a credit card in plastic EVERY week. This applies globally!
Chemicals used to make plastics have been labeled as hazardous to our health, as well as to the health of the planet. Research shows these chemicals are associated with a variety of health problems, such as fertility issues, impaired neurodevelopment in children, immune disorders, and a higher risk of hormone-related cancers. Plastic also threatens wildlife, contributes to global warming, and more.
My Plastic Free Life shares 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life. There are so many habits and behaviors that, with just a tweak, suddenly contribute to a healthier lifestyle and cleaner planet!
Here are a few everyday ways we can skip the plastic:
1. Carry reusable shopping bags. They’re good for everything!
2. Give up bottled water. Buy a bottle that’s reusable - but preferably made of aluminum over plastic!
3. Learn to love the bulk bins at the grocery store – and invest in washable cloth bags for storing!
To stay on theme with the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics campaign, “Fuel for the Future,” we ask you to choose at least one habit to start working on today. These are not massive changes. We’re simply doing our part to prioritize our wellbeing, the health of those we spend time with, and the sustainability of our futures. Let’s consider how our dietary habits not only affect our individual wellbeing, but also the planet’s health and future.