Sustainability is the hot topic right now and futuristic sounding 2020 is a great year to consider your personal impact on the planet. We should all take small steps to reduce waste and our own carbon footprint. Did you know that simple food decisions can make a huge impact on our environment? We talk to Heather Leeson from the Food Crew about how to eat greener this year.

Heather is currently running a sustainable eating course with the lucky participants from Meath County Council. This course is running over 8 weeks and participants will be having some before and after blood tests as well as body composition assessments to measure the impact of a more sustainable diet on their health. The programme has already got off to a start with the average participant losing 4 lbs and 3 metabolic years in just two weeks!

Heather also recently talked about this huge topic on Virgin Media One – you can watch this back right here.

So what is a sustainable diet?

Heather tells us that food production is responsible for ¼ of global greenhouse gas emissions so it’s a good place to start if you want to play your part.  But it’s hard to have consensus on what a sustainable diet actually is and it is going to be different in different parts of the world   For example in Ireland, our dairy products are farmed in a lower impact way than they are in other parts of the world.  The EAT planetary health guidelines published in the Lancet journal have a great deal of scientific and medical consensus behind them and are good ones to follow.  These dietary recommendations are also much better for our health.   If we all adopted the planetary health diet, it would prevent 11 million premature deaths per annum!


3 steps to take towards sustainability

1. Reduce meat consumption

Beef and lamb are right at the top of the list of foods that are responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. It’s true that Irish meat is produced more sustainably than in other parts of the world. The other good news is that Irish meat is healthier too as many animals are eating a largely grass-based diet. However, the research is still showing that we are eating too much and we are living far beyond the resources the planet can supply.  WHO recommendations are to limit red meat to no more than 3 times per week. We don’t all need to become vegans, but I recommend having at least 2 meat-free dinners per week.

Source: BBC climate change food calculator

2. Eat more plant-based proteins

Protein is the building block of life. We need protein to keep us fuller for longer, keep us healthy and to support a healthy weight.  Consider these more sustainable choices:

  • Nuts and seeds – considered the lowest impact form of protein. A palmful is a portion. They also contain fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats and have been shown to help support heart health.  Add to your breakfast, have as a snack or sprinkle on a salad or soup
  • Pulses (chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas, hummus) – also low in calories and a great source of fibre to support our gut bacteria and very cheap too. Lentils cook in less than 30 minutes and are great to add to soups and Bolognese. Tinned beans and chickpeas can be added to salads, casseroles, stews. Even if you still include meat, you are bulking the meal out with healthier and more sustainable ingredients
3. Eat local and in season

To reduce the massive carbon footprint of some of our fruits and vegetables, we should be aiming to buy in season where we can and avoid foods that are flown in like strawberries at this time of year.  Next time you pick up a package of fruit or veg, check where it has commenced its journey.   You might be surprised to tot up all those air miles. The packaging of course is another issue. If you eat local, ideally from a market when you can, often there is far less in the way of protective plastic packaging that just ends up in the bin. Find out more about what’s in season on the  stopfoodwaste website

Easy green swaps

Swap from this To this
Chilli con carne Vegetable and bean chilli
Spaghetti Bolognese Wholemeal spaghetti with lentil and veg bolognese
Beef curry Chickpea and butternut squash curry
Breakfast roll / fry Scrambled eggs, spinach and mushrooms with slice wholegrain bread
Ham and cheese sandwich Wholegrain wrap with hummus and salad


Heather Leeson, Food Crew and Nutritional Therapist with Glenville Nutrition Ireland

About the author : Aine Ryan