By Megan Ng
What is Sustainable Nutrition?
Sustainable nutrition is the ability of our food systems to provide adequate energy and nutrients to maintain good health and meet the needs of our current and future populations. Sustainable nutrition involves several factors that include our surroundings and personal life coming together to provide nourishment that is mindful of the planet and society.
There are four main dimensions of sustainable nutrition:
● Health and diet
Health and Diet
The ability to provide food and nutrients to people in need is the core of sustainable nutrition. This can include the nutrition quality of foods as well as food safety. The goal of sustainable nutrition is to reduce the intake of nutrients linked to disease while increasing nutrients that are beneficial for health (Sustainable Nutrition – What Does It Mean and How Do We Take Action? n.d). The Western diet pattern of consuming more calories, processed foods, and animal products has led to a disconnect with our food and increased food waste, obesity, and unrealistic expectations of the pricing and sourcing of food (Willet et al., 2019). Adding more plant sources to our diets, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help increase nutritional value and health outcomes while lowering environmental impact.
Diet quality worsens with increasing obstacles to food access. Higher prices for nutrient-dense foods compared to nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods are linked to malnutrition and obesity across socioeconomic classes (Nicholls & Drewnowski, 2021). Food access and affordability of foods are shaped by social factors such as wages, incomes, housing, and child-care (Nicholls & Drewnowski, 2021). For sustainable nutrition to be promoted in our economy, efforts to lower food prices, increase nutrition assistance, and increased income can improve food access to whole and nutritious foods.
Climate change is the main focus of sustainable nutrition and sustainability overall. With the continued pollution and irreversible damages from our current water and land use, the amount of usable land we have left is decreasing rapidly. As our current farming practices and expansion of cities continues, we may not have enough land left to feed future generations. While sustainability is associated with a shift to plant-based proteins and foods, livestock and animals also have a role. Livestock can occupy unfarmable land, boost productivity in vulnerable areas where there is low mechanization, and act as recyclers of food waste (Nicholls & Drewnowski, 2021).
Nutritious diets vary all over the globe. Finding sustainable nutrition that is also culturally appropriate is essential for sustainability to be more widely adopted. For sustainability to take effect, global effort is needed.
More than just food, our food practices and customs in preparation also contribute to sustainability. For example, some cultures utilize all parts of the animal to prevent food waste. Putting sustainable nutrition in context and with the familiar foods of each culture will make it easier to transform the way society lives and eats.
For sustainability and the longevity of our food systems, we need to be active in all four dimensions. Being mindful of how we grow and consume our food today will lead to a healthier and safer system to feed and preserve our future.
- Nicholls, J., & Drewnowski, A. (2021). Toward Sociocultural Indicators of Sustainable Healthy Diets. Sustainability, 13(13), 7226. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137226
- Sustainability. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved 23 March 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sustainability/
- Sustainable Nutrition – What Does It Mean and How Do We Take Action?. Kerry Health And Nutrition Institute. Retrieved 6 April 2022, from Sustainable Nutrition – What Does It Mean and How Do We Take Action? (kerry.com)
Megan Ng is an Undergraduate Student of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign