How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

On 9th February 2023 the World Wildlife Fund produced a report in conjunction with Knorr identifying plants that help to protect the planet whilst also being beneficial for human health: “50 foods for healthier people and a healthier planet”.

The report goes into far more detail than just this – and I don’t personally agree with all the statements made- but I am always keen to ensure I am not only aware of a healthy diet, but one that will also help sustain humans and the planet long-term!

I am not a vegan or vegetarian, but I do believe that a plant-based diet, one that is based on a “10 a day” and “40 different plant foods every week” approach, is essential for our health. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about frequently.

As Peter Gregory, Research Advisor, stated, “Diversified diets not only improve human health but benefit the environment through diversified production systems that encourage wildlife and more sustainable use of resources.”

The “Future 50 Foods Report” identified crops that had a high nutritional value with a low environmental impact:

I am aware that some of these foods my come at a higher cost. It’s important to consider a number of factors when choosing your foods: diversity, seasonality, locally grown (and supporting local farmers) and cost. Make a note of these foods and start to look out for them online, in shops and at local markets. Try to introduce some new ones each week.

1. Algae

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

The Japanese have been eating seaweed for thousands of years, and their diet and health is considerably better than those in the Western world today. Seaweed is rich in antioxidants. One way to include it in your diet is to use a culinary shake like one produced by Sea greens (in place of salt and pepper). Sea salad vegetables can also be bought; and the popularity of Sushi means there are many companies offering seaweed wraps too.

2. Beans and pulses

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

Beans and pulses are a staple of vegan and vegetarian diets as their main source of protein. Beside protein, they are also a fantastic source of fibre, essential for good gut health (seriously lacking in most Western diets). For meat eaters, incorporating more bean based dishes (or reducing meat content and adding some beans) is not only good for your health but low cost too. Look out for some more unusual types: mung beans, black eyed beans, adzuki beans and fava beans. Lentils are good too. 

3. Cereals and grains

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

I don’t promote a grain heavy diet (many can be too starchy) and I particularly recommend a low wheat and gluten based diet, but there are some less common grains that are gluten-free (easier to digest) and with a higher protein content too. They also include minerals like zinc and manganese. Buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice, millet, amaranth and fonio are the ones to look out for.

4. ‘Fruit’ vegetables

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

These are plants we eat as vegetables but are really classified as a fruit: courgette, peppers, squash and okra. Think about making a ratatouille or roasting them. As with all vegetables, they offer vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (nutrients that keep the plant healthy and pass on their benefits to us).

5. Leafy greens

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

I’m sure you already eat plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables. They are full of nutritional goodness: antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Kale is very popular now and can be eaten raw in salads, added to stews and soups or added to stir-fries. Spinach is easy to add to casseroles and curries It’s not green, but red cabbage alongside green cabbages, beetroot leaves (beets) and pak choi offer high vitamin C levels, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

6. Mushrooms

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

Fungi are definitely a low-cost nutrient rich food. There have been many studies on the benefits of less common mushrooms like lions main, shitake and mitake mushrooms. They can help protect against tumour formation, are brain protective and support your immunity. Add to your meals wherever you can.

7. Nuts and seeds

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

Nuts and seeds are rich in good fats, fibre, protein and a vast range of vitamins and minerals. Alongside more traditional nuts and seeds, do eat flaxseed/linseed (best ground or buy as milled to ensure they are digested well) and hemp and sesame seeds. Both contain Omega-3 alongside Omega-6.

8. Root vegetables

How to eat for your health whilst protecting the planet too

Whilst I don’t recommend a really high intake of these as they are starchy (deliver a sugary hit in excess when digested), they should still form part of the diet. Parsnips, turnip, swede. And do eat the tops/leaves too. These are often thrown away, but can be eaten like other leafy vegetables. 

Do look at the full report to identify other “planet friendly” plant foods. And remember your “10 a day” and “40 different plant foods every week!

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Gut Health Nutritionist Caroline Peyton Principles
Caroline is a Professional Nutritionist, Naturopath based in Wiltshire.

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