In 2015, for the first time ever, the USDA’s advisory panel recommended including sustainability in the updated nutritional guidelines. This was because our food choices have a significant impact not only on our health, but also on the health of our planet. As it turns out, eating a healthy diet can also be good for the environment.
Unfortunately, the final guidelines don’t mention sustainability. But if you look a little closer at the guidelines, what they recommend just so happens to also be good for the environment.
The push for a healthier diet
It’s no secret that obesity is a major problem in the United States. Obesity rates have been increasing across all population groups and all ages for the past several decades. Today, the CDC estimates that more than a third of U.S. adults are obese.
This may sound gloomy, and it is a serious problem. But Americans’ attitude toward food has been shifting.
Consumers are increasingly demanding better options. Beyond looking at nutrition panels, people want to know how their food was made. They care about aspects of sustainability like fair labor practices, animal rights, and environmental impacts.
The food industry has noticed this and has been forced to respond — leading to some big changes. Take, for instance, Kroger’s Free From 101+ program. The supermarket chain surveyed customers to find 101 ingredients they didn’t want to see in their food. They are now in the process of weeding those ingredients out of their stores nationwide.
Learning what a healthy diet consists of
Many of us — raised on a diet of packaged frozen meals and fast food — lack the knowledge of how to actually eat healthy. It doesn’t help that food labels are sometimes intentionally deceptive.
This is why the USDA’s nutritional guidelines are so important. Reading the entire document of guidelines is probably too much to ask of people. But here are some of their key recommendations:
Notice how vegetables top the list of recommendations, followed by fruits. The guidelines also recommend limiting processed foods, since they’re usually less nutrient-dense and can have a number of unhealthy ingredients hidden away in them.
You may want to take the USDA recommendations with a grain of salt (as long as you limit your sodium intake!). For example, you can have a very healthy diet without eating any dairy. But it’s interesting to see what the current recommendations are, and their emphasis on vegetables.
How healthy eating helps the environment — and you!
We eat a lot of meat in America. We eat much more than we need nutritionally, and, according to new research, more than is healthy. By eating less meat, we can increase our health and help the environment at the same time.
Meat production — beef and lamb in particular — contributes to environmental issues including water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, just to name a couple. So by cutting down on meat, you can make a real difference.
Now, we don’t recommend going out and yelling at people for buying meat at the grocery store. Instead, consider your options for reducing your own meat consumption. You don’t need to go full vegetarian to make a difference. More people than ever are reducing how much meat they eat. There’s no right or wrong way to go about doing it.