Plant-based eating is sustainable

Plant-based eating is sustainable

We are currently consuming nature’s resources in a way that exceeds the natural limits of our planet. If we continue on this path, we will require the equivalent of two planet earths in the next few years, which is clearly unsustainable.

Our food choices have a significant impact on the environment, contributing to 20-30% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) – which are responsible for the accelerated global warming.

Livestock farming is by far the biggest environmental burden accounting for 14.5% total man-made GHGe, uses up the majority of land, is the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil and water pollution and water use. 

Additionally, 30–50% of all food produced is spoiled or wasted – representing a waste of land, water and other inputs, ‘unnecessary’ emissions, and contributing to food insecurity. 

We all have a crucial role to play including consumers, farmers, food companies as well as government. Production, consumption and less waste of more healthful plant foods is more resource efficient, produces less GHGe, helps to promote biodiversity and, in the main, promotes better health outcomes.

Countries like Canada, Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have renewed their food based dietary guidelines by fusing the latest understanding of nutrition and sustainability to bring about both ecological and health benefits. Their common starting point is the consumption of less animal proteins (in particular beef and red meat) and replacing it with more healthful plant food sources of protein such as soya and other beans and pulses, nuts and seeds. Other healthful plant foods alongside plant proteins should make up the majority of our diet: fruit, vegetables, starchy foods opting for whole grains wherever possible. 

Source: Food Climate Research Network. Why food and climate? [Internet] 2018 [cited 7/20/2018]. Available from:

The sustainable nutrient rich foods index

The scientific community is also exploring the crossroads between health and sustainability. The Sustainable Nutrient Rich Foods index (SNRF) is a new measure which reflects both the climate and nutritional impact of food products.

The SNRF index is based on energy density combined with three nutrients that should be encouraged (plant-based protein, essential fatty acids and dietary fibre) and three nutrients that should be limited (salt, saturated fat and added sugar). By combining health-related nutritional characteristics and greenhouse gas emissions of foods, we can create four general groups:

• Red, indicating foods with a negative nutrient profile and high climate impact

• White, indicating products with a moderate to negative nutrient profile and with medium climate impact

• Brown, indicating foods with a moderate to positive nutrient profile and medium climate impact

• Green, indicating a positive nutrient profile and low climate impact

The SNRF index can assist in rating food products and can help consumers make their diets simultaneously more healthy and more sustainable!