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Sustainable Eating for Sustainable Health

Sustainable: able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

On the topic of sustainable eating, what comes to mind?

Perhaps your immediate thought is of impact the foods you choose to eat have on the planet? Or possibly, what comes to mind is the type of eating regime that will be personally sustainable for you? Especially given your activity level, health and fitness goals, and overall lifestyle including travel and day to day schedules.

Maybe both? But, can the same eating plan that supports the health of our planet also be the plan which supports our own health?

This can feel difficult to balance when the what, where, when, and how much to eat at any given meal is often something to figure out on the fly. After all, taking the time to thoughtfully map out a schedule for the week—including what to buy, where to buy it, when to get to the farmer’s market or grocery store to shop, and then carve out time in the kitchen to cook—isn’t something that piques the interest of many.

A recent New York Times article entitled “A Guide to Sustainable Eating” (1) asked this very question; whether we have considered the effects of what we eat on the planet, and if we have made changes that will protect not only the Earth but also our health and the well-being of generations to come.

A mere five years ago, less than half of the suppers served at home were actually cooked at home (2) and on any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% (approximately 84.8 million adults) were consuming fast food regularly. (3)

What’s the price we’re paying for convenience, both on our guts as well as the planet?

The article cites a recent study published in the Lancet (4) which asked whether we can feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries. We are then reminded of the statistics we’ve heard before:

  • “Cattle consume up to eight pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and release tons of greenhouse gases in the process while their saturated fat and calories contribute heavily to our high rates of chronic diseases.”
  • “Intensive meat production is on an unstoppable trajectory comprising the single greatest contributor to climate change. Humanity’s dominant diets are not good for us, and they are not good for the planet.”

The article follows these points with the recommendation that “the Lancet report does not insist that everyone become a vegetarian or vegan, but does set as a goal that people in wealthy countries limit consumption of red meat—beef and lamb in particular—to one 3-ounce serving a week, or one 6-ounce serving every two weeks.”

Most of us are eating too much low-quality red-meat protein. Demanding more than what we would naturally be able to access does undoubtedly lead to overproduction with unnatural means (grain), depletion of soil due to excessive overuse, and an end product that is no longer even a healthy option for us humans to consume anyway.

The next piece of advice the article offers is that “we can be somewhat more generous with pork, poultry, and fish, which are better for your health and less damaging to the earth.” The reason being that “the grain-to-meat ratio for poultry and hogs is only about 2.5 to 1, and the fat in fish is mostly unsaturated and high in omega-3 fatty acids.”

But wait. Why are we feeding grain to pork, poultry and fish?

Decreasing the amount of unnaturally raised cow we consume (in other words, grain-fed) and lowering the amount of unnatural pig, chicken, or fish, yet still continuing to eat and therefore support the industry which is responsible for the inception of this issue in the first place is not the answer.

Doing so is still supporting their ways and means.

How about the impact of relying too heavily on grains, both on the planet and on our guts?

When comparing a plant-based, nutrient-dense, seasonal diet containing small portions of mindfully sourced proteins to a diet which is solely based on “eating less animal protein overall,” how can the latter even be considered a viable option?

Fortunately, things are looking up and today, 82 percent of the meals Americans eat are prepared at home; a much higher percentage than just a few years ago. (5) If we’re preparing food at home more, hopefully that also means we’re getting out more often to shop locally and naturally.

Whether we’re using a planned-in-advance list based on recommendations that suit particular health issues, or perusing farmers markets to purchase fresh and local produce, the end result is the same: This is sustainable.

Once we recognize how crucially what we eat directly affects our health and then opt to create a common-sense plan of what to eat, we will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the effects of eating even infrequent fast food meals lacking in nutrient density.

In my work with clients, sustainability from day one of a new eating regime (both from the environmental standpoint as well as the client’s ability to easily maintain it for the long haul) is the top priority. And since every customized plan I create is completely based on local, organic, seasonal, fresh food; sustainability is embodied automatically.

Let’s not get overly hyped up on scheduling a grass-fed steak to be eaten only once per month in favor of increasing the times we have a serving of a bean-based veggie burger. Put simply, if you rely on eating foods that naturally grow, swim, run, or fly over the land you live on, you too are embodying the most sustainable manner of eating possible.

It is that simple.

Originally published on



Nell Stephenson, B.S.

Nell Stephenson has been an advocate for The Paleo Diet since 2011, and is the co-author of The Paleo Diet Cookbook.

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