The report recommends reassessing healthy eating guidelines to take sustainability issues into consideration. Each recommendation could then be explained, in both health and environmental sustainability terms.
‘Sustainable’ needs to be better defined taking into account both a healthy, sustainable diet, and also broader sustainable food consumption and production, the Sustainable Consumption Report said. However, trade-offs may be needed among various aspects of sustainability in order to determine priorities.
“This would provide a focus for activity, and enable industry action and more effective communication to consumers,” it said.
The report’s proposed messages for healthy and sustainable eating are:
- Eat a varied balanced diet to maintain a healthy body weight. It explains that this decreases risk of several diet-related illnesses, and also means that energy and natural resources are not used to produce food unnecessarily.
- Eat more plant based foods, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The report encourages people to eat more vegetables and fruit for health reasons, while also bearing in mind that some produce is less environmentally friendly than others, mentioning air freight and heated greenhouses, for example.
- Value your food. Ask about where it comes from and how it is produced. Don’t waste it.
- Choose fish sourced from sustainable stocks. Dietary advice to eat two portions of fish a week should be taken alongside information on overexploited fish stocks.
- Moderate your meat consumption, and enjoy more peas, beans, nuts, and other sources of protein. The UK’s department of health already recommends limiting red meat consumption to less than 70 g a day, and the report also suggests eating meat free meals or having meat free days, basing meals around plants, and reducing meat portions.
- Include milk and dairy products in your diet or seek out plant based alternatives, including those that are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals.
- Drink tap water. This is the cheapest way to hydrate, and also has the lowest environmental impact.
- Eat fewer foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt
The report’s authors, from government, industry and NGOs, have recommended circulating these guidelines for peer review before adoption by government. Industry and NGOs could use the final recommendations as a basis for developing strategies to increase adoption of healthy, sustainable diets.
“The underlying issues are complex and inter-related,” they wrote. “They require collective and collaborative action; market forces alone will not deliver the necessary scale or pace of change (partly because of commercial tensions within supply chains and the provisions of Competition Law); similar arguments apply to research and innovation where the financial returns to individual funders may not support a business case for investment but there are wider benefits for the sector and society as a whole.”
In addition, the group suggested that in the shorter term, people could be encouraged to consume more locally produced food, and a ‘brand concept’ could be set up around sustainability in British food and farming.