Just what is a sustainable diet? (and steps to make the switch)

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva


Just what is a sustainable diet? The phrase has been getting more traction recently, and a recent study has found that more people are willing to change to one. But a lack of understanding about what that means prevents many from doing so. Many people are also still determining what changes they should make.

“When thinking about how to live more sustainably, people seem to understand that this can mean taking fewer flights, using the car less, recycling more, but it seems that not everyone is aware of the difference that changing their diet can make as well,” explained Katherine Appleton, lead researcher of the study and Professor of Psychology at Bournemouth University, UK.

Here at Viable Earth, we’ll share an easier-to-digest meaning of what eating sustainably means, together with some simple steps to make the switch!

What is a sustainable diet?

A sustainable diet is one that is generally healthy and has a low environmental and food supply impact. Adopting a sustainable diet can help people retain their health while ensuring that the earth has adequate resources to feed future generations.

This concept might seem complex, but in its simplest form, a sustainable diet aims to positively impact humans and the ecosystem today and in the future.

The most sustainable diet, according to experts. 

Just what is a sustainable diet? (and steps to make the switch)

A group of scientists from 16 different countries, called the EAT-Lancet Commission, analysed existing data on the planet’s food demands, waste, and overall diet and found that food production is one of the largest contributors to climate change. 

The commission noted that vegan and vegetarian diets significantly reduce land use and greenhouse gas emissions and use the least water. 

A universally healthy reference for a sustainable diet includes increasing consumption of:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Legumes

While eating little to no:

  • Refined grains
  • Added sugars
  • Red meat
  • Processed foods

The benefits of a sustainable diet

Just what is a sustainable diet? (and steps to make the switch)

According to the FAO ​​(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), some of the benefits of a sustainable diet are:

Reduced greenhouse gases

If we cut the production and consumption of animal-based foods by 50 per cent, global greenhouse gas emissions will be lowered by 64 per cent by 2050.

Protection of threatened species

Between 20 per cent and 40 per cent of the mammals and birds that could become extinct by 2060 would have a better chance of survival.

Water conservation

With a more sustainable diet, food production would use less water and reduce the pollution of rivers and coastal areas due to livestock or the cultivation of animal feed.

Prevent deforestation

By dedicating less land area to livestock, sustainable food production would contribute to reducing deforestation.

Better health and food security

A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet reports that switching to a more sustainable diet would prevent 11 million premature deaths and improve food security for the population. 

Flip the plate and get started

Just what is a sustainable diet? (and steps to make the switch)
Happy cow

As with most dietary changes, many people find the switch easier if they approach the process step by step. Here are a few small changes you can take for a more sustainable diet:

  • Consider alternative meats
  • Eat more plants
  • Shop locally
  • Eat seasonally
  • Cut down on processed foods

“We need to promote greater awareness and knowledge of how changes to eating habits can go some way to helping the planet while also offering some suggested changes that are likely to be accepted and acted upon,” added Appleton.

Kaycee Enerva

Kaycee Enerva

A digital content manager based in the Philippines, Kaycee Enerva has written for multiple publications over several years. A graduate of Computer Science, she exchanged a career in IT to pursue her passion for writing. She's slowly practicing sustainability through period cups, and eating more plant-based food.


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