Sustainable Foods – for a healthier future
“Most of us might believe it’s our energy or transport choices that cause the most serious environmental damage. In fact, it’s our food system that creates the biggest impact.” Dr. Tony Juniper, CBE, Executive Director for Advocacy, WWF-UK
To create a better tomorrow for our future selves and our children, we need to be aware how our food choices are affecting the world around us. If food and water shortages might seem like an abstract scenario to you right now, let me tell you – they’re not. Scientists and futurists are predicting that within the next 30 years, the world’s population will grow to whopping 9 billion.
By 2050 we will have almost one third more mouths to feed and securing food for everyone is a HUGE challenge. The world’s booming economy and the ever-increasing demand for meat, are literally grinding up our planet, and it’s getting worse. By the time of our childrens’ adulthood (2050), the world’s food production will have to increase for up to 70%.
So, if you are concerned about your health – and your family´s – keep reading this post; after this your supermarket run will never be the same (and that’s a good thing, I believe!)
The 12 foods selected here are just a sample of a bigger group of sustainable and promising foods and the choice was based on their high nutritional value, relative environmental impact, accessibility, acceptability and affordability.
1. Seaweed or Algae – ok, I admit it, I have a thing for this one; I continue to state that this is the most underrated superfood there is right now! In some countries seaweed comes in as a norm, but for others is like that “weird food” that we might try, once, probably…ahhh! No people, you must give it a try, more than once, more than one type! Look around, if you have a cost line, you´ll have seaweed! Search on the web for companies and where you can get it. Learn how to harvest even! Algae are nutrient-rich and critical to our existence on the planet. They are responsible for half of all oxygen production on Earth and all aquatic ecosystems depend on them. They contain essential fatty acids and are an excellent source of antioxidants. (note for those with hashimoto´s or any type of thyroid disorders – ask your doctor before consuming it!)
2. Beans & Pulses – Beans and other pulses are members of the legume family. They can convert nitrogen from the air and ‘fix’ it into a form that can be readily used by plants (reducing the need to use other fertilizers). More than environmental superheroes, beans offer us a rich source of fibre, protein and B vitamins. There is a huge variety – black, brad, butter beans, lentils, soy beans, mung beans, etc – plus you can use it in so many different ways – casserole, pastry, soup, salad, etc. Just remember to soak it appropriately – it could be from 1 hour to a full day. Check my pinterest for soaking times.
3. Cereals & Grains – Cereals and grains are considered the most important source of food for human consumption. They have been the principal component of diets for thousands of years. For both environmental and health reasons, there is a pressing need to vary the types of cereals and grains grown and eaten. Diversifying sources of carbohydrates from white rice, maize, wheat and other staples to these less common, whole cereals and grains – amaranth, buckwheat, spelt, Khorasan wheat, quinoa, etc – will provide more nutritional value and help improve soil health.
4. Fruit vegetables – Vegetable-like fruits are eaten as vegetables and commonly mistaken for them. They are sweeter and, in most cases, contain a higher amount of carbohydrate and water compared to vegetables. Examples include squash, tomatoes, eggplants/aubergines, peppers and zucchini/ courgettes. Pumpkin flowers, okra and orange tomatoes: eating less common varieties of vegetables, such as these 3, drives demand which will increase the variety of types of crops grown, which, in turn, makes the food system more resilient.
5. Leafy Greens – These are arguably the most versatile and nutritious of all types of vegetables. They contain dietary fibre, lots of vitamins and minerals, are low in calories, and have been associated with various health benefits. Leafy greens are typically fast-growing and, eaten cooked or raw, are part of a wide variety of dishes all over the world. Examples are: moringa, pak-choi, beet greens, kale, red cabbage, etc.
6. Mushrooms – There are more than 2,000 edible varieties of mushrooms. Cultivated for centuries for their taste and nutritional value, mushrooms are rich in B vitamins and vitamin D as well as protein and fibre. Mushrooms can also grow where many other foods would not, including on by-products recycled from other crops. Their texture and umami flavour make them a tasty addition and a suitable substitute for meat: maitake, shiitake, white button, shimeji, etc.
7. Nuts & Seeds – There’s no wonder these little powerhouses star in lists of ‘superfoods’. Nuts and seeds serve as plant-based sources of protein and fatty acids (omega 3 and 6) which can support a transition away from meat-based diets while ensuring optimum nutrition. It is a low-carbon protein source: every 120 grams of nuts consumed equals the carbon emissions of driving a little over 750 mts. Considering the average serving size is 25 to 30 grams, that’s an efficient snack.
8. Pomegranate & Grapes – The pomegranate is a small tree or shrub with lovely red flowers, widely grown ornamentally as well as for its fruit. It is best adapted to a semi-tropical or Mediterranean climate, preferring hot summers and cool winters. The tree is also highly heat- and drought-tolerant. Grapes are similar to pomegranates in that they need modest irrigation to get established, but once their roots are anchored deeply in the soil the vines will thrive and produce abundantly for a century or more.
9. Olives & olive oil – Olive (Olea europaea L.) is considered drought tolerant and trees can survive on shallow soils with little supplemental water beyond winter rainfall. Plus, olive trees are not generally highly susceptible pests so the industry is not known for intensive pesticide use: “It’s relatively easy to do it organically”. In terms of water, olives require a little more H20 to grow than some other fruits, but if you compare the water impact of olive oil to butter, it’s barely a drop in the bucket.
10. Sprouts – Sprouting dates back 5,000 years when Chinese physicians used sprouts medicinally because of their extremely high nutrient content. The sprouting process doubles, and in some cases triples, the nutritional value of the plant. Sprouts are delicious as a side dish topped with a light dressing or in soups, salads and sandwiches to add a nice crunchy texture: you can sprout alfalfa, kidney beans, chickpeas, etc. Check my pinterest for sprouting times.
11. Insects – I can already imagine your faces contorting !! ehehe. It´s actually not as bad as you imagine; whoever was in Southeast Asia knows how they can be eaten as a nutritious snack; if it was a blind proof tasing session, you wouldn’t know in most cases! many insects including mealworms and crickets are incredibly rich in nutrients: high in protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Some edible insects like crickets and mealworms contain all essential amino acids that are necessary to rebuild the muscles and tissues in our bodies. Although most people are discussed by them, the demand for bugs is growing. Crickets STILL ARE one of the most sustainable sources of meat on the planet. f you’re interested in breeding your own mealworm, definitely check out this kickstarter project by Katharina Unger.)
12. Farmed fish and shellfish – Did you know that the world produces more farmed fish than beef? half of the fish we see in the supermarkets comes from aquaculture. Aquaculture is an ancient practice. It can be traced at least 3000 years back, and until recently it was sustainable. Fish waste was often used to fertilize rice fields without much environmental impact. The problem identified that needs to be continuedly addressed is of those bad farming practices that often create a deadly cocktail of nitrogen, phosphorous and dead fish, usage of pesticides and antibiotics. But there is hope – see here.
There are others of foods that could enter this list, as plant-based meat & seafood substitutes and lab grown meat (not my favourite to be honest, but I do understand how important it for development purposes – maybe it will originate a new healthy food! Let´s see!), tubers, 3D foods (I know, quite complicated as a topic for me right now!), foods made from scraps (any other parts of food that would be wasted), GMO, etc.
Nonetheless, we must be aiming at a better technical knowledge on the environmental impacts of food, sustainable food production, promotion of sustainable food consumption, reduction of food waste and losses and development of robust food policies.
What do you choose for your future?
“Diversified diets not only improve human health but benefit the environment through diversified production systems that encourage wildlife and more sustainable use of resources.” Peter Gregory, Research Advisor, Crops For the Future