Sustainable diet: Everything you need to know

Medically reviewed by Kathy W. Warwick, R.D., CDE — Written by Jon Johnson

Extract from

A sustainable diet is one that is generally healthful and has a low impact on the environment and food supply.

Adopting a sustainable diet can help maintain an individual’s health while also making sure the planet has enough resources to feed future generations of humans.

This is a complex idea, but in the simplest terms, a sustainable diet looks to have a positive impact on the individual and environment, both now and in the future.

There are no set rules on what makes a diet sustainable. However, some diets and food items might be more sustainable than others, and choosing them can help a person reduce their environmental impact.

What is the most sustainable diet?

According to the EAT-Lancet Commission, food production is the world’s largest cause of environmental change. They note that vegan and vegetarian diets have the greatest reduction in land use and greenhouse gas emissions, and that vegetarian diets use the least water.

Their research notes that a universally healthful reference diet includes increasing consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Meanwhile, a person eating sustainably will eat low amounts of or no: refined grains, added sugars, red meat, and processed foods.

A sustainable diet takes into account the impact it will have on the environment, the individual, and the food chain as a whole. Factors that determine how sustainable a certain diet includes: nutritional availability, relative cost, biodiversity, ecosystem protection, and general health.

Considering all these factors should help ensure that the planet can continue to provide enough food and resources for a growing population and future generations.

Some eating plans already adhere to these guidelines more than others, so following them may be a simple way to make the diet more sustainable. Diets that are more sustainable than the standard Western diet include:

Vegetarian and plant-based diets

Local food diets

Flexitarian diet


Edited by BeLife. Sep 2020

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