Our first task in the ‘Build a Strong Foundation’ challenge is to overhaul our diets and look at our current nutritional habits to see if and where there is room for improvement. Eating well isn’t difficult, but we’ve made it a lot harder than it needs to be. There is so much conflicting information available from nutritionists, scientific studies and anecdotal evidence. We are constantly told what to eat and what to avoid. How do we navigate our way through this nutritional minefield, and design a way of eating that meets our individual needs, with minimal impact on the environment?
It’s not about what we should and shouldn’t eat, it’s about designing a nutritional plan that is right for us and thinking beyond our own bodies to how our food choices impact the environment. It’s taken me years to design an eating plan that’s right for me. I eat with the health of the Earth (and the ocean) in mind, but I also have to take into account my unique health issues (as a migraineur my triggers are mostly food-related, so I have to be mindful about what I eat).
We need to get in touch with our bodies and discover the foods we thrive on and those which don’t agree with us, while considering our physical constitution, dietary challenges and limitations, likes and dislikes, ethics and unique nutritional needs. If we provide our bodies with the water, protein, essential fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals they need to function efficiently and we keep our immune systems strong and healthy, we can handle an occasional indulgence of lesser nutritional value.
Create a baseline diet
Ensure most of your diet consists of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables.
Eat a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables every day, as they are an important source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. I follow my 3-6-9 guideline when managing my daily fruit and vegetable intake. Every day I aim to have 3 servings of fresh fruit + 6 servings of cooked vegetables + 9 servings of raw salad vegetables.
Ensure most of your fruit and vegetable intake is organic, locally grown and seasonal.
I prefer organic because it tastes better, and I’m concerned about pesticide residue. Organic fruits and vegetables do cost more than conventional (but are cheaper than processed food), but I want to provide the best fuel for my body. Pesticide runoff from conventional agriculture enters the ocean, and damages the marine environment.
Choose fruits and vegetables grown or produced locally. Food transported from greater distances must be sourced as close as possible to where we live. Fruits and vegetables purchased out of season must be transported long distances. The less distance a food travels, the less fossil fuel is required, and the fewer greenhouse gases are generated.
Build on the base
Ensure each meal contains high quality protein + essential fats + whole complex carbohydrates.
Balance out the rest of the diet with protein, essential fats and wholegrains. High quality protein sources include animal and/or plant protein. If you consume animal protein, reduce your intake, and opt for pasture-raised and grass-fed options and avoid factory farmed products.
Essential fats include avocadoes, oily (sustainably sourced) fish, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Whole, complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Always opt for the whole, unprocessed version of a grain – oat groats or steel cut oats instead of rolled oats, brown rice instead of white, and sourdough bread.
Enhance the natural flavour of food with sea salt, organic herbs and spices.
Think sea salt, rosemary and olive oil on home-made chips made from organic potatoes.
Treat yourself (and the Earth) well
Make healthy versions of your favourite treats.
I’ve recently discovered the work of Michael Pollan. His ideas on food and nutrition are simple and sensible. His advice is to: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I highly recommend his books. In Food Rules, he suggests instead of purchasing processed food, make a healthier version yourself, then you are less likely to eat treats because they are so much work to make. Making your own food is better for your health, and kinder to the Earth.
The environmental impact of processed food
Eliminate or reduce processed foods.
The environmental impact of processed food is a topic worthy of its own post. The next time you reach for a processed food product think about the amount of energy, raw materials, water and oil required to produce, package, deliver and market a nutritionally inferior, single serve snack to you, the consumer, and how that product’s usually non-recyclable packaging gets thrown in the bin and then dumped into landfill.
Rye sourdough from an artisanal bakery is preservative-free, unpackaged and freshly baked. The ingredients are unbleached white flour, unbleached wholemeal flour, rye meal, rye sourdough starter and caraway seeds. I carry it home in a cloth bag, slice it up and it stays fresh and chewy until it’s finished, with a far superior taste than any processed version.
Packaging and landfill waste
Eliminate or reduce products requiring packaging.
Fruits and vegetables come in their own biodegradable packaging, so if most of your diet consists of fruit and vegetables, you have eliminated most of the packaging you use. The more fruit and vegetables you eat; the less processed products you eat.
When buying processed foods, choose packaging made from recycled materials that can be re-recycled, or choose products with minimal packaging that can be recycled through a local council government program or private initiative, such as REDcycle (in Australia), that recycles soft and flexible plastic waste.
When designing a diet to suit our individual needs, organic fruits and vegetables should form the basis of the eating plan, and then build on that base with proteins, fats and wholegrains, with no or minimal processing and packaging, sustainably sourced and locally grown. We must consider the health of the environment and the Earth that provides the food and the fuel we need for a healthy body and mind.