How To Build A Sustainable Diet


How the diet choices we make can impact the planet.

What you choose to buy and eat has a big impact on your environmental footprint, so making a few changes to your routine can be really positive. We’ve put together some easy to follow ideas on how to have a more sustainable diet.

If you’d like to read more on the subject check out our earlier blog How To Eat More Sustainably - with chef Alexandra Dudley, and wellbeing expert Liz Earle.

1. Be flexible

Did you know the livestock industry alone generates nearly 15% of all man made greenhouse gas emissions? Eating less meat and more plant-based meals can create a more sustainable diet - vegetables can add colour, taste and vital nutrients to your meals and have a much lower environmental impact.

A plant-based diet is becoming more and more common, but if you're not ready to fully switch over then try setting yourself smaller goals - such as having meat-free lunches during the week. Try Incorporating more lentils, beans and other legumes for low-carbon, superfood ingredients in your day to day meals.

Looking for meal ideas? We love Alexandra Dudley's list of vegetarian and vegan recipes.

2. Plan ahead

Not only is cooking at home cheaper and healthier, but avoiding takeaways and meal prepping is also better for the environment. The American restaurant industry is said to generate about 2-4 times the waste of supermarkets, retail superstores, and wholesale distributors combined.

If you have leftovers or ingredients that are going out of date then why not freeze them instead of throwing them out?

When cooking, try small changes that make a difference - put a lid on pans to conserve heat, try using a slow cooker, or spice up meals with unexpected leftover ingredients.


3. Shop seasonally, locally and zero-waste

Farmers markets and zero waste shops are a great way to buy fresh, seasonal products from local businesses. You can try products that you otherwise wouldn't, and create new recipes each season. If you can't get to a farmers market, try Oddbox.

If you do need to buy out of season products, buy goods preserved in a tin, dried or frozen - they're just as good but have less impact than buying the same products fresh.

You could try making more of your own cupboard staples where possible -
make jam or preserves with ingredients in season to enjoy later on. The same goes for soups that can be batch made and frozen in portions.

4. Get creative

Avoid food products packaged in plastic. Why not try make your own? Crisps are one of the UK's favourite snacks - try making your own classic crisps, or kale ones for a healthy alternative. You can also try simple things like washing veg in a bowl and keeping the grey water for plant watering.

Don't throw away - use up your old coffee grounds and egg shells by putting them in your plant pots to fertilise the soil - happy plants, less waste!

Look at FoodPrint for more ideas; like turning apple skins, strawberry tops and citrus peel into tea infusions, or growing your own avocados with leftover pits - a great money saver!

5. Always check the labels

There's a few things to look out for when shopping, from Fair Trade stickers to organic products, but palm oil is one of the biggest issues. Unsustainable palm oil is responsible for large-scale deforestation, so look for products containing RSPO certified palm-oil, or try to avoid buying products with palm-oil altogether. Also look for Fair Trade, Free Range, Freedom Food, Red Tractor and other food labels.

We also often misunderstand the 'Best before label'. LoveFoodHateWaste says, '"Best before’ refers to quality: your food will be at its best before the date given. After this date, it might not be at its best, but it will still be safe to eat. Use your senses to make a judgement. Depending on how your food is stored, it has the potential to be good enough to eat for a long time after this date." See more here.

Sustainable food swaps to try:


SWAP: King Prawns

TO: Mini Prawns

The farming process of tiger and king prawns has a high CO2 penalty as the farming of such prawns destroys underwater mangrove forests - an important carbon capture ecosystem.

Mussels are the lowest carbon footprint of all seafood as they grow without the need of labour or feeding, and come in natural packaging.

SWAP: Beef Mince

TO: Vegan Mince

Beef mince has 18.5x higher carbon footprint that vegan mince - try swapping to plant based beef for your weekly bolognese.

Also consider swapping rice for pasta, as it also has lower carbon production, and buy UK made wherever possible - or make your own!

SWAP: Cow's Milk

TO: Plant based Milk

Plant based milk has a much lower carbon emission than cow's milk - try this easy guide to making your own.

You can also reduce the impact of drinking cow's milk by buying from local farms in glass containers only.


SWAP: Asparagus from Peru

TO: UK Asparagus in season

Asparagus flown in from South America during the winter can use 1.9k of carbon (or four miles by car). In comparison, buying UK Asparagus in season is the same as driving 350meters by car.


SWAP: Grapes from South Africa

TO: Grapes from Spain

The less distance produce has travelled the better, but also the method of travel is important. Try to find out whether your grapes have been delivered by plane or train - the latter releases 18x less carbon emissions.


SWAP: Cherry Vine Tomatoes

TO: Medium Tomatoes in season

Normal tomatoes have half the carbon of specialist varieties like cherry or plum, which tend to have a lower yield. However in the Winter, tomatoes grown in hotter countries like Morocco are better than UK-grown in heated greenhouses.

Let us know your sustainable diet tips - tag us at @aspigalondon