Dietary recommendations for reducing environmental impacts and improving sustainability

Dietary Recommendations from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2016

“There is increasing evidence that dietary patterns with low environmental impacts are also healthier. Common features of such diets are:

  • the diversity of foods eaten
  • a balance between energy intake and energy expenditure
  • the inclusion of minimally processed tubers and whole grains along with legumes, fruit and vegetables
  • meat, if eaten, in moderate quantities.
  • healthy diets also feature dairy products in moderation, unsalted seeds and nuts, small quantities of fish and aquatic products, and very limited intake of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt and low in micronutrients”

The British Government Buying Standards add further positive recommendations about priorities for sourcing more sustainable food –

  • Seasonal produce
  • Seafood from sustainable sources
  • Fairly traded produce
  • Food produced to high environmental standards, such as organic or integrated production(eg LEAF – Linked Environment and Farming)
  • High animal welfare
  • UK or equivalent production standards

Glaring opportunities (!) to decrease emissions and achieve a more sustainable food and drink system:


  • Decrease waste food.
  • Decrease waste of energy.
  • Switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier. Install own renewable energy generation.
  • Urgent need for non-farmland sourced “green” alternatives to gas, electricity, diesel and petrol.
  • Decrease transport emissions.
  • Avoid: air-freighted foods; “thirsty” products from areas of water stress.
  • Decrease excess packaging.
  • Replace some drinks during the day with tap water. Use a refillable water bottle when out, rather than buying bottled drinks.
  • Improve ability of soils to act as a sink for greenhouse gases – choose food, if possible, that has been produced without, or with minimal, chemicals and where organic matter levels in soil are at good levels.
  • Buy from producers or outlets that you trust.
  • Reduce pressure on land use, including (urgently) drivers for land use change such as loss of land rights for small farmers and destruction of rainforest and other sensitive habitats, by reducing over-consumption and waste, and, for example, checking for responsible sourcing, such as palm (RSPO) and soy products (RTSS).
  • Base core diet on well-produced British, preferably local, food.
  • Eat a varied nutritious diet, which is as inclusive a possible.
  • Ask for British (local if possible) pasture-fed dairy produce and meat, preferably from animals grazed on species rich grassland.
  • Choose fish rated 1-3 by the Marine Conservation Society (with 1 being the highest environmental rating).
  • Choose Fairtrade products (with high ethical and environmental standards).
  • Eat rice only occasionally (high methane emissions and water use).
  • Choose vegetables and fruit produced with minimal chemicals.
  • Make well-produced food a high priority in personal/family finances.
  • Make a high priority of the UN advice to have only a very limited intake of processed foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt and low in micronutrients.
  • Cook from scratch as often as possible. Batch cooking and freezing some portions and sharing meals can help reduce energy consumption and time. (Can be cheaper and no more time-consuming than processed food.)
  • Education – nutrition, growing, cooking. Children usually enjoy growing food and cooking with parents and grandparents.
  • Eat round a table whenever possible – said to have multiple benefits.
  • Value and enjoy well-produced food. Take an interest in how it is produced. Ask questions.
  • It should be easy to make a difference, if we all give a little extra thought to what we eat and drink. 

Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon, following an extensive literature search, has produced a document: ‘Sustainable Food and Drink – Looking after the Earth’. The full document, which explores the inter-connected nature of issues relating to our food chain, can be viewed through the September 2017 CFB online newsletter, or on request.

One size does not fit all.

Many documents from the international organisations give generalised data based on global statistics. However, in seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is likely that one size does not fit all. As well as some global and national measures, local and individual solutions need to be found.

“If many little people, in many little places, do many little things, they will change the face of the world”

(African proverb)