The new Australian dietary recommendations from the NHMRC recommend eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer refined cereals. They also suggest eating less red meat, starchy vegetables, and refined grains (unless you’re a young woman) and reducing food high in sugar or salt.
The new guidelines are a reminder to us to continue to resist the temptation to eat processed foods.
Following these guidelines is good not only for our health but also for the environment. This may motivate us to make better food choices.
Rubbish in, rubbish out
Packaging is usually a big part of highly processed foods. Avoid foods that come in packets because they are more likely than not to contain salt, sugar, and fat. You can choose foods that do not need packaging, such as fruit and nuts. This is good for your body and the planet.
We help the environment, our budget, and ourselves when we choose to drink tap water instead of a soft drink can. Plastic bottles are used for soft drinks, juices, and iced water. These bottles can be recycled but are often disposed of in a way that is harmful to the environment.
Most of our waste is made up of food containers and packaging. In the best-case scenario, our packaging for food and drinks ends up in municipal landfills, where it is the biggest component. In the worst-case scenario, these items will float down rivers and out into the sea, where they will pollute our environment and endanger our wildlife.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or trash vortex, is one of the biggest environmental concerns for the 21st century. The garbage created by modern societies makes its way to the ocean, where currents have gathered it into a giant ball of plastic as big as Australia and growing.
Turtles, birds, and fish that ingest plastic in the ocean are at risk. They are unable to distinguish between organic and inorganic debris and have evolved to eat anything that floats on the ocean surface.
They can die from starvation if their bodies are filled with plastic. Even if they do survive, the trash they have consumed contains toxic substances and other pollutants.
Red meat is not green.
The NHMRC also recommends reducing red meat consumption. You can also reduce your carbon footprint by lowering your cholesterol.
In both their gaseous (methane), and solid (nitrous oxide) forms, cattle produce a large amount of greenhouse gases. A UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report from 2006 showed that livestock farming worldwide generates more greenhouse gasses than all cars, trains and planes combined.
The production of meat contributes to deforestation worldwide, which is a significant contributor to climate change. This occurs because the vegetation that stores carbon is removed. In Australia, cows contribute to soil compaction that is not able to handle hoofed animals. In many places, cattle pollute streams and cause erosion. Environmentalists often see reducing the amount of meat we consume as a green option.
A healthy family and environment can be achieved by eating fresh, whole foods purchased in reusable bags. It is great to know that these noble goals don’t conflict. If you don’t want to change your diet for yourself, then do it for the sake of the planet.