4 Proven Strategies for Eating Healthier and More Sustainable Without Changing What You Eat.

In this post you will learn some easy strategies you can use to eat healthy and sustainable, without changing (too much) what you eat.

Martin Gomez Thomsen
Essentials
Sustainable Health Diet Plate

Do you want to eat healthier? And increase the health of our planet?

But you don’t know what to do or where to begin?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

I will show you some easy strategies you can use to eat healthy and sustainable, without changing what you eat.

And the best part?

You can even save money while doing it.

Money growth

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Here is a Summary of the 4 Strategies:

Strategy 1 - Eat a little less red meat like beef, lamb, and pork.

  • Step 1: Eat less processed and red meats at every meal.
  • Step 2: Eat processed and red meats fewer times per day.
  • Step 3: Eat processed and red meats fewer times per week or only on special occasions
glasses cheers

Strategy 2 - Swap out red meat for healthier meats like poultry, seafood or edible insects.

Seafood platter

Strategy 3 - Consume less meat and enjoy a larger variety of plants

  • Step 1: Focus on hearty plant-based proteins, whole grains, and plenty of veggies.
  • Step 2: Use animal based foods besides meat, such as egg and dairy.
  • Step 3: Get more out of your meats
egg salad

Strategy 4 - Increase flavor, texture and protein and satiety with savory plants.

  • Step 1: Maximize umami and balance it with the four other tastes
  • Step 2: Create texture and increase protein and satiety with legumes, seeds, nuts and whole-grains.
  • Step 3: Increase texture and add some more protein with whole-grains.
Casserole with vegetables

You can find inspirational examples for each of the strategies below.

What you can do to eat healthier and more sustainable

This section focuses on you and what you can do to eat healthier, more sustainable and improve the condition of the world, while saving money!

Even small actions can lead to a 25% or larger reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGE) [1]

Hand out of bag holding cilantro

Meat consumption is where you can achieve the largest reduction in GHGE.

You can cut 35 % of your GHGE by completely eliminating meat from your diet, (compared to an average UK diet). [2]

barbeque meat

This is not a suggestion for you to cut out meat completely.

One source shows the healthiest and most sustainable diets are a pesco-vegetarian diet (if the fish is coming from sustainable sources). [3]

Salmon cheese mushrooms and tomatoes

Besides... This means too big of a change for some.

It gets easier to improve your environmental footprint with every single step you take!

The important things is, to take the first step.

We need small steps in the right direction for a healthier you and a healthier planet.

The following strategies and steps works on their own or you can combine them for greater effect to increase your own and the planet’s health.

What matters most, is to figure out what works for you, and keep moving forward!

Green man

Our main focus, is getting more veggies and other quality plant-based foods in your daily diet.

Strategy 1 - Eat a little less red meat like beef, lamb, and pork.

It may seem obvious, but one of the first steps you can take in reducing your consumption of red meat is to eat a little less of it!

Step 1 - Eat less processed and red meats at every meal.

The healthiest place to start is by reducing your consumption of processed meats such as bacon, sausages, cold cuts.

Sausages

You can start asking yourself, do I really need those 5 slices of bacon, or could I settle with 1 slice?

In the same manner you can reduce the amount of red meat like beef, lamb and pork you are eating in every meal.

red meat

If a recipe calls for half a kilo of beef, maybe you can buy half and adjust a few of the other ingredients?

You’ve most likely already experienced this concept. For example when eating a pasta sauce with ground beef compared to eating a sauce with whole meat balls.

Spaghetti bolognese

When you have a sauce filled with sautéed veggies, simmered tomatoes and ground beef. The ground beef provides some flavor and texture and a little goes a long way.

With this step, there’s no change in flavor, but it can be a great upgrade for your health.

Step 2 - Eat processed and red meats fewer times per day.

Reducing your intake of processed and red meats to one meal per day will be a great way to begin.

If you are like most people eating red meat many times a day, like bacon at breakfast, salami for lunch, and burger for dinner.

bacon

You can completely replace bacon with any of the 9 bacon substitutes here or you can make your own vegan bacon.  

In the same way, it is possible for you to find substitutes for almost anything.

Step 3 -  Eat processed and red meats fewer times per week or only on special occasions

You might be up for the next challenge, when you have become comfortable in eating processed and red meat less than once per day over a period of 1-2 months.

How about eating red meat fewer times per week? Or only eating it on the weekends? Once a week? Only when you’re dining out?

You could also try saving red meat only for special occasions, like a holiday, birthday, or an event. For example, you can think about eating red meat as a treat, rather than an everyday option — the way many of us think about foods like lobster.

drinks cheering

When you save meat for special occasion, you can afford to buy higher quality meats that tastes way better and comes from more sustainable sources.

It’s important that when you decide to replace your processed and red meats. That you replace it with healthier meats like poultry, seafood or edible insects.

Strategy 2 - Swap out red meat for healthier meats like poultry, seafood or edible insects.

Animal products can have different effects on our own health, and the health of the planet.

Cow grass windmill

By changing beef and lamb to chicken you can reduce your GHGEs by 18%. [2]

This step towards reducing red meat is pretty straightforward. Swap the read meat in as many dishes as possible for healthier and more sustainable sources. Sources like poultry (chicken and turkey), a variety of seafood (from fish to clams) and to any edible insect (like crickets or mealworms).

Cricket

Let’s say you are planning to make a dish with red meat as the “star of the meal”. Here you can consider poultry and fish in its place.

Here are 5 simple swaps that will come in handy for a range of your favourite recipes:

1. Marinate and pan-fry chicken or fish instead of grilling burgers and pork ribs
pan fried chicken
2. Use ground chicken or turkey instead of ground beef in patties, meat balls or a carbonara.
Meatballs
3. Instead of using cold cuts, cut some tender chicken breast or canned tuna.
tuna wrap
4. You can bake/sauté a chicken breast or some white fish, instead of frying a steak
roasted fish
5. Replace the Sunday roast of beef, lamb, or ham with turkey, chicken, or salmon.
Roasted chicken

This strategy is great when you’re designing your meals around animal-based protein.

What if you gave plant-based foods a more central role in your dishes?

The next strategy will boost your meals with healthy plant-based foods like beans, nuts, whole grains, and other veggies. While still providing enough protein and ways to incorporate some of your favorite animal-based foods.

Strategy 3 - Consume less meat and enjoy a larger variety of plants

I remember planning my meals based on what meat I had and then decide what would be great sides for that meat. All the healthier and more sustainable foods like veggies, pulses and whole-grains ended up playing a supporting role.

You can flip this mindside around, by reducing the part of meat and other animal products, and sharing the spotlight with plant-based foods.

spotlight donald duck

Or you can even go as far as say, “I have these beautiful in-season eggplants from my local farmers market, what would go great with them?”

eggplants in box

This not only an easy but also a cheaper way to diversify your diet.

This strategy is about increasing the variety on your plate. It’s designed to boost the amount of healthy plant-based foods and still make space for your favorite animal-based foods.

Here are a few steps to get you started:

Step 1 - Focus on hearty plant-based proteins, whole grains, and plenty of veggies.

There are endless combinations of these foods to provide you with delicious, filling and nutritious meals.

Start by filling at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, where the main share is veggies.

veggies and fruits

Think about the rainbow when you are choosing veggies. Try and get a little bit of every color including dark greens, reds, oranges, yellows, and even purple.

rainbow tomatoes

Then add one eighth of plant-protein to your plate.

3 of the best plant-based protein includes:

1. Legumes, like beans, soybeans, peas, lentils.

legumes in bags

2. Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, and pecans.

nuts

3. Seeds, Like flax, chia, hempseed.

seeds


Nuts and seeds also contain high amounts of healthy fats, while legumes, nuts and seeds are full of fiber.

Finally add a quarter of minimally processed whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur and buckwheat.

whole grains

Whole grains can also be a cheap source of protein and satiety.

Step 2 - Use animal based foods besides meat, such as egg and dairy.

Animal-based foods besides meat, like eggs and dairy can be a good choice in moderation. (Producing eggs and dairy foods has a considerable environmental impact.)

milk and eggs
Here are 4 different ways you can use eggs as a supplement for meat:

1. Hard boiled as a snack or chopped into salad.

egg salad

2. Soft boiled and added to a soup.

eggs on tomato soup

3. Scrambled into a stir-fry.

Stir fry eggs

4. Fried sunny-side up and placed on top of roasted veggies, savory grains, and legumes.

eggs and veggies
Here are 2 different ways you can use dairy:

1. Spice up your soup or salad with a bit of sharp or flavorful cheese. Like parmesan grated on top of a pumpkin soup or cubed feta in a Greek salad.

feta salad

2. Add a creamy our sour addition to your stews, sauces and dressing by adding a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream to it.

Russian borscht with sour cream

Or you can find many vegetable dairy alternatives that taste, feel and look the same as the their milk-based counterparts.

Step 3 - Get more out of your meats

This strategy can include meats, but in much smaller amounts than you might be used to.

You can get a lot more out of your meat by cutting/slicing/shredding the meat.

pulled pork

Poultry and fish are particularly good for this.

Chicken, turkey and fish can go further when it’s used as a topping over;

  • a big veggie and brown rice stir-fry;
  • a salad filled with veggies, beans and fruit;
  • or rolled into a wrap with hummus, sundried tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.
wrap with chicken and salad

You can also try roasting a whole fish, chicken or turkey and then slice up the leftovers. You can then use the slices in any number creative plant-based dishes throughout the week.

By using this strategy you can even make room for red and processed meats on occasion.

You can for example, blend-in “meaty” and umami-packed chopped mushrooms, lentils or sundried tomatoes rather than making a whole burger patty of beef.

Or, if you cannot live without bacon, you can use a slice to flavor the base of a soup where vegetables, beans or whole-grains provide the bulk of the protein.

soup with bacon

Increasing the variety is a great strategy, but what if I told you that your meals don’t even have to include meat or other animal-based.

Our plant kingdom offers plenty other options to thrill your tastebuds and meet your cravings.

organic tomatoes at farmers market

The next strategy will give you simple steps to create filling, delicious, and even budget-friendly dishes.

Strategy 4 - Increase flavor, texture and protein and satiety with savory plants.

You might think a meal without meat is incomplete. That it will leave you unsatisfied, not give enough protein or nutrients, be more expensive or even leave you hungry.

hungry man eating a berliner

I don’t blame you. I was feeling the exact same way until I discovered these simple steps for creating filling, delicious, and even budget-friendly plant-based alternatives.

Step 1 - Maximize umami and balance it with the four other tastes

I have learned to create the most delicious and flavorful meals you have to include and balance out all the five tastes; sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, and umami.

spices

Umami is an especially important part of this balance. This is a flavor typically described as having a “savory, meaty taste” and typically found in - yes you guessed it - meat!

Umami foods from animal-sources include red meats, poultry, eggs, some cheeses, and a wide variety of seafood.

seafood platter

Luckily, the plant kingdom offers equal amounts of umami-packed foods. Foods that can give you this savory, meaty, rich taste when you’re cooking without animal foods. .

Here are 6 six plant-based umami rich sources:

1. Fermented products; including soy sauce, miso, beer and wine.

soy sauce

2. Seaweed and sea veggies. Like this wakame salad.

wakame salad with avocado

3. Green tea and matcha.

matcha green tea

4. Toasted nuts and seeds

Here we have a middle eastern all-time favourite, tahini.

Tahini is a toasted sesame paste.

black tahini

5. Savory spices; including cumin and smoked paprika.

spices on wooden spoons

6. A range of vegetables; including tomatoes, garlic, green peas, mushrooms, bell peppers, winter squash, celery root, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

casserole with umami vegetables

Most of the plant-based umamis will increase in flavor, when sauteed, roasted, grilled, baked, caramelized or dried.

Baked sweet potatoes

Next time you are creating a dish think about including one or more of the above mentioned ways to boost umami.

You can make a killer meat-free carbonara by first caramelizing onion and garlic, then sauteing carrots and celery root until tender and finally add pureed tomatoes, tomato paste and big dollop of red wine or dark beer.

Bon appetit mon ami.

Or how about a grilled portobello mushroom burger?

Portabello mushrooms

Mushrooms stand out for their umami-rich flavor, which, combined with their “meaty” texture can be a great replacement for beef.

Step 2 -  Create texture and increase protein and satiety with legumes, seeds, nuts and whole-grains.

The second step is to include plant-based options to create food with texture that also increase the protein content and your satisfaction.

Here are 3 great plant-based options for creating texture and increasing protein with:

1. Legumes; like lentils, beans, edamame/soybeans, peas, and chickpeas.

variety of legumes

2. Nuts; including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews, and pecans.

bags with nuts

3. Seeds; like flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.

different seeds on wooden spoons

These plant-based options can stand in for animal-based foods and give you loads of nutrients including healthy fats and fiber.

This also holds true for products made from the above sources. Products, including nut butters and soy foods like tofu, tempeh or textured meats, or other plant-based products, like veggie burgers.

tofu salad

It’s important to note that, whenever you are choosing any highly processed product, plant-based or not, you have to read the product label. You have to look out for extra sodium, saturated fat from unsustainable sources, or other additives.

I find, more often than not, that most plant based versions contain more or equal amounts sodium, saturated fats and additives than their animal-based counterparts.

Man shopping

So next time you go shopping, it can be worth to spend a minute looking at the product labels.

Step 2.1 - Why legumes are king!

Legumes are king, when considering the health of humans and the planet. [4,5]

King crown

Eating 100 grams of cooked lentils will provide you with 9 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and almost 0 grams of saturated fats.

If we compare that to 100 grams of of ground beef you will get 14 grams of protein, no fiber, and 11 grams of saturated fat. [6,7]

lentils on spoons

Besides being being low in GHGEs, legumes are also known for increasing health of our soils by replacing nitrogen. [8]

The texture of lentils even resemble ground beef when cooked. You can even mimic the taste, when you pair them with umami-packed vegetables, like mushrooms.

Next time you are cooking a dish with ground beef try using lentils instead.

Step 3 - Increase texture and add some more protein with whole-grains.

You can build the rest of the dish using minimally processed whole grains including oats, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, and barley. They will boost texture and also provide some extra protein.

grains in bags
PRO TIP: For a boost in flavour, cook the whole-grains in in low-sodium vegetable broth.

As you can see (and try for yourself), plant-based meals can indeed be filling and flavorful on their own.

Now you might be wondering, how can I build my meals, while following the strategies above?

Let me visualize it on a plate for you.

Visualizing the planetary health diet

Let’s try to sum up what we have learned and put it on a plate, literally.

Healthy plate

The planetary plate consists of half a plate of vegetables and fruits. The other half consist of whole grains, plant-based protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) small amounts of animal sources of protein.

The plates below are examples of a planetary health diet.
A planetary health plate
A planetary health plate. (Credit: Mollie Katzen. Source: EAT, Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission [9])

Check out this link for all of the delicious recipes above.

Bottom line

When you follow all the strategies, you end up with a flexitarian diet, which is largely plant-based but can optionally include modest amounts of fish, meat and dairy foods. [9]

Where are you going to begin?

Where are you going to begin? 

Which strategy do you like the most? 

Let me know in the comments below :) 

I want to do more! What else can I do?

woman jumping

Besides shifting to a planetary health diet there are a few more things you can do to increase your health and reduce your impact.

Keep reading

Sources:

1. Hoolohan C, Berners-Lee M, McKinstry-West J, Hewitt CN. Mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions embodied in food through realistic consumer choices. Energy Policy [Internet]. 2013 Dec 1;63:1065–74. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513009701

2. Hallström E, Carlsson-Kanyama A, Börjesson P, Schenck R, Huizen D. Effect of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions and land use demand--The state of knowledge in 2014. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Life Cycle Assessment in the Agri-Food Sector (LCA Food 2014), San Francisco, California, USA [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://tepa.org.lc/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Agriculture-and-Food-Effect-of-dietary-change-on-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-land-use-demand-2014.pdf

3. van Dooren C, Marinussen M, Blonk H, Aiking H, Vellinga P. Exploring dietary guidelines based on ecological and nutritional values: A comparison of six dietary patterns. Food Policy [Internet]. 2014 Feb 1;44:36–46. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919213001620

4. Plate and the Planet [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019 [cited 2019 Apr 24]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sustainability/plate-and-planet/

5. Protein [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2019 Apr 24]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

6. FoodData Central [Internet]. [cited 2019 Apr 24]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/?query=ndbNumber:13498

7. FoodData Central [Internet]. [cited 2019 Apr 24]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/?query=ndbNumber:16070

8. Protein [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2012 [cited 2019 Apr 24]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

9. Willett W, Rockström J, Loken B, Springmann M, Lang T, Vermeulen S, et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet [Internet]. 2019 Feb 2;393(10170):447–92. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31788-4