How Sustainability is Shaping the Food and Nutrition Conversation

Posted February 27th, 2015 by Kate Geagan

The way we define “healthy eating” appears to be changing.

In late February, the nutrition world was abuzz with the release of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Making global headlines was the fact that for the first time, sustainability was addressed in an entire chapter. Indeed, growing evidence surrounding the environmental impacts of food production has intensified the conversation around sustainability and diet.

In some ways, this is the next step of a trend that has been increasing among chefs, retailers and consumers: a growing number of Americans, especially Millennials, say they crave food that is not only delicious, satisfying and packed with health benefits, but that also reflects their values about the kind of world they want to live in. Almonds lie at a great intersection between a heathy planet and diet. A handful is a nutritious, heart-smart1, craveable snack, and California’s almond growers have established a history of environmental stewardship, including promoting bee healthre-purposing tree waste and continually improving irrigation and soil monitoring practices.

While the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines will not be published until later this year, many nutrition and culinary experts are already considering what a more sustainable diet might look like on our plates. According to the Committee: “a moderate to strong evidence base supports recommendations that the U.S. population move toward a dietary pattern that generally increases consumption of vegetables, fruits whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while decreasing total calories and some animal-based foods.” 

Here’s how that might come to life deliciously on your plate:

Three Easy Ways to Bring a More Sustainable Diet to Life

  1. Think Plant Forward. Heap at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks, and try to enjoy meals that feature or star plant proteins more often, such as nuts, beans or tofu. You don’t have to forego meat completely, but shift to thinking of meat more as a condiment or a side dish where smaller amounts of higher quality meat are enjoyed: a kebob with savory chicken and vegetables or a smaller burger topped with a meaty grilled portobello to pump up the flavor and wow factor, for instance.
  2. Savor Smaller Sized Plates.  Research from Cornell  has shown that smaller plates can help us enjoy fewer calories while still feeling immensely satisfied with our food. And a recent trip to Spain highlighted for me what’s so great about tapas: a few highly flavorful dishes are a feast for the senses, while keeping portions in check. This last part is important, as food waste is one of the “hot spots” when it comes to sustainable diets – in America we waste roughly 1,400 kcal per person per day3.
  3. Focus on Foods that Pack a Serious Nutrition Punch. We’ve long known that a secret to a leaner waistline is to minimize “empty” calories and focus on nutrient-rich, satisfying foods that pack powerful nutrition bite for bite. Turns out that prioritizing your food choices in this way may help you to be “greener” as well, as trimming excess calories can help to reduce the overall impact of your diet. Snacks are one of the best places to start, as they account for roughly 24% of our total calories. Enjoy nutrient packed plant based snacks that will curb your cravings but still satisfy your urge to nosh, such as a handful of almonds with a piece of in-season fresh fruit or almond butter spread on a dried apricot or fig.


1. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that the majority of your fat intake be unsaturated. One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 oz of most nuts, such as almonds, part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
2. Wansink, B., & van Ittersum, Koert. (2006). The visual illusions of food: Why plates, bowls, and spoons can bias consumption volume. FASEB Journal, 20(4), A618.
3. Zizza C. Policies and Politics of the US Food Supply. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015:115;27-30.