With the global population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we must rethink ways to feed a population of this magnitude safely, sustainably, and nutritiously – from production to consumption. This is influenced by factors such as food processing, transporting, packaging, and food waste management. It’s evident that environmental sustainability is crucial for human health and survival, and consumers are being more mindful of their carbon footprint. According to the 2022 Food and Healthy Survey by Food Insight, more than half of Americans believe their food and beverage purchases have an impact on the environment, and 6 in 10 are concerned about food waste.1
From plant-based diet education to providing guidance on ways to reduce food waste, healthcare professionals have the potential to inspire sustainability efforts through patient education.
The Environmental Impact of Plant-Based Eating
Dietary changes, such as shifting from animal-based to plant-based foods, has a high potential for reducing carbon Dietary changes, such as shifting from animal-based to plant-based foods, has a high potential for reducing carbon footprints, mitigating climate change, and positively impacting human health.2 Research suggests that transitioning to plant-based diets has the potential to reduce diet-related land use and greenhouse gas emissions by 76% and 49%, respectively.3 According to a summary report from the EAT-Lancet Commission, transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts which includes more than doubling the consumption of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, and a greater than 50% reduction in global consumption of added sugars and red meat.4 In adopting a plant-based diet, starting small is key. For example, aiming to get more protein from plants instead of animal sources, and including vegetables with meals, are healthy practices to consider.
Upcycled Food: The New Trend to Reduce Food Waste
In addition to adopting planet-friendly dietary practices, food waste management is an effective way to transform our current food system for the better.5 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated at 30-40% of the food supply in the United States.6 Significantly reducing food losses from the production side and food waste from the consumer side is essential for the safe functioning of food systems.4 With food waste at the top of consumers’ minds, the latest trend of upcycling has been a topic of growing interest. A 2021 study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences revealed that only 10% of consumers were familiar with the term upcycling, but after further education on the concept, 80% said they would seek it out.7
Upcycling, also referred to as creative recycling, is vastly different from recycling. Recycling refers to the breakdown and reuse of waste to create new materials through an industrial process whereas upcycling is the process of reusing and transforming by-products or typical waste materials into new product of higher quality value than the original. To simplify this difference, recycling breaks down materials to create a new product and upcycling creates something new from its current state. According to the Upcycled Food Association, upcycled food is an innovative approach that is all about “reducing waste by creating high quality, nutritious food products out of nutrients that slip through the cracks of our food system.”8 The process of creating upcycled food basically takes ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded, such as fruit rinds, and turns it into an elevated product for human consumption. The creation of upcycled food provides an opportunity to lessen environmental damage as 6% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from food loss and waste.6
Here are some examples of ways to upcycle food scraps:
- Pickle chard stems and watermelon rinds
- Save vegetable skins, stems and shavings to create a flavorful soup
- Use the liquid from chickpeas (aquafaba) to replace egg whites by simply whipping it to soft peaks and using in place of eggs
- Transform broccoli stalks into baked fries
- Make croutons using stale bread
- Use whole onion and garlic skins to flavor soups and stews, and mince onion skins to use as a seasoning
How Healthcare Professionals Can Be Leaders for Change
Healthcare professionals (HCPs) have a unique opportunity to help others adopt dietary habits and other sustainable practices that support their own health, and the of the planet. In addition to providing education on well-balanced plant-based nutrition, HCPs can encourage their patients to buy locally grown food whenever possible and cut down on food waste by being mindful of proper food storage to prevent spoilage and properly store and repurpose leftovers.
According to integrative eco-dietitian and host of The Good Clean Nutrition Podcast, Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, here are four simple climate-friendly eating tips to share with patients:
- Reduce food waste by taking less, keeping track of what’s in the fridge, and composting.
- Consume, serve, and purchase more minimally processed plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, nuts seeds and unprocessed soy.
- Buy fewer single use plastics items and packaged foods.
- Buy in bulk and cook more!
Here are some of Orgain’s most popular educational resources on sustainable eating practices:
The Good Clean Nutrition Podcast
Episode 12: Nutrition Crossroads: Food, Health & Sustainability with Kate Geagan, MS, RD
Planet-Friendly Eating and the Role of Healthcare Professionals
- International Food Information Council. 2022 Food & Health Survey. 18 May 2022. https://foodinsight.org/survey-spotlight-snacking/
- New U.N. report: Shifting to plant-based diets can help mitigate climate change. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/new-un-report-shifting-plant-based-diets-can-help-mitigate-climate-change
- Gibbs, J., & Cappuccio, F. P. (2022). Plant-Based Dietary Patterns for Human and Planetary Health. Nutrients, 14(8), 1614. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14081614
- Eat-Lancet Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report.pdf
- Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, July 14). Sustainable Management of Food Basics. EPA. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics
- Food Waste FAQs. USDA. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs
- Ritchie, H. (2020, March 18). Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/food-waste-emissions
- About Upcycled Food. The Upcycled Food Association. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.upcycledfood.org/upcycled-food