Why nutrition plays a key role in the sustainable diet we need

Image courtesy Casey Lee via Unsplash

The Sustainable Restaurant Association explains why, for the hospitality industry, sustainability and nutrition must go hand in hand.

“Human health and planetary health are deeply interconnected.”WHO, 2021

The global food systems in place today are unsustainable. Modern agriculture has become both a deeply destructive driver of the global climate crisis, and itself a victim of the increasingly intense and unpredictable environmental conditions brought about by these shifts in our climate. Without immediate action, we will fail to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the targets of the Paris Agreement. We desperately need to change how we eat and how we produce our food.

What does a healthy, sustainable diet look like? 

“Transitioning to more sustainable diets will deliver a triple win for climate, nature and people.” – Dr Joanna Trewern, Head of Consumption for WWF-UK.

In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission (a group of scientists from 16 countries working in the fields of human health, nutrition, agriculture and environmental sustainability) developed data-driven scientific targets that define a “safe operating space” for global food systems. The group’s recommendations highlight two key focus areas to benefit all humans and Planet Earth itself: healthy diets and sustainable food production.

The dietary pattern they defined is a flexible one that consists mostly of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils; incorporates a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry; and includes minimal quantities of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains and starchy vegetables. According to the Commission, global adoption of this pattern of eating would provide major health benefits. Research from SAPEA released in June 2023 identifies the same priorities.

Research like this confirms a belief that The Sustainable Restaurant Association has had at its core since we were founded in 2010: we need to ensure that the average diet becomes one that nourishes both people and planet. As worded in the 2023 Nordic Nutrition Recommendations report – which for the first time incorporated environmental considerations – “Among the food groups, there are, in general, few conflicts between a healthy diet and an environment-friendly diet.”  

“This cannot be left entirely up to the consumer” 

In June 2023, a group of top scientists from across Europe advised the European Commission on how to transform European food consumption. This research confirms that diets are not simply the result of personal preference, but are highly influenced by our food environment. The advice provided from the study emphasised that, to make sustainable, healthy food an easy and affordable choice, policies must unburden the consumer and create change across the entire food environment, “anywhere where food is obtained, eaten and discussed.”  

“In order for Europe to achieve its health and sustainability goals, the way we produce, distribute and consume food must change, and this cannot be left entirely up to the consumer,” said Professor Eric Lambin, member of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission. 

This gives the hospitality sector enormous power when it comes to the dietary choices our customers make every day. We operate at the crossroads between consumers and producers, with a unique opportunity to improve the food system on a global scale. We can help to ensure that good food – good on every level – is available and accessible for everyone.  

Feeding people well 

This is why ‘Feed People Well” is one of the 10 pillars of the Food Made Good Standard, our comprehensive sustainability accreditation for the global hospitality industry. The purpose of this pillar is to encourage healthy eating and drinking, in line with the international scientific guidelines set out by the EAT Lancet Commission and WHO. For businesses undertaking the Standard, this section of our evaluation looks at how they are working to create dishes that are not just delicious, but healthy and nutritious, too. We encourage restaurants to design menus in line with scientific and public health guidelines and to promote healthier menu choices to diners without sacrificing quality or flavour. 

It’s also why we’ve launched the #PowerofFood campaign in the last few weeks, celebrating the incredible opportunities that food creates in bringing people together. This month, we’ve been talking about the transformative impact of cooking and sharing meals with family and how food habits formed in childhood have a powerful lasting effect.

We want you to be part of the #PowerOfFood campaign, share your inspiring stories using the hashtag for a chance to be featured on the SRA feed.

Interested in finding out more about the Food Made Good Standard? Click here to learn how it can benefit your business.

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