5 Makings of a Sustainable Diet

Eating a sustainable diet doesn't have to be confusing or overwhelming.


By Sarah Romotsky, R.D.


Sustainable is the new buzz word

Because “sustainable” is the new hot term being thrown around these days, there is much confusion as to what this word actually means. Research from the International Food Information Council Foundation 2015 Food and Health Survey, supports these sentiments. When asked to select up to three different responses to complete the following statement, “A sustainable diet means that the foods you eat are_____”, the top three responses were:

  1. Represent a balanced, nutritious meal (39%)
  2. Are affordable and readily available (25%)
  3. Have a smaller impact on the environment (23%)

As you can see, the majority of responses indicated that a sustainable diet means a balanced and nutritious regimen.

So this begs the questions, what is a sustainable diet?

Well, turning to the experts who compiled the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a sustainable diet is a “pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being”. That sounds all well and good but does not give a clear path of how to put a sustainable diet into action.

To me, a sustainable diet is a diet that is easy for people to follow and be committed to for a long period of time. Yes, there are environmental and economic factors involved in a “sustainable diet” but for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on nutrition sustainability- healthful habits that can be incorporated into your life for the long term. While it may seem difficult to set parameters or definitions for a sustainable diet, I’ve outlines five tactics to help you develop a “balanced, and nutritious” diet.

Strategies to serve up a sustainable diet

1. Stop the hangry train: aim to eat every 3-4 hours you are awake.

  • Keeping blood sugar levels regulated is an important feature that can contribute to a sustainable diet.
  • Meals and snacks should include protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The USDA recommends that for adults, aged 19 and older, 45-65% of calories originate from carbohydrates, 10-35% of calories are from protein, and 20-35% of calories stem from fat.

2. Eat the veritable rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

  • Since fruits and vegetables have overlapping and unique vitamins and minerals, it is important to eat a diverse assortment of fruits and vegetables.
  • Canned, frozen, or fresh options both support healthful effects, so don’t be worried if you only have access to one type!

3. Become a protein “pro” and eat a range of proteins.

  • Eating more protein isn't just a rule among the hardcore gym-goers and pro athletes. You can benefit from it, too.
  • Animal and plant based proteins contribute to the development and promotion of lean muscle, support satiety (a fancy-pants word that means feeling full), and assist in the maintenance of a healthy weight.

4. Incorporate more “whole”some grains.

  • A variety of studies associate whole grains with a lower risk several chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, barley, corn, and quinoa are great options to add to your sustainable diet plan.

5. Finally, since a sustainable diet emphasizes long-term adaptations, make sure that these changes can be supported over a long period of time and integrate other lifestyle changes as well.

  • Don’t start off making too many extreme food swaps. Instead, incrementally introduce foods that give you the flexibility and ability to try new flavors and textures without feeling like you have to commit.
  • Get moving! Whether it be taking a lap around the office or signing up to run a marathon, all physical activity counts. So start with a manageable amount of physical activity and increase gradually over time.

Eating a sustainable diet does not have to be confusing or overwhelming. Rather, a sustainable diet emphasizes a balanced approach to eating that integrates long-term diet changes and will lead to continuing healthful diet practices.

Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council. Sarah leads the development and implementation of strategic communication initiatives on science-based health and wellness topics. A native of Southern California, Sarah received a BA in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and later completed the Dietetic Program at SF State University.

Main Photo Credit: Ana Blazic Pavlovic/; Second Photo Credit: Lecic/

Jul 24, 2015

A sustainable diet is the best kind!