Sustainability and Plant-Forward- What’s the Connection?

The topic of sustainability is on the minds of everyone these days – from big companies to everyday people. The question is “What can I do in my day-to-day activities to live a sustainable life for the better of the environment?” Some of these answers are obvious – carpool, recycle, opt for reusable bags and bottles versus disposable; but what about eating sustainably? What does that even mean? Can consuming a more plant-forward diet really help the environment? The answer, surprisingly, is yes!

Sustainable diets have low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and can lead to healthy lives for current and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair, affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy all while optimizing natural and human resources.

To be clear, eating more plant-forward and sustainably does not necessarily mean being a vegan, or even a vegetarian. Plant-forward is a dietary approach that changes the proportion of plant and animal ingredients used on menus to increase the emphasis on plants. One study shows that if people decreased their red meat intake by just 25%, it could help reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1%. If you normally eat red meat 4 times per week, this would mean cutting down to 3 times to make an impact.

You may be wondering why decreasing meat in your diet has a positive impact on the environment. It is the production of meat for consumption that is the culprit for the negative impact on the environment. Meat production is responsible for generating significant greenhouse gas emissions, excess water consumption and added waste with about 20% of meat produced being thrown out. By reducing the amount of meat in your diet and focusing on more plant-forward dishes that promote sustainable agriculture, you can do your part to minimize these negative effects.

Unidine supports efforts toward a more sustainable diet with its Naturally Nourished Program. With Unidine’s Fresh Food Pledge at the core of everything we do, utilizing whole and minimally processed ingredients shines. Naturally Nourished is built from the foundational principles of the Menus of Change™ initiative developed by the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard School of Public Health where healthy, sustainable, and delicious foods are the goal. Naturally Nourished is focused on moving plant foods to the center of the plate while offering a smaller portion or no animal protein in a recipe.

The plant-forward Naturally Nourished recipes feature plant-based proteins as a priority. If there is an animal-based protein in the recipe, it is not at the center of the plate, but rather a contributor. Inspiration for this dietary framework comes from Mediterranean-style diets and Blue Zones principles, where animal protein is used as a flavoring to a dish, not as its foundation.

A plant-forward diet differs greatly from other popular diets that promote a transition away from meat. For example, a vegetarian diet eliminates meat and fish, and a vegan diet excludes all animal products or byproducts, including all meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Plant-forward is simply shifting the focus away from animal protein and products, allowing plant proteins like beans, soy products, and some grains to really be the star of the plate. The goal is to make positive changes – not restrict. Any little change makes a difference!

Submitted by Briana Egan, Director, Nutrition and Wellness

At Unidine, the Directors of Nutrition support the development of dietitians through clinical documentation evaluation and teaching clinical skills to improve quality of care to the patients served. Our competency training for dietitians centers around performing the NFPE, documenting malnutrition criteria and obtaining a diagnosis of malnutrition so dietitians are prepared, knowledgeable and able to make informed interventions to improve patient outcomes.