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Food and Nutrition

Food and the Environment

What we eat, how much food is wasted and how it is produced, processed, and distributed has a large impact on our environment and our health. Healthy, stable environments are vital for good health. When our environments are harmed or changed, it has a negative impact on human health and the health of our communities. 

Food is a basic necessity of life. However, food practices can present unique challenges and can be part of the problem contributing to environmental harm, (including climate change). There are also opportunities for food practices to be an important part of the solution. For example, our global food system is responsible for about 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions (gases that trap heat and cause global warming and climate change) and uses about 70% of the global fresh water supply. On the other hand, when communities form more local sustainable food systems, people have better access to sustainable food choices that can fight climate change, and provide positive health impacts. 

Since everyone eats, we are all part of the food system. We can reduce our impact on the environment and improve health by choosing and promoting a local sustainable eating pattern, including:

  • Eating more plant-based foods and less ultra-processed foods.
  • Reducing food waste and composting.
  • Drinking tap water.

Eating more nutritious, plant-based foods can reduce harm to the environment and improve health outcomes.

Animal-based proteins (especially red meat) have a large impact on the environment. They produce more greenhouse gases (which contributes to climate change) and consume more resources such as land that is cleared for animals, and water required to grow animal feed. Plant-based foods (e.g., vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds) require fewer resources to grow and produce far less greenhouse gases. 

Choosing less meat aligns with the Canada’s Food Guide recommendation  to eat plant-based foods more often, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether. Eating more plant-based foods also reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart-disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Learn more about why and how you can eat more plant-based foods, here

Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, candy, baked goods, sweetened breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, heat and eat meals and packaged snack foods, are made mostly from fats, starches, added sugars and hydrogenated fats. Ultra-processed foods go through many processing steps which increases the amount of energy and resources needed to produce them. They often require a lot of packaging, which increases overall waste.

Ultra-processed foods and drinks are usually higher in sugar, salt, saturated fat and additives and do not contain the beneficial nutrients our bodies require. Canada’s Food Guide  suggests limiting these foods. 

Choosing healthy, local, sustainable foods is a powerful action you can take to combat climate change.

In 2022, the National Zero Waste Council  found that 63% of the food Canadians threw away could have been eaten. This is like throwing away at least $1,300 per household, per year!  Not only does food waste cost you money, but, when it goes to the landfill, it generates greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases contributes to climate change which is considered the greatest threat to health and well-being Throwing food out also means we are wasting the water and energy resources that were used to grow, produce, transport, and distribute the food, further impacting our environment.

Check out Love Food Hate Waste  for practical tips and recipes to help reduce food waste.

Composting is nature’s way of recycling our food scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, and is another important way to reduce our impact on the environment. Check with your municipality to learn about your area’s curbside compost (green-bin) program, and to see if they sell backyard, or other, composters at reduced cost.

Drinking enough water is important for our health. Water helps move nutrients through our body and is good for digestive, joint and heart health. In our region, we are fortunate to have high-quality tap water that is safe, clean and affordable. Drinking tap water is a healthy, convenient, and environmentally friendly choice. Instead of reaching for a plastic water bottle, simply turn on the tap to quench your thirst. If you notice an unpleasant taste, basic at home water filters can help.

Check out these tips from Canada’s Food Guide to help you drink more water every day.

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