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Sustainable nutrition


What does my diet have to do with the Amazon in Brazil? In everyday life, many people are not even aware that their purchasing decisions in the supermarket not only have an impact on their own health, but also on the planetary ecosystem and the climate. In this article you will learn what problems our conventional diet brings with it, where the causes lie and what a sustainable diet looks like.

What does nutrition have to do with sustainability?

Our diet influences us in many ways. It can vitalize or make us sluggish, promote or endanger our health, and it has an impact on our performance. But our eating habits also have an influence on our ecosystem, the climate and the natural resources of this earth. The issues posed by our food system are complex.

Food production is responsible for about a quarter of global emissions and thus contributes significantly to global warming. Production, processing, storage and transport require a lot of energy and consume resources. Agricultural cultivation practices are often accompanied by the use of artificial fertilizers, with the resulting nitrogen pollution threatening intact habitats such as lakes or rivers. Factory farming for meat production releases enormous amounts of methane, a climate gas that is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Land consumption also has negative consequences for planetary ecosystems and their inhabitants: native animals lose their homes when forests are cleared for the cultivation of fodder and food. There is a loss of biodiversity. In addition, masses of plant populations are lost, which convert climate-damaging CO2 into sugar and oxygen.

Although these problems have been known for decades, deforestation in the Amazon reached a sad peak in the first half of 2022. Likewise, global water availability is dwindling, fish stocks in the oceans are dwindling, and the earth is increasingly polluted with microplastics or other substances.

In search of causes

The causes of the present problem can be found at various levels. For individuals, a lack of knowledge of the interrelationships plays a role, as does the awareness of these interrelationships during the everyday trip to the supermarket. Who thinks about the deforestation of the Amazon when buying the loved nut-nougat cream for breakfast? And even if someone is aware of the consequences of our food system, this does not automatically lead to a change in behavior. Human eating behavior is less rational and mainly subject to cultural, situational, social or emotional influences and is a matter of habit. In addition, it is not always immediately obvious to consumers how high the resource consumption of a product is.

For manufacturers and retailers, obvious labeling does not always make economic sense, because consumers might forego certain products and reduce sales. However, producing in an environmentally friendly and fair way is cost-intensive and involves a lot of effort, so many companies prefer to produce their goods conventionally because they are more interested in financial gain than in sustainability.

At a political level, there can be conflicts of interest, so that lobbying tends to be indulged rather than giving priority to environmental and climate protection. Furthermore, political measures often have only a minor effect and the implementation of these measures is a lengthy process.

The solution: a sustainable diet

A sustainable diet is a diet that has a low impact on the environment, ecosystems and climate, respects biodiversity, contributes to improving the global food situation, is socially acceptable and provides a healthy and natural livelihood for current and future generations.

That’s quite a lot of aspects, but in view of the far-reaching and multidimensional effects of our nutrition, a comprehensive basis is needed to address these problems with appropriate solutions. In this context, politics and business as well as society and consumers are called upon. Even if it does not seem so at first, our individual purchasing behavior has an influence on the situation, after all the manufacturers produce those products which are in particular demand. Demand determines supply.

Approaches at the consumer level

The EAT-Lancet Commission, consisting of 37 scientists, identifies the following aspects of a healthy diet that also protects the environment and conserves resources: The basis is a plant-based diet. The focus is on the consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grain products as well as legumes and nuts. The consumption of animal products and meat should play a subordinate role, as should that of sugar.

In addition, when buying food, attention should be paid to the seasonal and regional availability of the food, as this means that fewer chemicals are used to preserve fruit and vegetables and long transport routes are eliminated. It is also advisable to buy products with a low degree of processing for the sake of health. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain significantly more micro- and mineral nutrients than convenience food such as puff pastry, frozen pizza or canned stew. Low or even free packaging products, save waste and help reduce exposure to microplastics. (And there is less need to drive to the recycling center).

If you don’t want to give up meat, you have the option of paying attention to the way in which animals are raised in order to promote climate and animal protection. It is also advisable to avoid products containing palm oil, as large areas of the Amazon are felled for its cultivation and there are good alternatives such as sunflower oil. It is always worth taking a look at the back of the product to find out about its origin and the associated transport routes and ingredients. In general, knowledge plays a major role when it comes to sustainable nutrition. Some information is difficult to recognize and does not have to be declared. At the end of this text we have three further links for you, so that you can promote your knowledge and thus a self-determined way of eating.

Last but not least: food waste

Finally, one important aspect should not be forgotten: The waste of food. Above all, everyone has to look at his or herself, because around 60% (6.5 million tons) of national food waste in Germany is attributable to private households. Food is a precious commodity. It takes water, time, manpower, resources and ultimately your own money to get it into your fridge. Everyone should be aware of this value and manage wisely to avoid food waste as much as possible. 

Adopting a sustainable diet does not happen overnight. It requires the appropriate knowledge and the willingness and options of each individual to act. But it’s worth it, because it promotes our own health, climate, environmental and animal protection, as well as the generation-appropriate management of our planet.

Further Information & sources:


Bundeszentrum für Ernährung

Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft

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