Sustainable eating

Could eating sustainably also improve your health?

Zéro – my local in SW London

To date, I’ve largely shied away from speaking up about my personal views on the environment and sustainability, but I am starting to appreciate how my knowledge as a nutritionist, experience as a home cook and motivations as a mother (and planet citizen) really have put me in a unique position right now to start to tackle two of the biggest issues facing mankind: our deteriorating health and planet.

It’s fantastic to see so much awareness of both issues, but marrying the two in all my actions is really something I want to both do and share now. I’ve long preached the health benefits of using “real” natural and unprocessed foods; I’ve tried to inspire with healthy recipes and empower my clients with the ability to start using them themselves to the great benefit of their personal health.

I know we have busy lives and cooking everything from scratch just isn’t always an option, but I really feel that if we all do a little bit more every day/week/month/year, we really do have the power to influence not just our own health, but also that of the planet.

How does reducing plastic and packaging improve our health?

Plastic – I don’t think this needs any clarification from a sustainability perspective, but what does it have to do with our health? Well, you may have heard that BPA plastic is not a good thing – it has been shown to disrupt our endocrine system (hormones) and result in a number of health conditions such as infertility and cancer1, but there’s far less information available about other types of plastics. Whilst that means we can’t prove other plastics are damaging our health, we can’t really prove they aren’t until someone does that research. We are exposed to plastic in so many ways, from the water we drink to the air we breathe, but there are many things within our power to reduce our exposure to plastic, and avoiding them touching our food is one of them.

Simple swaps:

  • Eliminate cling-film if you haven’t already, and treat yourself to some lovely beeswax wraps. When storing things in the fridge, simply use a container instead – IKEA have some very affordable glass containers which can even be purchased with natural bamboo lids
  • Also look for glass or stainless steel reusable water bottles to further reduce your plastic exposure. I also love my kids stainless steel lunchboxes – they aren’t the cheapest but they will last so much longer than a hard plastic alternative. Here are some of my favourite places to buy:
  • Swap plastic milk cartons for glass bottles – plastic compounds have a particular affinity to fats, so whilst dry goods store quite well in plastic containers, fatty foods are far more likely to get contaminated. Try to prioritise switching these items first to maximise the health benefits of your efforts
  • Don’t take receipts! Most shops can email you receipts now if you need them and I would really encourage you to ditch them. “Paper” receipts actually contain BPA, so if you’ve handled one, it’s on your skin and could also transfer to any food items you subsequently touch

Chemical toxins – the drive to swap out our shower gels and shampoo bottles for bars is huge right now for environmental reasons, but this, and similarly doing away with our cleaning product bottles can also improve our health. There are so many other toxins lurking in our cleaning products, skin care and toiletries, and these too can cause disruptions to hormones, as well as burden our detoxification system which is already working hard on detoxing natural waste from our bodies as well as unavoidable toxicants like air pollution.

Make your own:

  • Multi-surface cleaner – most cleaning jobs can be undertaken with white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. I’ll be honest, I do miss my limescale remover, but vinegar does work just as well with patience and a little elbow grease and I figure I’m getting a workout at the same time so I am sucking that up!

A great non-toxic multi-surface cleaner can be made by simply mixing 750mls of white vinegar (2%) with 30 drops of essential oil (my favourite is lemon) in a reusable spray bottle. Vinegar can easily be bought in bulk or from your local bulk refill shop and a bottle of essential oil will last you ages (it’s also great as a scent for the washing too, avoiding the fragranced conditioners!)

  • Look at what’s in your deodorant, aluminium is a no-no too in my book, and whilst there are plenty of plastic-packaged aluminium-free options, I make my own using this recipe and it’s probably the best performing one I’ve ever tried too!
  • Have a go at making your own soaps and other “smellies”. I was given this book and it’s a total gem for getting started, otherwise get on Pinterest and You Tube and there are lots of recipes to get you started

Wholefoods – going plastic-free inevitably means that you’ll be cutting down on the amount of processed foods you buy (goodbye ready meals!) and increasing wholefoods instead. Did you know that ultra-processed foods account for more than 50% of food purchases in the UK2 and that increasing ultra-processed foods by 10% leads to a greater than 10% increased risk in certain cancers3? If reducing your plastic packaging reduces your consumption of ultra-processed foods then this can only be a good thing for your health!

Simple steps:

  • Check the ingredients labels – if there are more than 5 ingredients, it’s classed as ultra-processed4 so even if it is beautifully packaged in paper, you probably want to avoid it anyway for your health and the implications for energy usage in its production
  • Follow my social media and blog for quick ideas on how to make your own healthy recipes and staples from real foods. It can seem daunting at the start, but bear with me – I am a busy mum, I don’t have time for really complicated recipes, so just start and build on them one by one
  • If you’ve kids, get them in on the activities as well – this is a big win for me as I can double up time spent with them as well and I find it makes the whole process much more enjoyable (well, usually shall we say…) Not every task is suitable, but picking your own fruits and vegetables in the summer, baking and preparing vegetables for meals and lunchboxes, these are all tasks that with a bit of spin, can be viewed as activities rather than chores

Mindfulness – yep! Contrary to the crippling fear you might now be experiencing as you contemplate having to cook everything from scratch so that you can live healthily and save the planet on top of your day jobs(!), making these changes could actually be quite therapeutic…

  • Cooking a new recipe requires concentration and switches-off that “monkey mind” that’s always racing in the background. Switching off is a good thing.
  • Sourcing plastic-free foods can also bring us closer to nature as we head to farmers markets and farm shops to buy them, and nature itself is a well-proven stress reliever
  • By thinking more about the foods we eat, we connect more with our own bodies, tuning in to what they need, eating less and making healthier choices as an unintentional but very positive consequence

So there you have it – saving the planet and improving your health through less plastic exposure, less chemical exposure, increasing natural whole foods and being more mindful!

Be happy, be healthy and save the world, Catherine x

  1. Rubin, B.S. (2011) Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects, The journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology, vol 127, issues 1-2, p. 27-34
  2. Rauber, F. et al. (2019) Ultra-processed foods and excessive free sugar intake in the UK: a nationally representative cross-sectional study, British Medical Journal, vol 9
  3. Fiolet, T. et al. (2018) Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort, British Medical Journal
  4. Monteiro, C. (2016) Food classification. Public health NOVA, World Nutrition Volume 7, Number 1-3