How to achieve sustainable nutrition with your clients
Sustainable nutrition is a combination of factors that allows you to evaluate each client on a deeper level and provide the best nutritional guidance possible. Here’s how you can use this concept to help clients reduce their environmental impact, improve their health, and evaluate certain food choices.
As a nutrition professional, it’s important to evaluate each client as a whole and not only focus on certain dietary options. After all, nutrition goes deeper than food–it’s about evaluating a person as a whole and providing nutrition suggestions based on socioeconomic status, cultural traditions, lifestyle choices, and more. That’s where the concept of sustainable nutrition comes into play, as this focuses on making sure your clients have access to healthful nutrients while helping them limit their environmental impact, embrace culturally-appropriate foods, and create a grocery list that fits their budget.
But how can you, as a dietitian, use sustainable nutrition with your clients to help improve their overall health and wellbeing? Let’s first understand what this concept is and what you need to consider while working with a client.
What is sustainable nutrition?
By definition, sustainable nutrition is delivered in a way so as to be mindful of both people and the planet, while still providing nutrients that are essential for this generation (and future ones) .
Sustainable nutrition is a combination of the following factors :
- Health and nutrition. This refers to getting enough nutritionally adequate, safe, and healthy food to the right people. To do this, you can examine the healthfulness or nutrition quality of each food item, evaluate food safety, and work with your client to increase their intake of health-conscious nutrients and limit consumption of non-nutritious items (like added sugar or trans-fat).
- Economics. Food should be accessible, economically fair, and affordable for everyone. Unfortunately, increasing economic pressure could mean that people are not able to afford safe, healthy food and may turn to cheaper, less nutritious foods instead. As a nutrition professional, you should factor in each client’s socioeconomic status, race and lifestyle to make sure that you provide adequate nutritional guidance for their specific situation.
- Environmental impact. Reducing food waste is one of the best ways to limit your carbon footprint and benefit the planet. According to FAO, nearly one-third of the food produced worldwide every year (1.3 billion tonnes) gets wasted, with fruits and vegetables accounting for the highest wastage rates of any food . Additionally, food waste needlessly produces greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to global warming and climate change, and squanders a variety of resources such as water, land, energy, and labor. By adjusting certain lifestyle and dietary choices, you can help your clients reduce their carbon footprint in a way that works for them.
Help your clients live a more eco-friendly lifestyle with these tips.
- Sociocultural consciousness. A nutritious diet won’t look the same for everyone, so it’s important that you honor and respect each client’s cultural dietary habits. Not only does this support your client’s connection to food, but it continues to strengthen their relationships with their family, community, and environment. When you consider culturally appropriate food with your clients, it helps tailor your nutritional guidance for what’s important to them.
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What to consider when working with clients
While there are no hard or fast rules on what makes a diet sustainable, there are many factors to consider when it comes to helping your clients reduce their environmental impact, improve their health, and evaluate certain food choices.
Sustainable nutrition is a complex matter, so here are some things to think about so you can provide your clients the best nutritional guidance possible.
- Is your client overnourished or overnourished? How can you tailor their nutrition plan accordingly?
- Does your client have access to safe food? If not, are there ways you can help with that?
- How can you help your client be more environmentally conscious in a way that will fit their lifestyle?
- Does your client have access to nutritious food? Is this realistic or financially feasible for them?
- How can you tailor your nutritional guidance to include food that is appropriate for your client’s dietary behavior, religious beliefs, and/or local food system?
How can sustainable nutrition be achieved?
Incorporating sustainable nutrition concepts can feel daunting, so here are some practical ways that you can apply these principles with your clients .
Focus on produce.
Fruits and vegetables are important for improved health and disease prevention, but they don’t have to be organic to be nutritious. Depending on your client’s needs, you can recommend frozen or canned items (as these often offer the same nutritional value as fresh) or have them consider buying seasonal produce items instead. Regardless of how your client chooses to buy produce, it’s important to focus on the nutritional value that fruits and vegetables provide and include more of it (when possible) in their meal plan. You can also use this as an opportunity to add more produce to any cultural dishes to enhance the nutritional value.
Choose more plant-based proteins.
Reducing red meat consumption is beneficial for both the health of your clients and the planet, so you can help them make a difference by shifting their protein intake towards more plant-based protein sources (like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and plant-based meat alternatives). Not only will this help reduce their carbon footprint, but it’s also easier on the wallet.
Focus on nutrients.
Instead of focusing on “healthy” foods, turn your focus to nutrients instead. You can do so by including more nutritionally dense foods in your client’s meal plan that focus on vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fatty acids and fiber. You can also work with your clients to limit their consumption of foods that have high amounts of saturated fat, salt and/or sugar. However, keep in mind that the foods you recommend should fall under the umbrella of being affordable, culturally appropriate and accessible, which may look different for each client.
Learn how you can help your clients overcome nutritional deficiencies.
Be more environmentally conscious.
Whether that’s shopping local, using less plastic products, or bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store, you can encourage your clients to reduce their carbon footprint through certain lifestyle changes. You can also help your clients reduce food waste by encouraging them to eat leftovers, only buy what they will eat, and freeze any excess produce. It’s also important to note that these environmentally-friendly changes don’t have to feel unattainable–you can work with your clients to find small, manageable ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Every change makes a difference, no matter how big or small it is.
Sustainable nutrition is a combination of factors that allows you to evaluate each client on a deeper level and provide the best nutritional guidance possible. This concept helps you ensure that your clients have access to healthful nutrients while helping them limit their environmental impact, embrace culturally-appropriate foods, and create a grocery list that fits their budget. You can apply these principles by developing a meal plan that has realistic (and nutritious) food items which are on budget, accessible, environmentally-conscious and fit their cultural needs.
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- Smetana, S. M., Bornkessel, S., & Heinz, V. (2019). A Path From Sustainable Nutrition to Nutritional Sustainability of Complex Food Systems. Frontiers in nutrition, 6, 39. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00039
- Food loss and waste database. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.fao.org/platform-food-loss-waste/flw-data/en/
- Steenson, S., & Buttriss, J. L. (2021). Healthier and more sustainable diets: What changes are needed in high‐income countries? Nutrition Bulletin, 46(3), 279–309. https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12518