Spring-clean your eating habits this September


One way to practice sustainable eating is to plan and eat meals according to the season. Doing so saves money, energy and lets you enjoy foods at the peak of their flavour. Here are 10 tips to get you eating more sustainably, plus a reminder of seasonal fruit and veg to buy this Spring.

Sustainable eating is a phrase that's bandied about a lot these days as more people are waking up to the fact that the Earth's natural resources are limited, and the choices we make today shape the future we'll live in tomorrow.

"You may not think that you can do much about global issues like climate change - but you'd be surprised at how your daily food choices can, for example, help keep the oceans stocked with fish," says Candice Smith, Head of Vitality's nutrition strategy. "The key to it all is learning to embrace sustainable eating."

What is sustainable eating?

The American Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report defines sustainable diets as "a pattern of eating that promotes health and wellbeing and provides food security for the present population, while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations."
This means that our diets should meet nutritional needs, while also conserving natural resources.

At best, we should aim for a diet that's sustainable in terms of affordability, availability, and environmental impact all throughout the food cycle - from production and packaging to transport and distribution. Smith adds, "In order to meet current and future food demands, whole populations need to change their food choices and eating patterns. And that starts with individual food choices."

Here are some tips to get you going:

Ten tips for eating sustainably

  1. Buy seafood from non-threatened stocks. You can check the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (SASSI) website for a list of sustainable seafood options.
  2. Choose whole, minimally processed foods, as less energy and resources are used compared to making and packaging processed foods.
  3. Prepare and serve appropriate portion sizes to lessen food wastage - wasting food means wasting the energy and resources that went into producing it. The bacteria that break down wasted food also produce the greenhouse gas methane.
  4. Use every part of a plant (“root-to-tip”) to cut down on food wastage. Many roots and bulbs can also be regrown in water.
  5. Choose whole grains over processed carbohydrates, as these require less energy to process.
  6. Producing a bottle of water requires more than double the amount of water the final product contains, so when you can, opt for plain tap water.
  7. Replace some of your meat intake with protein-rich legumes like lentils, split peas and beans. Producing meat (especially beef) contributes considerably to greenhouse gas emissions, but the nitrogen-fixing properties of legumes contribute to soil richness.
  8. Choose organic foods where possible, as organically-managed soil regenerates its richness.
  9. Cook more meals at home - food outlets use substantial amounts of energy for refrigeration, heating, cooling, and lighting, as well as water.
  10. Fill up on raw, fresh vegetables and fruit, as these need very little energy to prepare.

What's in season this Spring

Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in Spring (that is, September, October and November) in South Africa:

  • Fruit: Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, cherries, coconuts, dates, grapefruit, guavas, lemons, limes, naartjies, nectarines, oranges, pawpaw or papaya, pears, pineapples, plums, strawberries, sweet melon, and watermelon.
  • Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, aubergines (eggplant), baby marrows, beans, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, courgettes (zucchini), cucumber, kale spinach, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, potato, pumpkin, radishes, red onions, turnips, and watercress.

Find a year-long guide to seasonal foods here.

How subsidising healthy foods can affect consumer choices

It's also up to the food manufacturing industry to make bold changes. Sustainable agricultural and production practices are required to preserve natural resources, and the industries in question could be influenced to become more responsible by the ongoing patronage (or lack thereof) of consumers like us.

What’s certain is that if individuals and businesses work together, a positive difference can be made. For example, Discovery Vitality found that subsidising certain health-promoting foods affected consumer choices in a number of ways. Data from the Vitality HealthyFood programme for 2009 to 2012 showed:

  • Subsidising fruit and vegetables led to 5.7 to 8.5% more purchases of these items.
  • It also led to 5.6 to 7.2% less purchases of highly-processed sugary and fatty foods.
  • Purchase weight data showed less beef and pork purchases and more fruit and vegetable purchases.
  • It’s estimated that such a shift in purchases resulted in 7 to 12% less water usage, 8 to 13% less land usage, and 8 to 10% less greenhouse gas emissions.

"If sustainable eating sounds drastic, rest assured. There's no need to completely cut out any food groups to improve sustainability. By making just a few changes, supporting ethical food suppliers and following as many of the above tips as you can, you'll be doing your part in making the planet a better place for us all," concludes Smith.

Recommended for you by Vitality

Looking for more healthy tips and tried-and-tested recipes?

South African soil abounds in fantastic produce all year round, and the Vitality HealthyFood Studio seasonal delights course explores some lesser-known fruits and vegetables and help you to create delicious, healthy meals, throughout the year.

Look out for stickers in-store to help spot healthy choices

Identifying seasonal and sustainable foods can be tricky. Discovery Vitality's made it easier by labelling ones that promote good health in Pick n Pay and Woolworths stores nationwide. View the HealthyFood catalogues to check which items qualify, or just look out for the HealthyFood sticker in-store and fill your basket with peace of mind!

Remember, HealthyFood offers you up to 25% cash back, so you can enjoy big savings as well as good nutrition when you activate this benefit.

Not yet a Vitality member?  

Start getting rewarded for making healthy choices. SMS “Join” to 47751.

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