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Is the Climatarian Diet the Future of Wellness? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Many Australians are becoming aware of the impact their actions have on the environment, including their dietary choices. While we’ve previously shared expert tips on how you can reduce your seafood intake and practical tips on reducing your meat intake, there seems to be a new diet gaining popularity amongst environmentalists: the Climatarian diet.

Here, a dietitian reveals everything there is to know about this trendy sustainability diet.

What is the Climatarian diet?

The Climatarian diet is a way of eating guided by the principles of environmental sustainability. More specifically, someone following a Climatarian diet chooses to purchase and consume foods and drinks based on their carbon footprint.

Advocates of the diet say that the public votes with their dollar. By selectively spending in accordance with sustainability principles, we can have an impact on our environment as individuals and also influencing what manufacturers put on the shelves. For example, the more we spend our money on environmentally friendly options, the more those options will be produced and fewer products with a greater carbon footprint will be produced.

A Climatarian diet may consider the following:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Land use
  • Animal feed requirements
  • Facility and processing emissions
  • Transport
  • Packaging materials
  • Refrigeration requirements at retail sites.

What foods are allowed on a Climatarian diet?

The Climatarian diet is largely plant-based and quite well-rounded. All fruits, vegetables, grains and beans are celebrated here, as they take the least toll on the environment.

1. Legumes

Not only are legumes considered environmentally sustainable, but they also boost soil nutrient circulation and water retention. Legumes such as beans and lentils, are also a good source of protein and fibre for gut health.

2. Wholegrains

Ranking relatively low on greenhouse gas emissions and requiring comparatively small amounts of water for production, wholegrains and grain products can offer fibre, B vitamins, copper and magnesium, as well as certain antioxidants.

3. Leafy greens

Requiring minimal processing or manufacturing resources, leafy greens are a sustainable addition encouraged by Climatarian diet aficionados. As dietitians, we aren’t complaining here!

4. Mushrooms

Mushrooms get the tick of approval for their ability to grow easily with minimal resources required. In fact, mushrooms can even grow on recycled by-products from previously used crops. Also, did you know some mushroom varieties can provide vitamin D in a plant-based diet?

5. Algae

No, we’re not joking - people do consume algae. Why? It’s available year-round and can grow in many areas of the ocean (meaning specific areas aren’t over-used). It provides plant-based eaters with essential fatty acids, iodine and a vast array of other nutrients.

Additionally, algae production requires no pesticides. Climatarian, plant-based or otherwise, algae may be a worthwhile dietary addition for the sake of variety. We suggest trying it in a smoothie. And please, use consumption-approved algae… don’t go scraping behind rocks on your next beach walk!

What foods are limited on a Climatarian diet?

Foods that harm the environment are largely limited on the Climatarian diet.

1. Red meat

Specifically, beef and lamb. Why? The production of beef and lamb utilises a lot of water and creates a large amount of greenhouse gases. Climatarian researchers suggest limiting consumption of beef and lamb to once per week (approximately 65g). Current dietary guidelines in Australia recommend limiting red meat consumption to twice per week to reduce the risk of certain adverse health outcomes such as heart disease or colorectal cancer.

As dietitians, we must highlight that if you do choose to decrease meat intake, it’s important to receive nutrients such as protein, iron and B12 elsewhere in the diet to compensate, as red meat is commonly relied on for these. If you’re looking to try a more sustainable red meat option, Climatarians suggest trying bison or venison.

2. Cheese

Okay, don’t freak out, but cheese is one thing Climatarians do limit. This is because cheese relies on dairy cows, which again contribute to greenhouse gases. In fact, cheese apparently ranks just below red meat for its negative impact on the environment.

Cheese is a source of protein and calcium in our diets, as well as being good for the soul – so, what can we do? We can limit cheese intake, and we can choose less impactful varieties such as feta, brie, camembert and mozzarella. Note that from a dietitian’s perspective, dairy is considered a core food group. You can check out how many serves per day is suggested for your age and sex here.

3. Chocolate

According to Climatarians, the commercial chocolate industry contributes large amounts of carbon dioxide and has negative impacts on rainforests during cocoa farming. The milk and sugar required for the production of commercial chocolates is also considered by advocates of the diet.

The solution? Fairtrade chocolate, preferably dark. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, magnesium and manganese, and contains compounds that can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

4. Imported produce

Fruits and vegetables are grown seasonally. That means if consumers want and expect their favourite produce year-round, it’s going to need to be imported from elsewhere, usually overseas. Have a look at the price tag or sticker next time you’re at the shops and ask yourself the following: ‘was that product grown in Australia, or overseas?’ A Climatarian’s issue with this is that importing produce requires a huge amount of travel, and therefore gas emissions.

Dietitians want you to enjoy your fruits and veggies daily, so how would someone on a Climatarian diet do this? Perhaps by more consciously choosing seasonal items and locally produced items. Or if you’re really craving a specific fruit or vegetable that’s not in season, you can utilise the frozen food section.

Does a Climatarian diet get a dietitian’s tick of approval?

The principles of this diet are, to a degree, aligned with concepts promoted by dietitians for good health – eating more plant foods, reducing red meat to twice per week, conscious inclusion of discretionary items as part of a balanced diet and maximising variety by eating seasonally.

Bottomline: it’s great to consider the impact that we as individuals (and as a collective) can have on the environment through the foods we choose to eat.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor, dietitian or other qualified health professional prior to starting a new eating plan.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian.

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

Liked this? Here's exactly what to eat to improve your mood and mental health.

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