Many moons ago when I trained as a dietitian, my view of food centred on its ability to nourish and heal us. In time as my experience grew, and particularly after I did my Masters degree in food policy, I came to appreciate the wider issues in relation to what we eat. Now, I give much more consideration to how food has been grown – recognising that all our food choices are essentially votes for our beliefs now, and lay out our hopes for the future.
One Planet Plate
Producing food takes a great deal of resources such as land, water and energy, and accounts for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Half of these are related to animal-based food production alone – an amount equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from all the world’s vehicles[i].
The production of animal-based foods in comparison to plant-based foods is remarkably inefficient. Given we only have one planet to reap our food from, it’s imperative we live within the constraints it affords us.
Put simply, it isn’t sustainable to continue with the current patterns of animal-based food consumption – certainly not if our hopes are for a food system that is secure and nourishing, and one that will sustain our children’s generation, and generations thereafter.
The Power Of Plants
Plants rest at the heart of my real food kitchen – vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds – fill our plates with vibrancy and nourish us from the ground up.
Plant foods provide us with all the essential nutrients we need for good health. Indeed, researchers have continually found that the more our diets are rooted on a foundation of plants, the healthier we are.
Plant-based diets, which include little or no animal products, reduce the risk of heart disease and type II diabetes by at least 20% and also support with healthier bodyweights[ii].
The only nutrient we can’t get naturally from plants (because they have no need for it) is vitamin B12. This vitamin is made by bacteria and animals such as cows have bacteria in their intestines which produce it, that they then absorb.
There is little doubt that humans have evolved by eating meat, thus getting a supply of B12 through the diet in the past, but this doesn’t mean that meat is an essential component of the diet today. We have the choice to get our B12 from fortified plant foods or from a supplement.
The formative years of our children’s lives lay the foundations for long-term good health, as well as being a key time for establishing broad and healthful taste preferences.
Introducing babies to nutritious, plant-based whole foods from the get-go, gives them an immediate sense of what it is to come. Even better, babies learn from us as their primary role models and if we can enjoy the same food, this one shared meal message is reinforced.
I’m a big advocate for baby-led weaning, an approach that I followed with both of my boys. Baby-led weaning leans into the principle that from around 6-months, most babies will have the skills needed to feed themselves. So rather than pureeing food down and spoon-feeding it, foods that are easy to handle, munch and swallow are offered and we go from there.
In my cookbook, Real Food For Babies And Toddlers, you will find plenty of real food recipes and practical ideas for building a love of real food from their first bite.
[i] Wellesley L, Happer C and Froggart A. Changing climate, changing diets. Chatham House Report: 2015.
[ii] Harland J and Garton L. An update of the evidence relating to plant-based diets and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and overweight. Nutrition Bulletin 2016:41;323-38.