THE BLOG
03/04/2019 12:23 EST | Updated 03/04/2019 14:41 EST

Mindful Eating Means Making Food Choices That Protect Our Planet

Mindful eating now involves seeking out food that is sustainably sourced

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Mindfulness is a popular concept many of us are familiar with. From health-care professionals and registered dietitians just like me to entrepreneurs, career coaches and yogis: we're increasingly discovering its many benefits not only for the mind but for the body as well. But what about mindful eating?

The phrase mindful eating may conjure up several scenarios. Like eating on the go, between errands or contemplating whether to have that second serving, or even trying to avoid being on autopilot at meal times so that you can attend to your body's cues.

I know the debate all too well. I grew up in a culture where slowing down meant falling behind — at school, at work and at home. What's more, this hectic mindset transpired into my eating habits, which wreaked havoc on my digestion and energy levels and led me to explore tools to help me shift the needle — in order to feel better. This is where my journey with mindful eating began. I vividly recall starting to ask myself: Why am I eating? What am I eating? How am I eating? What's the bigger picture?

I have said before that mindful eating is simply having a greater connection with your body and with the food you consume by eating with attention and intent. However, as we learn more about the plate-to-planet connection — that our food choices can impact the entire planet — eating with intent now involves seeking out food that is sustainably sourced.

Watch: What is the "planetary health diet"? Blog continues below.

As a registered dietitian, I have been lucky enough to participate in discussions about Canada's revised Food Guide. But I can't shake the feeling that concerns about the environmental impact of how and what we eat were not addressed in the new guide.

A recent report from the United Nations brings urgency to the debate, that we must change our dietary choices and invest in climate-friendly sustainable agriculture. Methane release, agricultural pollution, and water shortages have all been identified as byproducts of livestock production. So, how can we make better food choices in our everyday lives?

Although we've seen a push towards a plant-based diet within the new guide, I believe the benefits of eating fish and seafood make them a remarkable protein, worthy of a special mention.

It's been known in the RD world that fish is a unique protein, unlike beef, pork or chicken. Not only does it contain unsaturated fats, it is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Plus, certain types are the best source of healthy omega 3s and vitamin D. Regular consumption of fish has been linked to a reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer, anxiety and depression.

From a sustainability point of view, seafood has a lower carbon footprint compared to land-based animal proteins. When fished sustainably, it has the incredible ability to regenerate and sustain generations to come. When buying seafood, I encourage my clients to look for reputable labels like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) blue fish, a globally recognized certification that identifies wild seafood that is sustainable and traceable to the source. For farmed seafood, I look for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logo.

Another organization I trust is Canada Organic. When you see this logo, you know there are strict limitations and prohibitions of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics or synthetic hormones. The logo also recognizes production systems that sustain the health of soils and ecosystems — another win for our planet.

As I look back on my training as a dietitian, there was little discussion around the intricate link between our physical health and the health of the environment. Fast forward 10 years and unfortunately, I feel the conversation hasn't evolved quickly enough to meet the challenges we face. I was hopeful that Canada's new food guide would emphasize the importance of sustainability and empower consumers with the information they need to make sustainable choices. Although the guide reflects a new approach to healthy eating, it only includes an honourable mention of sustainability in the guidelines for professionals, which leaves me wondering whether it missed the mark for consumers.

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To me, the premise of mindful eating is multi-layered and extends beyond the individual. Consumers today are better informed and savvier, resulting in a much needed, larger dialogue around sustainable food sources. There is a heightened awareness of the environmental impact that our food choices have on our planet. Now, we are entering a troubling era, where our planet is characterized by climate change, and we're beginning to appreciate that access to healthy food increasingly depends on sustainable food systems.

As the connection becomes clearer between mindful food choices and a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, the more conscious we'll be of what we buy and consume — which is key to making a mindful and personal connection to our planet.

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