A Global Plate Shift: Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) Embrace Sustainability, But Can They Deliver Real Change?

Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)

Have you ever considered the environmental impact of your plate? It might seem surprising, but what we choose to eat has a significant influence on the planet’s health. Thankfully, this connection is being recognized more and more, with countries around the world integrating sustainability into their official food guidelines. But are these guidelines going far enough?

In this post, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) and explore how effectively they’re addressing the pressing issue of environmental sustainability. We’ll uncover the progress made so far, but also shed light on areas where these guidelines could be strengthened to create real, lasting change. Buckle up, food enthusiasts and eco-warriors alike, because we’re about to embark on a journey exploring the delicious intersection of diet and sustainability!

Sustainability in Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)

As we examine food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs) around the world, a growing trend is the incorporation of environmental sustainability into dietary conversations. Countries are starting to connect diet and sustainability in their nutritional guidance, though the depth of this integration varies.

Out of the numerous nations with established FBDGs, only a fraction have explicitly mentioned environmental sustainability. This rising awareness reflects a growing recognition of the link between our diets and the planet. However, when it comes to turning these acknowledgments into action, progress is inconsistent. Most countries that mention sustainability in their FBDGs often provide a general narrative, introducing what a sustainable diet might look like but stopping short of detailing the practical steps or quantified recommendations for users to follow.

Placing sustainability in the limelight of FBDGs sheds light on important principles many might be aware of but not actively engage with. Among the most addressed principles are:

  • Embracing both animal and plant-based foods in a way that respects biodiversity and minimizes environmental harm
  • Reducing food waste

Yet, there’s often a gap between listing these values and providing tangible, easy-to-follow advice that guides consumers toward more environmentally mindful eating patterns.

Notably, where detailed advice exists, it’s more often found in the background documents rather than in the guidelines meant for the general public. This inconsistency can dilute the message and, ultimately, the impact.

Certain countries are taking the lead in deepening the discourse, integrating concepts that bridge the nutrition-planet health divide with more clarity. They set benchmarks for others to aspire to, showing it’s possible to outline ways to adapt our diets for the sake of our health and our environment without compromising on either.

The intersection of diet and environmental sustainability in FBDGs underscores a crucial turning point for global dietary guidelines. As FBDGs continue to evolve, it’s important they not only outline what constitutes a healthy diet but also convey how each choice impacts ecosystems and futures.

Weaving environmental sustainability into FBDGs is an unfolding story—a blend of acknowledging the challenge, taking initial steps, and striving towards more explicit, actionable guidance. It’s about transforming good intentions into healthier outcomes for people and the planet alike.

Regional Variations

The mosaic of dietary guidelines reflects the diverse cultural and environmental landscapes across continents.

In Africa, FBDGs highlight local staples such as millets and sorghum. These guidelines embrace the continent’s biodiversity, advising on a varied diet that leans heavily towards plant-based foods, acknowledging both traditional eating patterns and sustainable practices given the region’s sensitivity to climate change impacts. The environmental narrative here often revolves around leveraging indigenous foods, which are naturally resilient and adapted to the local climate, aligning with the conservation of the continent’s rich biodiversity.

Here’s a recipe idea for Millet

Millet with Red Kidney Beans (Pitimi ak pois rouge)
Millet, Pitimi or Petit Mil with Red Kidney Beans can be cooked the same way as Rice with Red Kidney Beans. Millet a healthy grain has many great benefits.
Get the recipe

In Asia, where dietary diversity spans from the rice-dominant East to the wheat-centric West, FBDGs are a tapestry of this diversity. They frequently emphasize local eating practices while advocating for a reduction in meat consumption, given the environmental stress associated with livestock farming. Asian FBDGs particularly highlight the benefits of traditional diets such as the Japanese ‘Washoku’, which embodies principles of seasonality, locavorism, and minimal waste, offering lessons in sustainability rooted in centuries-old wisdom.

Here’s a recipe for Rice and Beans

The perfect Rice and Beans
The perfect Rice and Beans. A dish that goes so well with the Chicken in Creole Sauce and any meat sauce.
Get the recipe

Europe presents an intriguing chapter in the FBDGs story, with its interplay of Mediterranean diets favoring olive oil, fish, and fresh produce against the meat and potato leaning patterns of the North. European FBDGs are notable for their meticulous detail, often providing specific quantities for meat reduction and framing it as both a health move and a planet-saving tactic. The collision of culinary tradition and modern nutritional science is evident where guidelines encourage holding onto age-old dietary practices that align with today’s sustainability needs, such as the Nordic practice of foraging and the Mediterranean preference for legumes and nuts.

Here’s a recipe idea:

Peppers Stuffed with Feta, Olive & Basil Salad
Peppers Stuffed with Feta, Olive & Basil Salad is a delicious and healthy vegetarian salad recipe. A light and refreshing Mediterranean dish.
Get the recipe
Peppers Stuffed with Feta, Olive & Basil Salad

Across the Atlantic, the Americas also exhibit regional diversity, from the quinoa-rich Andes to the maize fields of Mesoamerica. The ‘My Plate’ model in the USA hints at portion control as a strategy for health and environmental sustainability by curtailing overconsumption. Brazil has been pioneering, weaving sustainability into the narrative by advising its populace to favor natural foods over processed ones, spotlighting the connection between diets, health care systems, and environmental sustainability.

A recipe idea to try

Simple Quinoa Recipe
This Simple Quinoa uses minimal spices for a delicious taste!
Get the recipe

This rich tapestry of FBDGs across continents is emblematic of a paradigm shift towards integrating environmental sustainability into our plates. They catalog a conscientious move from merely outlining lists of dos and don’ts to rendering a broader vision that our diets, cultural preferences, health aspirations, and the environment are interconnected. Each region bringing their unique perspective showcases that while paths might differ, the destination is shared—a sustainable planet supported by diets that nourish both bodies and ecosystems.

Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)
Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)

Guidelines for Sustainable Diets

Amidst the diversity of culinary customs and nutritional knowledge, a common thread of sustainable eating practices emerges. As nations articulate their respective Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs), a shared message surfaces, promoting plant-based diets, biodiversity conservation, and the importance of reducing food waste. While the general advice—eat less meat, waste less food, value diversity—is consistent, how this guidance is presented within national guidelines varies.

The move towards plant-based foods is a strong recommendation that echoes through the collective conscience of nations. Countries champion vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds as the cornerstones of a diet that benefits both health and planetary well-being. However, the advice often lacks quantifiable specifics, leaving individuals to interpret the meaning of “more plant-based foods” according to their own understanding.

Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark green, red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.1

The dialogue around animal-based foods follows a similar pattern, with a gentle push for reduced consumption for the sake of our planet’s finite resources. Yet again, the message is present, but the composition lacks the precise intensity or frequency, obscuring the exact extent of change necessary to align diets with sustainable practices.

Biodiversity preservation and the reduction of food waste emerge as recurring themes. FBDGs highlight the importance of diverse diets not just for nutritional balance but for ecological harmony. Advocating for the incorporation and revival of indigenous and underutilized species plays out like a quiet resistance to homogeneity, urging a return to food sources that diversify the options without straining the environment. On reducing food waste, the guidelines encourage smart buying, preserving, and valuing our food—practices that resonate with both financial savings and conservation efforts. However, many FBDGs underplay their advice, understating powerful actions that could lead to significant change.

Despite the fertile ground for transformational dialogue within FBDGs regarding sustainability, there’s a noticeable hesitation to state the hard facts or articulate quantified steps towards this grand vision of sustainable diets. The stories narrated are inspirationally rich yet practically vague, setting the stage for change but leaving audiences uncertain of their roles. Providing quantifiable recommendations—like reducing meat intake to specific amounts, adhering to seasonal produce shopping, or setting precise targets for legume intake—could elevate the impact of the guidelines.

In essence, while FBDGs collectively promote sustainable diets, the crucial next step lies in embodying this guidance within actionable, quantified measures. Blending the ethical with the practical, shaping dietary advice that resonates with our collective responsibilities toward our planet requires more detailed direction. As we stand at this juncture where sustenance meets sustainability, let’s craft these guidelines to not only inspire but also activate tangible change.

Impact of FBDGs on Food Systems

At the heart of our global food systems lies the potential for transformation—one that balances nurturing life with protecting our planet. Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs), with their growing emphasis on environmental sustainability, have the power to ignite change not just in our kitchens but across the vast landscapes that sustain our food sources. When intertwined with the principles of sustainability, these guidelines call for a shift towards more resilient and mindful food systems.

As FBDGs increasingly advocate for diets that are less taxing on our planet, they subtly reshape the trajectory of food production. By promoting a shift towards more plant-based options and prescribing moderation in animal-derived foods, FBDGs encourage a gentle revolution in agricultural practices. This goes beyond altering cultivation methods; it involves integrating biodiversity into farming, where polycultures replace monocultures. It envisions a future where water is used judiciously, and where soils are respected as living entities. The narrative woven into FBDGs celebrates food sources that replenish rather than deplete, beckoning a shift towards agricultural methods that work in harmony with nature.

On the consumption front, FBDGs guide society towards choices that respect our global food resources. The script they propose encourages consumers to favor the seasonal, the local, and the sustainable alternatives. This scenario envisions markets brimming with local produce, where sustainably caught fish share space with legumes that have nurtured soils. In this context, reducing food waste transcends mere pragmatism; it becomes a tribute to the resources and effort invested in our meals. As individuals adapt their diets to these guidelines, consumption patterns transform into a reflection of sustainability.

Planetary health stands to benefit immensely from this dietary shift. Each tweak in our diets as prescribed by FBDGs, and each adjustment in food production to accommodate these changes, reverberates across ecosystems. This is where carbon footprints shrink in step with dietary shifts, where biodiverse landscapes rebound as demand aligns with ecological stewardship, and where the oceans find respite as sustainable fishing takes hold. The cumulative impact of incorporating environmental sustainability into FBDGs is significant; it encapsulates the ethos of nourishing ourselves in a manner that also sustains the planet’s future.

By synthesizing sustainability into the fabric of FBDGs, we chart a path that winds its way from our dining tables into the heart of our food systems. This potential transition reimagines food systems as bastions of resilience, capable of nourishing humanity while nurturing the planet. Such is the transformative power nestled within FBDGs—a power to reshape the contours of hunger, health, and habitat. Embracing this vision requires more than mere dietary adjustments; it calls for an alignment of policy, practice, and purpose toward fostering food systems that sustain both people and the planet. This harbors not just hope, but a tangible blueprint for a future that celebrates life in all its diversity.

Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)
Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs)

The incorporation of environmental sustainability principles into food-based dietary guidelines presents a compelling narrative that champions a dual cause: nourishing ourselves while safeguarding our planet. This approach underscores the essence of our journey towards sustainable living, reminding us that every meal is an opportunity to contribute positively to our world’s future.

Here are a few resources that are worth reading:


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.

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