What are the characteristics of a sustainable diet?

I would like to quote directly what FAO states: “Sustainable diets are those diets with a low environmental impact which contribute to ensure food security and nutrition and wellness for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources”.

I have clarified (and will continue to do so) the various repercussions of our bad habits on all fronts, especially in the essay “Our Irrepressible Hunger for Meat“, but it is now time to provide the first important practical tool to win this fundamental battle:

the CHEtarian diet©

I have dedicated many years for studying the various sustainable diets available, realizing that something was missing in each of them: sometimes even small elements, which however make the difference. So I hope that I have achieved in outlining the most valid guidelines for leading a healthy and undoubtedly sustainable life*.

First of all, let’s analyze the NUTRITIONAL PYRAMID OF WELLNESS, on which the diet is based:

nutritional pyramid of wellness

Let’s go deeper

To be sustainable and healthy a diet must not contain too much meat and animal products.
Reducing their consumption, can make a significant contribution to safeguarding the planet’s natural resources: air, arable land and water reserves…
If we lower the quantity of animal products, however, we must increase the quantity of plant-based proteins: to avoid shortages of amino acids, minerals and vitamins contained in them.

THE PYRAMID IN BRIEF

Our food pyramid must therefore be based on vegetables, preferably fresh and local, but strictly seasonal.
Then legumes, our sustainable sources of protein in other words our low-cost health, flavor and satiety providers.
Speaking of flavor, we cannot miss including fruit in our list.
Then we add carbohydrates, i.e. whole-grain cereals that give you the pleasure of eating and the energy that you need to deal with everyday life.
And it is only afterwards, that we begin to introduce foods of great biological value, but which we cannot abuse either because of their high calorie content (such as oil seeds or nuts) or because of problems related to their low sustainability and high environmental impact (animal products).
Milk and dairy products, eggs, fish, white meat and finally red meat and sweets on the top of the heap.

For those who’d like to read about the diet now, skip the next in-depth analysis, by clicking here

If instead, you want to understand well the fundamental logic and the distribution of priorities, here you will find:

 

THE PYRAMID IN DETAIL

Lets start from the bottom

Without physical activity and without the possibility of dedicating at least half an hour a day to ourselves, there is nothing capable to ensure us well-being, neither a diet nor a miracle. Let’s make an effort to get the indispensable determination to invest in ourselves: less television, social network and Netflix, let’s go to sleep one hour earlier, to get up one hour earlier, so we can nurture both body and soul.

Water

I won’t tell you to drink 8 or 10 glasses of water a day, but drink plenty of it. No soft drinks, whether bubbly or not, fruit juices, with added sugar or not: we want a sustainable and healthy diet (which is also cheap, plastic and added-sugar free). Only homemade herbal teas are allowed, hot or cold; maximum 330 ml of naturally sparkling mineral water; 2 coffees (regular size) and 1 tea per day, not more. If possible, we should prefer tap water: in the case of places where hardness and hygiene of city water are a problem, there are now some tricks to be put in place – like filters or also inverse osmosis systems, expensive at the beginning but in the overall cost and efficiency of a family budget, prove to be successful in long term.

Vegetables

Only seasonal vegetables, preferably fresh and from local or at least national producers. While it is acceptable to buy them frozen, the preserves with oil and pickles are not recommended, in particular the ones which have been produced with industrial processes: they contain no vitamins, cost a lot of money and have too much salt and/or oil. Eat plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables, they will fill your eyes and stomach. You don’t have to create complicated recipes, if you don’t have time, just cook them with a little water, or using steam or the grill, still “al dente”, and season them with a drizzle of oil and lemon and some spices. They are rich in vitamins and minerals: they are what your body is thirsty for. When it’s winter, in our kitchen we never lack carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, leek, avocado, pumpkin/squash; in summer tomatoes, aubergines, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, purslane, etc.

Protein-rich plant-based food

We have many of them, even though we normally know only half of what the world usually consumes. When we reduce the intake of animal proteins, we have to use wisely and take advantage of all the options that Mother Nature gives us. In this group there are legumes, in particular soya and its countless by-products; mushrooms; but also cereals and wheat, containing gluten (it is the protein of wheat) which, for those like me who have no disturbance related to it, offers valid alternatives to animal proteins; mycoproteins like Quorn; algae and many others. The last 2 options I have added to the list for sole informational purposes, but I don’t use them: even without their presence, I have difficulty too often in choosing what to cook among many plant-based options, so still no curious about new flavors or textures.

Carbohydrates

If we increase the amount of legumes we ingest with our diet, we must be careful not to exaggerate with other sources of carbohydrates. This vast world of sugars, starches and fiber offers us different types of food, with different characteristics. Sugars, i.e. simple carbohydrates, are called as empty calories and they are not good for our health, so their consumption should be moderate in order to make room for complex carbohydrates: such as cereals (choose wholegrain carbohydrates), but be aware of introducing enough fiber rich vegetables, when you eat starch rich foods. We should also limit the association of carbohydrates with fats in general and with animal proteins. In simple terms: brown rice ‘YES’, white rice ‘NO’; bulgur ‘YES’, couscous ‘NO’; wholewheat bread ‘YES’, white bread ‘NO’; baked potato with mushroom and spinach ‘YES’, baked potato with cheese sauce ‘NO’, etc.

Fruit

I have not included fruit with vegetables in the bottom of the pyramid, as you are accustomed to seeing. Because they contain lots of sugar (fructose), this is why we shouldn’t abuse their consume, if we want to be fit and also if we have to take care of the peaks of blood glucose. 2 portions a day are more than fine; better if we eat them away from meals; always choose seasonal fruit, possibly from local or national producers. NO to juices: fruit should be eaten, not drunk!

Eggs, milk and dairy products with oil seeds and nuts

They offer excellent nutritional values and are great sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 (oil seeds and nuts). However, they should not be consumed in abundance for sustainability reasons for the first two, and for fitness reasons for the last two groups. To make part of the CHEtarian diet©, eggs, milk and dairy products, must come from animals bred with humanity and with natural and/or organic feed; preferably from local producers. If this type of food is too expensive for your budget, here is another reason to reduce their purchase. Quality or nothing!
Oil seeds and nuts: they should come from local-national-continental producers. No, to exotic products.

White meat, fish, oils and fats

Excellent sources of protein, omega 3 (fish and some oils), vitamins and minerals; however, taking into account their unsustainability, low affordability of quality products and animal welfare doubts when these are bred, we must limit their consumption to 1 or 2 times a week. Chickens must be of breeds that grow more gradually and/or reared on organic and/or similar farms. Fish must be of only sustainable species, of the right size, and where possible caught by artisanal methods, preferably local or national.

Oils and fats: their intake must be limited for their high calories, even if in the CHEtarian diet© only the good fats are allowed, i.e. vegetable oils such as olive oil, flax seed, sunflower, corn and others, only if cold pressed and not hydrogenated; butter only if organic, but in limited quantities; no to hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, therefore no, also to all vegetable margarines considered as healthy.

Red meat, alcohol

Let’s start with alcohol: if you want to lead a healthy life, alcohol consumption should be restricted.

The consumption of red meat should be moderated a lot for its high environmental impact, for animal welfare, for health and for the budget. The first few weeks of your diet, you can consume 1 or 2 times a week, if you really can’t do without it; but if you are not willing to reduce your consumption to 1 or 2 times a month, this diet is not for you (and you are probably not ready for the Revolution).

Sweets, processed meat

Sweets: they are to be avoided, because other than delighting the palate and the senses for a few minutes, they do nothing good; but do harm the general health. Eliminate as soon as possible the added sugar from cold or hot drinks (coffee, tea, iced tea and so on: get used to drink them without sugar; included low or zero calorie sweeteners), you should say no also to sugars present in healthy foods such as yoghurt, protein bars and vegetable drinks: no, to industrial yoghurt with fruit and similar, opt for the natural one and you may add some dried or fresh fruit inside; choose always almond milk, soy or other plant-based milks without added sugar. I guarantee that you will get used to its absence, but if you are not able to renounce it, use sparingly grape molasses, cane sugar, stevia and for only limited use, honey (the real one, if you can find it). Baked sweets (biscuits, pies, tarts, croissants etc.) should be limited to 1-2 portions per week, but to be decreased more and more.

For processed meats (salami, sausages etc.) use the same attitude: they are very salty, often fatty, full of additives and not sustainable for the environment, animal welfare and health. The ideal is to limit their intake to 1-2 times a month, or less.

As you can see, the Nutritional Pyramid of Well-being, stands on 3 pillars, which are fundamental to be able to define CHEtarian diet©: our meals must be practical and economical, healthy and ethically sustainable

​And finally, we can talk about CHEtarian diet©

With this diet we will not renounce any gluttony at the table; we will be able to do something concrete for our health, kilos in excess, the budget, the climate change, and consequently for the present and future of every living being on the planet.

Before we go any further, though, I want to make a premise.

We cannot entrust our fate in the sense of health, to others, including myself. We cannot accept everything we are told, we must strive to know the reason for every choice, to enrich our food culture by relating it to ourselves, as individuals, who are unique and different from others.

My main intention is to provide you with chefoodrevolution.com, the right tools. If you continue to follow me, in time, you will be able to choose which food product to buy and which not, just by looking at the ingredients label, without being influenced by the brand, price or misleading advertising.

The CHEtarian diet© has been developed and tested by me and my husband in more than 10 years, and it is perhaps the only one that, besides offering being healthy and sustainable, takes into account also the convenience and cheapness of the meals in order to satisfy everyone, rich and poor; because if you still did not understand let me repeat again: in this Revolution no one should be left behind.

When implementing these small improvements you are free: you, will decide if taking 5 or 100 steps on this path, but doing nothing is no longer an option. You really have no excuse now.

Here is a meal-plan example based on 10 days, in order to have a more complete outlook of the frequency of animal proteins included

The CHEtarian diet©

Before breakfast: start every day with 1-2 glasses of water; it is advisable (for those who can) to squeeze half a lemon in it, so that you have the right boost and energy to be ready for the day

Day 1

BREAKFAST: bowl of plant-based milk or yoghurt with oat flakes, a half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: yogurt, a half apple and 10 almonds

LUNCH: brown rice with peas; side dish of cooked vegetables

SNACK: half slice of wholewheat bruschetta, 30g of lupins and a handful of olives

DINNER: 100g oily forage fish homemade burgers; purslane salad and/or cooked vegetables, spelt bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 2

BREAKFAST: bowl of plant-based milk or yoghurt with oat flakes, a half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: 4 dried apricots with 100g cottage cheese

LUNCH: barley with vegan lentils curry; side dish of cooked vegetables

SNACK: crudités of fennel, celery, granny smith apple with oil and lemon seasoning and a 30g of pumpkin seeds

DINNER: pizza as desired (possibly homemade with wholewheat flour); rich salad bowl and/or grilled vegetables

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 3

BREAKFAST: 1 slice of toasted wholewheat bread, with a spoonful of peanut butter and a half cooked apple; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: 1 fruit in season and 3-4 walnuts

LUNCH: black beans in tomato sauce and vegetables with brown rice; rich salad bowl with nutritional yeast

SNACK: plain yogurt with 5 almonds and 2 dried figs

DINNER: tofu sticks with rich salad bowl seasoned with flax seed oil and/or cooked vegetables; spelt bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 4 

BREAKFAST: bowl of yoghurt with oat flakes, half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: half-orange in slices and a handful of black olives seasoned with fennel seeds and 4 walnuts

LUNCH: spelt with grilled vegetables and nutritional yeast; rich salad bowl

SNACK: 1 fruit in season with 20g swiss cheese

DINNER: salty vegan cheesecake; rich salad bowl and/or cooked vegetables; rye bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 5

BREAKFAST: bowl of kefir with oat flakes, a half banana, oil seeds and almonds; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: half slice of wholewheat bread and peanut butter with 2 dried figs

LUNCH: whole wheat pasta with vegetables and olives; rich salad bowl

SNACK: 1 fruit in season and 10 hazelnuts

DINNER: clams (100g without shell) and vegetables gratin; rich salad bowl and/or cooked vegetables; spelt bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 6

BREAKFAST: bowl of plant-based milk or yoghurt with oat flakes, a half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: half slice of wholewheat bread with a mix of tahin (sesame cream) and grape molasses (or agave or other)

LUNCH: vegan mushroom soup with nutritional yeast; cooked vegetables with black eyed peas and/or rich salad bowl; wholewheat bread

SNACK: crudités of fennel, celery, granny smith apple with oil and lemon seasoning and 30g of lupins

DINNER: vegetarian sprout balls; rich salad bowl and/or cooked vegetables; rye bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and 2 dried figs

Day 7

BREAKFAST: bowl of yoghurt with oat flakes, a half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of tea without sugar

SNACK: 80g cottage cheese with 2 dried apricots and 5 almonds

LUNCH: diced potatoes and soy chunks with mushroom and nutritional yeast sauce; rich salad bowl; half slice of spelt bread

SNACKcrudités of fennel, celery, carrots with oil and lemon seasoning and 30g of pumpkin seeds

DINNER: red lentil balls; rich salad bowl; cooked vegetables

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 8

BREAKFAST: vegan pancakes with peanut butter and maple syrup or grape molasses, with a half cooked apple; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: chia pudding with cocoa and raisins

LUNCH: tabulè bulgur salad, mixed vegetables with 2 tablespoon of horse bean puree

SNACK: plain greek yogurt with 2 dried figs

DINNER: 100g roast or chicken; eggplant salad and/or rich salad bowl, wholewheat bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 9

BREAKFAST: bowl of yoghurt with oat flakes, half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: 20g of swiss cheese with 3-4 walnuts

LUNCH: cornmeal with pumpkin puree; artichokes, sauteed with seeds; sprout salad

SNACK: 1 sliced apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

DINNER: vegan chickpea flatbread with seasonal vegetables and nutritional yeast; rich salad bowl and a half orange or half kiwi or half avocado

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

Day 10

BREAKFAST: bowl of plant-based milk or yoghurt with oat flakes, half banana, oil seeds and nuts; 1 cup of herbal tea without sugar

SNACK: 1 fruit in season with 10 almonds

LUNCH: legume pasta with vegetables and cheese; rich salad bowl

SNACK: crudités of fennel, celery, carrots with oil and lemon seasoning and 30g of lupins

DINNER: boiled eggs with spices; cooked vegetables and/or rich salad bowl; rye bread

AFTER DINNER: a herbal tea without sugar and a half portion of fruit

OBSERVATIONS

As you can see in the meal plan, 18 out of 30 main meals do not contain animal proteins: and do not think that the alternatives to choose from are finished, quite the contrary.
Anything I didn’t specify the quantities doesn’t mean you should overuse them. However, this rule does not apply to vegetables in general, of which there is no theoretical limit, except for the quantity of oil indicated (for women who pay attention to the shape is advisable a maximum of 1 tablespoon of oil per meal; for men 1-2 tablespoons: the reason for not exceeding with oil is not only related to physical fitness, but especially to the importance of synergistic balances between omega-3 and omega-6; if you really can not give up “more oil”, prefer flax seed or hemp oil).
Usually women at normal weight/height, with moderately active lifestyle, should consider 60-80 grams of carbohydrates for lunch; while men in the same conditions 80-100 grams; bread is supposed to be a slice of 40-60 grams. (The quantities indicated vary from height and weight).
Snacks’ should be considered as an aid to assimilate more protein, vitamins and minerals, so you shouldn’t skip them: I could tell you not to give them too much importance and in case you’re not used to have coffee/tea time, integrate the content of the snacks in the main meals; however, the ‘snack’ has a strategic function, as it allows us to eliminate the antagonistic effects of some foods taken together, which can compromise the optimal absorption of key components of our diet.
You can modify or repeat the breakfasts you like most, as well as the lunches, but try not to take all the animal proteins with meals too close with each other: keep a distance of at least 2 days between meat and fish, for example.
Legumes should always be soaked for at least 24 hours; 80-100 grams of dried legumes per day for women is more than enough; while men should not exceed 130 grams per day.
Soy drink (commonly called Soy milk) is an excellent source of proteins and minerals, but try not to exaggerate: if your meal of the day includes tofu or other unfermented soya product, drink a different plant-based milk, for example oat milk.
The CHEtarian diet is set to respect and guarantee the correct presence of protein, iron, calcium, omega-3 and vitamin B12 (without using the supplements) which are the most important and critical elements in a diet with a low content of animal sources; in case of intense or competitive sports activity, or if you are definitely overweight, the quantities should be reviewed
.

*In addition to what is stated in the disclaimer, the dietary guidelines are exquisitely the result of my experience, and provide ideas or suggestions that although valid, can not take into account every single case, problems, pathologies, medicines taken, medical treatment, age and other individual characteristics: this is why, despite my commitment, the advice I give is always to confront you with your doctor. In any diet, or dietary regime whatsoever, no one will be able to define a valid framework which would work in the same way for everyone, and it is my opinion to be wary of those who express themselves in such terms. In addition, after a number of months you should carry out a medical check-up to verify your health values: personally, every year the results of my tests are excellent, a sign that for me and my husband the CHEtarian diet© works perfectly.​

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