Can takeaway be healthy and sustainable?

Green Lifestyle

Four tips for choosing healthier, more sustainable meals on the go.


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Although you won’t often find words like “healthy” and “sustainable” alongside “fast food” or “takeaway,” not everyone is willing or able to ditch takeaways and meals out completely.

According to the Ipsos Food Health report released last year, Australians prefer their food to come from “natural” sources but aren’t prepared to give up the convenience of eating out and pre-prepared meals or takeaways.

Over eight per cent of respondents in the Ipsos survey said that the origin of their food was important to them, and 62 per cent agreed that food production should use Australia’s resources in a more environmentally sustainable way. Another 59 per cent agreed that supporting Australian farmers was more important than getting cheap milk or bread.

Despite this, Australians eat non-home-cooked meals 2.5 times a week on average, and have little intention of cutting down on convenience food to improve health and wellbeing.

So is it really possible to enjoy healthy and environmentally responsible convenience food?

In recent years, even major corporations like McDonalds and Starbucks have begun responding to the growing demand for ethically sourced, environmentally-friendly food with initiatives that aim to cut down on packaging and source more sustainable ingredients.

Realistically, though, it’s going to take more than a few highly publicised campaigns to make fast food healthy and sustainable, and some foods and companies are undeniably “greener” than others.

Fortunately there are always things you can do to minimise your environmental impact and maximise nutrition, so here are a few tips to help you make better food choices when eating out or ordering in.

1. Avoid bigger food chains and go with locally-owned eateries instead
Although just the fact that a restaurant is locally-owned is no guarantee of sustainable practices, the bottom line is that it’s much easier for smaller businesses to build up and maintain relationships with local farmers and suppliers than it is for large franchises, which often source their ingredients from all over the world.

Aside from this, buying close to home also means more money stays in the community. According to a research report from Civic Economics, local eateries return nearly 79 per cent of revenues to the local economy; for chain restaurants, that figure is just over 30 per cent.

2. Choose your add-ons, sides and mains thoughtfully
“When eating out, food tends to be much higher in sodium, fat, sugar and calories than food made at home, and we are often unaware of just how many calories we are consuming by eating these meals,” says dietician Anne London.

When it comes to choosing healthier takeaways or meals out, she suggests swapping soft drinks for water and paying attention to things like portion sizes, sides, substitutions and sauces.

“Try to select dishes that have more vegetables and leaner meats,” London says. “Vegetables are nutritious and low in calories, and leaner meats such as chicken, fish, and turkey tend to be lower in calories than red or fried meats.”

“Also, ask for your sauces on the side whenever you can,” she adds. “Even dishes loaded with vegetables can become unhealthy quickly if drenched in high calorie sauces.”

3. Use technology to your advantage
Technology is already a major part of our lives, and a recent article by online delivery service Menu Log highlighted that 69 per cent of consumers already order food online using a mobile device.

As wearable technology takes off over the next few years, mobile devices will likely begin to play an even bigger role in our everyday decision making processes.

Aside from finding reviews, you can use your mobile device to figure out which restaurants and takeaways source their ingredients locally, have incentives in place to encourage recycling and minimise their carbon footprint, and which foods have the lowest environmental impact.

Apps like Shop ethical! and GoodGuide provide ratings for products and companies to help consumers assess their environmental, health and social performance, while others like Seasons let you know which fruits and vegetables are in season each month, and whether certain foods are local or imported.

When it comes to purchasing ready-made supermarket meals, the Ethical Consumer Guide website is also a great resource for tracing your food to its source.

4. Skip the beef and go vegetarian every now and then
It’s no secret that the meat industry is responsible for about 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the production of beef is about 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock.

According to the report, replacing the beef in your diet with pork, poultry and eggs can have a significant environmental impact.

A diet that is high in red meat can also be damaging to your health, and has been shown to increase your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Swap out beef and lamb for fish or chicken whenever possible, and try to have a meat free day at least once a week. Diversifying your diet and reducing your dependence on animal-derived protein could even help you discover tasty new staples like a spicy dhal curry or creamy mushroom risotto.

Marianne Stenger is a freelance writer and journalist. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.