tape measure of diet

What is a good diet?

Diet is the D in FED. It is intimately connected to food production and the ecological engine that we rely on to meet food demand. Here we explain more about our definition of diet…

The word diet has many meanings. It is a noun, adjective and even a verb. It is what we eat, what we choose to eat, and we can even be on a diet. 

Here is what the dictionary says…



1. The usual food and drink of a person or animal.

2. A regulated selection of foods, as for medical reasons or cosmetic weight loss.

3. Something used, enjoyed, or provided regularly: subsisted on a diet of detective novels during his vacation.


1. Of or relating to a food regimen designed to promote weight loss in a person or an animal: the diet industry.

2. a. Having fewer calories. b. Sweetened with a noncaloric sugar substitute.

3. Designed to reduce or suppress the appetite: diet pills; diet drugs.

diet. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). Retrieved April 22 2021 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/diet

A quick google search reveals the most commonly associated contexts for ‘diet’ are 

  • Weight loss (a regulated selection of foods, as for medical reasons or cosmetic weight loss/or relating to a food regimen designed to promote weight loss)
  • Diet soft drink or soda (Sweetened with a noncaloric sugar substitute) 
  • Diet pills (Designed to reduce or suppress the appetite). 

In other words the adjective.

At Sustainably FED we think of diet more as the noun, the usual food and drink of a person or animal. 

This is the ‘D’ in ‘FED’. 

If we all got diet correct we probably wouldn’t need the other definitions or to search for the adjective describing how to lose weight. 

What is a good diet? 

This is a complex and loaded question depending on the context and your perspective.

A good diet suggests there is a combination of foods that will keep a person healthy by supplying adequate nutrition and energy. 

We often think of a good diet in absolutes and in personal terms, even that there is a single good diet for all. 

Perhaps a good diet is a healthy one, promoting a person’s long term health by delivering optimal nutrition and helping to prevent avoidable diseases like type-2 diabetes. 

Perhaps it is a sustainable diet that uses the least amount of natural resources and comes from production systems that promote ecological and soil restoration. 

Perhaps it is one that properly rewards and supports the food producer?  

Is it all three?

None of these questions have easy answers. How we provide a good diet to everyone in the world is a huge problem. With so many struggling to get enough to eat, while others struggle to know what to eat, despite relative abundance and multitudes of food sources.

Diet for a growing human population, degradation of the ecological function that underpins food production, the power of the free market, and the shameful inequality that exists between the rich and poor are challenges that will not be solved overnight.

What is clear is the need for change. Radical, disruptive change. 

Maybe some of us will need to give up some choice of foods so that others can have more choice or just a full belly.

Sustainably FED believes a good diet is one that is sustainable for a person’s health, their wallet, the soil, and the producers that supply the food.

In other words it is not just about the noun but the adjective and the verb too. It’s what we eat and why we eat it for the many reasons we choose to eat certain food types. Not just the standard definitions but also the context in which diet appears and how that context is sustainable.

The team at Sustainably FED are committed to highlighting these challenges and joining with others to get to the solutions. No easy task. 

We also want to look beyond ‘the good diet’ for there will be many diets that fit our definition of good. In fact, there is no one good diet. There is however a sustainable diet for each of us. We just need to find them.

two women sharing a meal in a restaurant
Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash

The size of the diet challenge

A good diet sounds easy enough. 

However, 821 million people in the world are undernourished. They go to bed hungry with a diet that does not supply enough nutrition or energy.

Another 1,900 million adults in the world are overweight with over 650 million of them obese including one in five children and adolescents. These people are also malnourished.

Deficiencies in diet still happen when people get their food from intensive production systems that are often degrading soil and depleting other environmental values. Many intensive systems are also unlikely to be viable in the long term because of this resource mining and high input requirements.

So that good diet being one that is sustainable for a person’s health, their wallet, the soil, and the producers that supply the food is elusive. 

It is an individual and a global challenge to get diet right.

What sustainably FED suggests…

Our concept of diet is inclusive.

It is about what a person eats with all the conundrums that go with diet choice. But diet also about where that food comes from, how it is grown, and how that comes together in the collective diet.

The D in FED is personal and the collective choice of food but it is also the supply chain consequences of food production (the F in FED) and the sustainability of food through ecology (the E in FED).

This is an expanded vision of what diet means.

If this concept grabs you browse around the sustainable FED site for more information and ideas on diet, ecology and food

See some suggestions below

sustainably FED

Hero image modified from photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash


Charlie keeps quiet about his extensive economics, modelling and IT skills but can’t help sharing his knowledge of applied ecology and agriculture. He can be the quiet one but watch out when he lobs another truth bomb into the discussion to stop us all wandering off into the weeds. There is always surfing if the audience is cantankerous.

Add comment

Subscribe to our explainer series

* indicates required

Most discussed