What — and how much— you eat is thought to impact the environment even more than the type of car you drive! Diets rich in meats and processed foods are among the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, which have adverse consequences for our planet. The typical U.S. diet contributes 30 percent of our country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. You may drive a hybrid car to do your part, but if you still eat a meat-rich diet, your carbon footprint is probably larger than you’d expect.
If you’re looking to improve your health and go easy on the planet, follow these five guidelines:
- Eat enough to support a healthy weight –not more
One of the most impactful ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to eat enough food to support a healthy weight —but not so much so that you become overweight. Eating in moderation to sustain optimal weight will not only help the planet, it helps you stay healthy too. Becoming overweight or obese is linked to major health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and it leads to chronic inflammation that accelerates aging.
- Eat a primarily plant-based diet
You don’t have to become a strict vegan or vegetarian, but eating smaller amounts of animal-based foods and more plant-based options is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Beef, in particular, requires high energy inputs. One study of the environmental impact of beef, pork, chicken, eggs, dairy and plant products found that beef production is the most taxing on the planet. Beef production requires 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and six times as much reactive nitrogen as the average of the other food categories, according to the study.
By shifting to a more plant-based diet, you’ll also be helping your health. Studies have found that a pattern higher in healthful plant-based foods and lower in animal-based products, especially red and processed meats, can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and may even help you lose weight.
- Stop wasting food
Food is our nation’s most wasted resource. According to some estimates, 30-40% of the US food supply is thrown out, equaling more than 20 pounds of food waste per person per month. What’s more, discarded food ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and produces methane gas that plays a role in climate change. One of the things I do is buy Imperfect Produce every week. Imperfect Produce is a Bay area-based company that sells produce that’s not marketable in supermarkets due to cosmetic factors, like size, color or shape. (The avocados to the left were in our box last week. They were about half the size of a traditional Hass Avocado but still tasted great!) Some supermarket chains are also selling produce that is delicious and nutritious but may not be otherwise marketable due to superficial factors. These produce options can save you about 50 percent from regular produce prices.
- Buy local, whenever possible
Buying local is actually more important than organic. Locally produced foods require fewer resources such as fuel, transport and storage, compared to foods that travel the average 2,000 or more miles to get to your plate.
Visit farmers’ markets or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to tap in to your local food system. When you support regional farmers, you’re also helping to preserve farmland, as protecting family farms becomes a shared goal for both farmers and their local consumers.
5. Seek minimally processed options
You can boost your health and reduce waste for the planet by buying minimally processed foods with less packaging. Foods that require processing, packaging and shipping across the US or world are sucking up precious limited fossil fuels. Pledge to buy more foods in bulk (look for the bulk bin section of your grocery store) whenever possible and shop the perimeter of supermarkets, particularly the produce section, where the foods are often less processed.