You’ve made your household and your daily habits more sustainable, but what about your diet? What you eat contributes pretty significantly to your individual environmental footprint. But in order to achieve a greener, more eco-friendly diet, you don’t exactly have to overhaul your meals or give up your favorite foods. With small tweaks to your favorite recipes and your grocery shopping habits, you can eat greener—no sacrifices required!
Put these six tips into practice, and you’ll be taking significant strides to make your diet more sustainable.
1. Eat more plants
This sustainability tip is one you likely already know: Eating more plants is better for the environment (and for your health!). Choosing fruits and vegetables more frequently, along with making an effort to fill more space on your plate with plant-based foods, can help you have a larger positive impact on the earth. Plant-based eating can help reduce freshwater consumption, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emissions compared to a meat-heavy diet.
But before you go all in on plants, keep in mind that you don’t have to completely turn your back on meat and animal-based foods if that’s not your jam. Small swaps can make a big difference; according to a study from Tulane University, replacing just one not-so-sustainable food in your diet with an eco-friendly alternative can reduce your individual footprint by as much as 48 percent.
2. Switch to a more sustainable seafood
If you’re keeping animal proteins in your diet and enjoy eating seafood, you can make your meat more eco-friendly by choosing sustainable seafood. Eating seafood can bring environmental risks like overfishing or harming marine ecosystems.
Sustainable seafood, on the other hand, is seafood (both fish and shellfish) that is caught or farmed in a way that maintains or increases production without harming the species’ overall health, the ocean or marine ecosystems. While sustainable seafood (both sustainably farmed and sustainably caught) has become quite common, it’s still important to check the labels on your go-to seafood varieties to make sure you’re picking the most environmentally-sound choice.
Unsure which kinds of seafood are sustainable and which are better to avoid? The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a Seafood Watch database, which ranks different kinds of fish and shellfish based on their sustainability. If your favorite varieties are on the “avoid” list, you’ll want to limit (or eliminate) your consumption of these fish.
3. Prioritize climate-friendly foods
Eating a more sustainable diet doesn’t mean you have to completely cut meat, animal-based products and other foods out. Rather, all you have to do is incorporate more foods that are known to be climate-friendly. By upping your intake of foods that are more sustainable, readily available and not climate change contributors, you’ll be doing yourself and the environment some good.
What, exactly, are climate-friendly foods? Well, they’re foods that are sustainable (or farmed with sustainable agriculture practices), don’t contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions or pollution, and offer more environmental benefits. And many climate-friendly foods also happen to be fantastically nutritious too.
Some of the most sustainable foods include beans, peas, and lentils; overall, most varieties of legumes are highly agriculturally sustainable. In fact, lentils in particular are so great for the environment that the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls them the number one climate-friendly protein. Beyond legumes, though, minimally-processed whole grains and ancient grains are another great choice.
How can you tell which foods are the most climate- and eco-friendly? We’ve rounded up the best ingredients to add into your diet to help you get started.
4. Add more mushrooms into your diet
Filled with nutrients and ready to offer you plenty of functional benefits from head to toe, both physical and mental, mushrooms are as tasty as they are good for you. But there’s another reason to up your mushroom intake: These fungi are one seriously sustainable food.
Mushrooms aren’t just easy to grow (in fact, they can grow where many other foods cannot, a key detail for sustainability) and light on resources. They also absorb carbon, which can have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions. And mushrooms can even grow on the byproducts of recycled crops, making them a food that’s adaptable regardless of its environment.
So, the more often you eat mushrooms, the less you’re contributing to emissions and the more you’re helping to increase the demand for a highly sustainable, environmentally-friendly food. Plus, you’ll personally reap all of those nutritional benefits in mushrooms, from B vitamins to fibers to even some vitamin D.
5. Try new foods
Variety isn’t just good for your taste buds; it’s also good for the planet. And in general, we aren’t very good about trying to broaden our tastes or the foods we eat. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 75 percent of the world’s food supply comes from just 12 plants and five animal species. That means we’re heavily dependent on just a small selection of food—and that lack of diversity is harmful for the environment.
If we can diversify the foods that we eat and avoid going all-in on such a small group of plants and animals, we’ll set the world up for a better future. A more diverse diet helps infuse some variety into agriculture and our agricultural practices around the world, which is good for nature. Diversity is also helpful as we deal with food security or scarcity.
You can help contribute to larger-scale food diversity by changing up your own diet. With an increase in the availability of more plant-based foods and unique ingredients at farmers markets and grocery stores, you have more options than ever before! Take advantage of this and try a few new-to-you foods you’ve never tried before, and if you like them, make them part of your regular diet.
6. Opt for local and in-season foods
Eating seasonally is the best way to utilize vegetables and fruits while they’re at their fresh, flavorful prime. But it’s also a great way to lessen your environmental impact when you’re shopping for fresh foods. When you choose in-season produce, you’re opting for foods that have been grown on their usual schedule, with a bit less intervention—and that helps make your diet more sustainable. Out-of-season foods are also typically shipped from distant locales, which makes them bigger pollution contributors.
One of the best ways to get your hands on delicious fresh produce that’s in season? Shop your local farmers markets. This is another way to improve your diet’s sustainability; when you shop locally, you’re supporting your community, lowering the amount of fuel needed to produce or ship your foods and contributing to local agriculture. Plus, if you’re buying from local farmers or grocers, you can even get tips on what’s new each week, how to use new ingredients you haven’t tried before and explore a variety of locally-grown foods.