We all want to reduce the environmental impact of food production but which foods are eco-friendly? From plant-based foods to sustainable seafood, these environmentally-friendly foods will help you stay healthy and earth-friendly at the same time.
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What are eco-friendly foods and why should we eat them?
Thinking about eating healthier is a good way to start on the path to wellness. We can eat healthy vegan or vegetarian foods because they provide us with the nutrients that we need for our bodies to function at their best.
Eco-friendly foods are those that are grown and produced in ways that have minimal impact on the environment. This means they use less water, energy and other resources, and generate less pollution.
There are many reasons to eat sustainably. For one, it can help reduce our carbon footprint and the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. They can also be more nutritious than conventionally grown food.
Here are five of the most sustainable foods that you could add to your diet:
1. Plant-based proteins
Plant-based proteins are a great eco-friendly option, as they require less water and land to grow than animal-based proteins. They also generate fewer greenhouse gases. Some good plant-based protein sources include beans, lentils, quinoa and tofu.
Quinoa is one of the most popular superfoods in the world. It is also gluten-free, and rich in fibre. According to the BBC’s good food guide, it is a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. Quinoa also contains other nutrients such as iron and magnesium, which can help you sleep better too.
We would advise eating Quinoa as part of an overall diet rather than adding it as a regular staple. Whilst the crop itself is sustainable (i.e. no significant damage to the land, soil, or water), there are concerns about workers and their human rights. Buying fair-trade quinoa would help reduce unethical practices.
Kale is a nutrient-rich leafy green that is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium and iron. It can be enjoyed in salads, soups, or even baked into chips. It is a powerful and versatile vegetable (similar to cabbage – a great cheaper alternative, broccoli and chard). Kale has a low carbon footprint because it is grown in the UK. Eating Kale will minimise the food miles of your diet. Other vegetables that contain protein include sweetcorn, spinach, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils and are a great source of protein and fibre. They are beneficial to the environment because they lock carbon into the soil (so help to reduce carbon emissions). They are also nitrogen-fixing crops (i.e. they improve the quality of the soil) and they need less water than animal-based proteins.
- lentils (red, green, puy, etc.),
- all types of beans (kidney, black, white, haricot, broad, etc.),
- field peas and chickpeas.
- Tofu. Tofu is made from soybeans and is a popular food source. It is high in protein and low in saturated fat. Tofu is also a good source of calcium and iron.
2. Sustainable seafood
Fish stocks are being decimated so it is vital than any seafood you eat is from a sustainable source. There are some fish stocks that should be avoided at all costs. According to the sustainable food trust, the seafood to avoid is:
Sustainable seafood is eco-friendly because it is caught or farmed in a way that does not damage the environment. It is a renewable resource that can be harvested without harming the ecosystem. For example, Mackerel and Hake are good options as are shellfish such as mussels and scallops. You can check the impact of your seafood eating habits by visiting the Marine Conservation Society website.
3. Organic fruits and vegetables
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. They’re obviously great for sustainable diets, as they help reduce pollution and protect the health of farm workers. Organic produce in the supermarket can be quite expensive but you can find more affordable produce at local farmers’ markets. Alternatively, you may be able to find organic alternatives on farms that allow you to pick your own fruit and vegetables.
4. Whole grains
Whole grains are a great environmentally friendly food, as they’re packed with nutrients and fibre. They also require less water and land to grow than refined grains. Whole grain options include oats, rye, barley, corn and brown rice. We are fortunate that oats are grown in the UK, so they provide both health and environmental benefits by reducing emissions.
Whole grains are a key component to a healthy (and sustainable) diet. They are also cheap and easy to find in supermarkets. If you are not keen on eating whole grains, you can always choose the easy route…. and eat popcorn! Yes, popcorn (or corn) is a good source of vitamins, and magnesium and is high in antioxidants.
5. Fairtrade chocolate
Fairtrade chocolate is produced in accordance with fair trade standards. This means that farmers and workers are paid fairly and working conditions are good. Fair trade chocolate is a great eco-friendly option that helps support sustainable farming practices (as well as helping those with a sweet tooth!)
You can find fair trade chocolate in most supermarkets these days or in your local zero waste shop. Fairtrade.org list the 15 chocolate choices that are available in various shops across the UK.
Other superstar foods – mushrooms:
We couldn’t complete this post without mentioning the humble mushroom. Love them or hate them, they are versatile as a food. They can be used as a replacement for meat and are packed full of nutrients including protein and fibre. They also have a low environmental footprint because they use less water and energy and can be grown pretty much anywhere. There are thousands of edible mushrooms in the UK. Of course, you need to know which ones are safe before you go picking wild mushrooms!
Changing our dietary habits will change the food industry
According to the New Scientist, it is estimated that the global food industry contributes around 17.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That includes livestock, particularly red meat (beef), dairy, agriculture, food packaging (single use plastic), fertilisers and that doesnt include food waste.
To combat climate change, we need to think about our diets and the meals we prepare. Eating sustainably (e.g. consuming less meat) benefits our own health, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and puts less stress on the food chain.
Food waste is another issue to contend with, even with healthy foods. Around 30 – 40% of the food produced across the planet is wasted. In addition to that single-use plastic is often used as packaging. Yet, we know that plastic packaging has a negative impact on human health, our food system and environmental sustainability.
By changing our diets to include nutrient-rich food, we also need to think about better ways to store food. For example, using jars and preserving vegetables using pickling . Food companies will then need to consider reducing harmful packaging as well as changing food production methods.
Eco-friendly foods are good for you and the planet!
Eating sustainable foods is a great way to do your part in protecting the environment. Not only are these foods good for you, but they also help to reduce pollution and conserve resources. So next time you’re food shopping, try to pick up some eco-friendly foods and help make a difference.
Want to learn more?
There are free courses on how to build a sustainable diet by Futurelearn (Open University). Alternatively, you can check out our resources on learning about climate change.
What other eco-friendly foods would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!