As the world becomes increasingly aware of the catastrophic effects of climate change, more and more people are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact.
One of the most significant and impactful changes you can make is your food choices. The food we eat affects not only our bodies, but also has a significant impact on the environment.
If you’re looking to eat more eco-consciously, the good news is that there are a variety of eco-friendly food options that can nourish both your body and the earth. So, whether you’re a seasoned eco-warrior or just starting your journey towards a greener lifestyle, come along as we discover the top eco-friendly foods for a healthier planet!
The Relationship Between Food and the Environment
From deforestation and soil degradation to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, food production is a major contributor to environmental deterioration. In fact, agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for approximately 26 percent of the world’s emissions.[*]
Eco-friendly foods are foods that are produced in a manner that limits their negative impact on the environment. Producing food in a sustainable, eco-friendly way can help conserve resources, reduce waste, and support healthy ecosystems.
Top Eco-Friendly Foods
The following foods support not only eco-friendly practices, but also provide numerous health benefits.
Lentils, Beans, & Peas
Beans, lentils, peas, and other legumes are some of the most eco-friendly foods available, requiring little water to produce a high yield.
On top of that, legumes form a symbiotic relationship with a type of soil bacteria called rhizobia.[*] These bacteria use the plant to extract nitrogen from the air and store it in the plant’s roots. When the legumes reach the end of their lifecycle, the stored nitrogen is released into the soil and becomes available for other plants to use. This reduces the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and conserves resources while improving soil health.
In addition to their environmental benefits, legumes are a rich source of plant-based protein, making them ideal for those seeking to reduce their meat consumption—another step towards a more environmentally responsible lifestyle.
Cereals and grains have a low carbon footprint and use significantly less water than animal products like beef. For example, producing one pound of cereal grain requires only 197 gallons of water, while it takes 717 gallons to produce the same amount of pork.[*]
When choosing grains to eat, opt for whole grain options, such as brown rice, oatmeal, millet, and buckwheat, all of which are gluten-free. These options are a good source of antioxidants, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, selenium, healthy carbohydrates, and dietary fiber.[*]
Mushrooms are an exceptionally eco-friendly food for several reasons. They have the ability to use recycled by-products from other crops as compost for growth, which greatly reduces their impact on the environment.
Additionally, they require minimal water, using less than two gallons per pound, and emit only a small amount of CO2.[*] Another benefit of growing mushrooms is the minimal land required, as just one acre can produce an impressive one million pounds of mushrooms![*]
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet, and fortunately, they’re an eco-friendly option, especially when choosing organic. Organic farming practices prevent the excessive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, ensuring the long-term health of the soil.
For an even lower environmental impact, opt for locally-sourced, in-season produce to reduce food miles.
Mussels, Clams, & Oysters
With a meaty texture and high protein content, mussels, clams, and oysters are delicious and an environmentally responsible alternative to other, less sustainable seafood options.
The majority of these shell-dwelling creatures are farmed using long lines in the water—a low-impact form of aquaculture with no land or feed requirements. This results in minimal by-catch and damage to ecosystems.
These mollusks even help reduce greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide from the ocean, and using it for their shell growth.[*]
Algae, Seaweed, & Kelp
Not only are seaweed and other types of sea plants a great source of iodine and other minerals, but they’re also the most sustainable form of aquaculture. Seaweed requires only the resources in the surrounding water to thrive, resulting in high yields without the need for fertilizers and without causing any pollution.
Additionally, seaweed helps clean the water by filtering excess nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which aids with problems caused by agricultural run-off, fish farms, and sewage facilities.[*]
The large kelp forests at the bottom of the ocean also play a significant yet undervalued role in absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[*]
Tofu is a fantastic choice for those looking for an eco-friendly, plant-based, and healthy source of protein. Compared to meat, it requires significantly less water to produce, and it also emits 13 times fewer greenhouse gases.[*][*]
For even greater environmental benefits, opt for organic tofu. This guarantees the use of non-GMO crops and eliminates the need for synthetic chemicals, which can harm the planet.
Tips for Eating More Eco-Friendly
The path to eating more sustainable food and lowering your environmental footprint begins with small steps. Consider swapping a beef burger for a veggie one, or opting for a delicious tofu chili instead of traditional chili with animal protein.
Focusing on locally-sourced foods is another helpful step, as it reduces the carbon footprint associated with importing ingredients. Rather than purchasing meat and produce from overseas, consider buying grass-fed and free-range meat from local farmers and fresh produce from farmers’ markets.
The most impactful change, however, can come from reducing your meat consumption and adopting a more plant-based diet. Eating meat every day increases the demand for mass-produced meat—a main driver of greenhouse gases from food production.[*] By limiting it to a few times a week, you’ll significantly reduce your environmental impact. Bonus? A plant-based diet has a ton of health benefits![*]Take the first step toward eating more plant-based foods by trying IQBAR protein bars, available in many delicious flavors like Chocolate Sea Salt, Peanut Butter Chip, Banana Nut, Matcha Chai, and Lemon Blueberry!