Did you know that what you put on your plate impacts not only your health, but also the future of our planet?
In fact, what – and how much – you eat may affect 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% 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, you are hurting the environment.
If you’re trying to go easy on the planet, follow these five guidelines for eating:
1. Eat only enough to support a healthy weight
This is one of the most impactful habits you can adopt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And eating in moderation to sustain optimal weight will not only help the planet, it may help you stay healthy, too. Becoming overweight or obese is linked to major health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers.
2. 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.
Research shows that replacing red meat, like beef and pork, with plant-based foods is the most impactful way to eat a more sustainable diet. It’s also good for you because it helps reduce calories and saturated fat while boosting fiber and essential nutrients.
One of the easiest ways to cut back—and still enjoy your favorite burger—is to make a blended burger by replacing up to half of the beef in your burgers with chopped button or cremini mushrooms. A recent environmental study found that mushrooms require only 1.8 gallons of water to produce a pound — compared to the nearly 2000 gallons required to produce a pound of beef — making mushrooms healthy on your plate and gentle on the planet. Use about three cups of finely chopped mushrooms blended with one pound beef to make four burger patties
3. 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.
Be kinder to your wallet and the planet by buying only what you need and using it efficiently. That means creating grocery lists, planning meals ahead, and making creative use of leftovers. Also, data indicates that fresh produce is thrown away more than any other type of perishable food. If you’re guilty letting fresh fruits and veggies spoil, consider frozen or varieties instead.
4. Buy local, whenever possible
Buying local is actually more important than buying 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. Buy minimally-packaged foods
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.