Best Plant-Based Foods for Sustainable Eating

What you choose to put on your plate can have a big environmental impact. Certain foods utilize a lot more resources than others and can put a strain on our environment. Our food system, which includes production and processing, makes up ⅓ of our global greenhouse gas emissions.  Luckily, by opting to shift your diet towards foods with a lower environmental impact, you can lessen your carbon footprint and live more sustainably.  

Shift Towards Plant-Based Diet for Sustainability

Including more plant-based foods into your diet is a great way to lessen your environmental impact. This is because foods that tend to be more energy-intensive to produce are often animal-based foods. Meals that are higher in animal protein utilize more fossil fuels, water, and land and put a lot of strain on the environment. A balanced diet that is centered around plant-based foods including whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seed can help to reduce green-house gas emissions, andprovide opportunities for a more sustainable management of natural resources.  

Health Benefits of Plant-Based Diets 

Consuming a diet centered around plants not only improves the sustainability of our global food system, but also improves our health as well. Plant-based diets that focus on whole foods, such as the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diets, have been shown to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and certain cancers. Plant-based diets offer all of the necessary nutrients needed to be healthy, but take only a fraction of the resources to produce compared to animal-based foods. For example, 1 pound of beef requires between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce, whereas 1 pound of tofu requires 320 gallons.      

Plant-Based Foods to Eat More Of

Plant-based foods such as beans and pulses, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts and seeds are nutrient dense but have less environmental impact to produce, making them great choices for sustainable diets. Reducing your intake of animal-based proteins and increasing plant-based proteins in the diet is a great place to start to make your diet more ecologically friendly.


Beans & Legumes

Beans and legumes are a great source of plant-based protein and are nutrient rich. They are high in B-vitamins, especially folate, and important minerals including iron, zinc and magnesium. Beans and legumes require very little water to produce, and can have large crop yields even on dry land. In addition, they are nitrogen-fixers, meaning they return nutrients to the land and enrich the soil.

Try incorporating foods like lentils, black beans, chickpeas, balckeyed peas, mung beans and soybeans into your diet.

Cereals & Whole Grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber and have been an important component of human diets for thousands of years. There are many different types of grains but the majority of grains consumed include rice, corn, and wheat. Diversifying our food sources helps improve soil health, nutritional value, and agricultural biodiversity.

Eat a variety of grains, including some less common varieties, such as amaranth, teff, buckwheat, millet, and wild rice.

Leafy Greens & Sprouts

Leafy greens and sprouts are fast growing and require very little resources. They are some of the most nutrient-dense foods and are associated with many health benefits. They are high in fiber and are a rich source of antioxidants including vitamin A, C, and K. Greens like collards and bok choy are also a good source of minerals such as calcium. Greens can be added to soups, curries and salads, and sprouts can be enjoyed in a sandwich or salad.

Look to incorporate leafy greens like broccoli rabe, bokchoy, kale, red cabbage, and watercress. Some delicious sprouts to add to your diet include: alfalfa sprouts, sprouted chickpeas, and sprouted broccoli.    

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds are nutrient powerhouses. High in vitamin E, iron, zinc, and healthy fats, they make a great addition to a variety of dishes. Nuts and seeds can grow in a variety of conditions and climates. The most sustainable varieties of nuts and seeds include hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, peanuts, and pine nuts.

Enjoy as nut butters, chopped up and incorporated into dishes, or sprinkled over salads, yogurt or breakfast cereal.

Breakfast Oat Bars


1 cup rolled oats
1 cup oat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 ripe bananas, chopped or mashed
½ cup soy milk
1-2 tbsp maple syrup

* Optional add-ins: ⅓ cup favorite nuts (chopped), 5 dates (chopped), ¼ cup coconut flakes, 2 tbsp chia seeds, hemp, or flax seeds, dried fruit *


1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare your non-stick baking dish (around 8×8) or line it with a piece of parchment paper so the bars are easier to lift out.
2. If you quickly want to make your own oat flour, put 1 ⅓ cups rolled oats in your blender or food processor and blend or pulse them.
3. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients: your oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix with a spoon.
4. In a different bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients: the mashed banana, soy milk and maple syrup. Mix thoroughly with a fork.
5. Now, pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry flour mixture and combine well. You can add any nuts, seeds, dried fruit or add-ins of choice here if you like.
6. Put your mixture onto the parchment or baking dish, spreading it evenly. The bars should be 1-1.5 inches thick.
7. Finally, sprinkle the toppings of your choice onto the oat mixture, press them down gently, then bake for around 18-20 mins until firm and lightly golden. The baking time depends on how thinly you spread your batter and how soft or crunchy you want them to be.
8. Once the oat mixture has turned golden, remove from the oven. Place the baking dish on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then slice your oat batter into bars. Enjoy warm or store in a container and eat over the next few days

Marinated Mushroom Tacos


6 portobello mushroom caps, halved
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup orange juice
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped (or 2 teaspoons chili powder)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
corn or flour tortillas, warmed
2 avocados, mashed
juice and zest of 1 lime
sea salt 
* Optional toppings: Favorite salsa and/or hot sauce, sour cream or shredded cheese (try plant-based varieties), shredded greens or sprouts *


1. Add the mushrooms to a large bowl. Next add the vegetable oil, orange juice, garlic, chipotle peppers, paprika, lime juice, cilantro, and a large pinch of salt. Stir all of the ingredients together well and marinate 10 minutes or in the fridge up to overnight.

2. Meanwhile, stir together the mashed avocado, lime juice and zest, and a pinch of salt.
3. Preheat your grill or grill pan to high. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and sear for 5 minutes, flip and sear another 5 minutes or until lightly charred on both sides. If no grill is available, cook on the stove top until tender. Slice into strips.
4. Spread the avocado onto the warmed taco shells, and top with the mushrooms, salsa, and cheese and any other toppings. Enjoy!


Red Lentil Soup


3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chile powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste 
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro



1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Tasteand add salt if necessary.
4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.


Amaranth Porridge


1 cup organic amaranth seeds
2 1/2 cups milk, coconut milk, soy milk, water, or a combination
1 tablespoon raw honey or pure maple syrup, plus more as desired
Pinch of salt
1/2–1 teaspoon warming spices like cinnamon (optional)
● Extra Milk
● Fresh fruit
● Nuts
● Nut butter
● Seeds
● Coconut flakes
● Dried fruit

1. In a small saucepan, combine amaranth, milk/water, salt, and spices. Bring to a boil, uncovered.

2. Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently until amaranth is tender and creamy. Remove from heat, sweeten to taste, and serve with desired toppings.

About Melanie: Melanie Ferre has a Master’s in Nutrition and is on her way to become a registered dietitian. She is passionate about plant-based nutrition and helping people include more plant-based foods into their everyday meals. When not cooking up some delicious plant-based recipes over at, Melanie likes to hike around the Seattle area with her husband and rescue pup.

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