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
* 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 *
Marinated Mushroom Tacos
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.
Red Lentil Soup
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.
1. In a small saucepan, combine amaranth, milk/water, salt, and spices. Bring to a boil, uncovered.
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 theplantpathnutrition.com, Melanie likes to hike around the Seattle area with her husband and rescue pup.