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What Exactly Is Environmental Eating? 5 Sustainable Foods Dietitian

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Sustainable Foods: As a dietitian registered with a master’s in sustainable food systems, I constantly weigh how food affects not just human health but also our planet’s well-being, especially during trips down the grocery store aisles. While it might seem surprising that our food choices can influence climate change—known as environmental eating—they indeed hold significant sway over the environment. Keep reading to delve into environmental eating, and discover the foods that consistently grace my grocery list, nourishing both my body and safeguarding the planet.

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Why Environmental Sustainable Foods

When it comes to climate change, our global Sustainable foods system is indeed a major contributor. In fact, it is responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) worldwide. It takes into account all the manufacture, processing, and transportation of inputs and outputs of this widely complex system. It also includes emissions including methane (GHG 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide) from animals raised for food production. In addition, there are many other factors to accept, including unsustainable water use, deforestation, unequal labor use, and pollution of air, water, and ecosystems.

Thankfully, there is a growing Sustainable Foods revolution dedicated to improving the impact of our food system. These movements are working from every angle – investing in better agricultural practices, labor laws, water regulation, and technology that aims to reduce the footprint of Sustainable Foods. Helping food producers make environmentally sound decisions when selecting foods with minimal impact (if not positive) is the best thing you can do when looking to drive climate action through your food choices.


The Basis of Environmental Eating

While environmentally Sustainable Foods can be complex and multifaceted, here are some key concepts to keep in mind when shopping for food:

Opt for Plants First: The internationally recognized research group, Our World in Data, found that plant-based foods emit 10 to 50 times less GHG than animal-based products, for several reasons mentioned above. In addition, plants need carbon dioxide (CO2) to photosynthesize for growth – actually sequestering this GHG from the atmosphere. Great choices here include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, all of which will provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and immune-boosting plant compounds.

Limit Animal-Based Products, Especially Red Meat: On a similar note, limiting animal-based food options will have an extremely positive impact. But when we choose animal-based foods, there are many ways to make better environmental choices, including limiting red meat. Not only has red meat been linked to chronic diseases like heart disease and colon cancer, but it also has the most significant environmental impact. In fact, 14.5 percent of all global GHG emissions are linked to livestock production.

Whether it’s red meat, dairy, chicken, eggs, or other animal-based favorites, a great way to minimize the impact of these Sustainable Foods choices is to look for regeneratively raised alternatives. Regenerative agriculture is a circular system where animals graze and then naturally fertilize pasture land with their waste. It helps the land make healthy soil, sequester carbon, and even restore ecosystems.

The Less Processing, the Better: If we think about some of the processed food options lining the shelves of grocery stores across the country, many of them have upwards of 20 ingredients. Each of those ingredients, those with particularly hard-to-pronounce names, went through their own manufacturing process with their own emissions before arriving at the factory, even to join the food in question — which, of course, has its own footprint. Also, processed foods often come in a lot of packaging, almost all of which includes some form of plastic, most of which cannot be recycled. Processed food consumption is also inextricably linked to chronic disease.

Invest in Local and Organic: While local and organic farming systems are not always following the gold standards for environmental farming practices, they are generally doing much better than their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture avoids the use of the largest chemicals within the system and is often used by producers who really care about the products they’re bringing to market and the land they farm.

With local farming, you either have the advantage of actually going to the farm, or connecting with the farmer in some other way to ask hard-to-try questions about what kinds of practices they’re employing—chemicals, equal labor, soil health, water use… You will get the picture. Plus, by supporting your local Sustainable Foods producers, you’re supporting the local economy, which is a major bonus.

Environmentally-Friendly, Nutritious Foods to Buy

So without further ado, here are six Sustainable Foods you’ll always find in my grocery cart that prioritize optimal nutrition and minimal environmental impact:

Lentils:

Lentils are such a good staple for me, as they make the perfect protein-rich addition to soups, salads, cereal bowls, and lentils. Plus they’re packed with nutrition—including fiber, protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, and plant compounds. Not only do lentils sequester carbon through their growth process, but they are also nitrogen-fixing plants, meaning they pull nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil. Nitrogen is the main ingredient in fertilizer, so these plants can help farmers reduce the use of chemical substances, and naturally increase the productivity of their soil.

Mushrooms: 

Mushrooms are all the rage these days, especially adaptogenic varieties like reishi, lion’s mane, and shiitake. Adaptogens help our body handle internal and external stressors more easily, increasing our resilience. But classic mushrooms like portobello, button, enoki, and oysters are also great for us. Generally, you can expect mushrooms to offer fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Mushrooms play an important role in the plant kingdom, as they help clean up their environment, cycling nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon for the use of other plants. Plus, these fungi are the tastiest additions to pasta, eggs, rice, soups, salads, or even just as an easy side dish.

Spirulina: 

From both a health and environmental perspective, aquatic plants like spirulina are hard to beat. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is loaded with protein, prebiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, copper, manganese, and plant compounds. These nutrients boost immunity, cardiovascular, metabolism, and brain health. This perfect smooth addition is also a sustainability champion due to its accelerated regeneration rate, nearly doubling in size each day, and sequestering massive amounts of carbon. Bonus: It can even be grown hydroponically.

Dark leafy greens:

We all know dark leafy greens, like kale, collards, spinach, and arugula, are excellent health foods due to their high fiber, vitamin K, iron, calcium, and bioactive compound content. But they’re also great environmental food choices, as they grow quickly and can easily be produced year-round indoors, either in soil or hydroponically. Whether they’re added to smoothies, cereal bowls, pasta, casserole, soups, salads, or any of the other endless possibilities, some type of leafy green should always catch up during every grocery trip.

Oranges Sustainable Foods :

Citrus fruits, like oranges, are classically known as immune boosters due to their high vitamin C content, with one cup of orange slices providing more than 100 percent of your daily needs. But many people may not know that oranges are one of the most sustainable fruit options, because they’re harvested from trees that typically stay in the ground for decades, separating carbon from the atmosphere and keeping it in the soil for long periods of time. These bright bursts of flavor are one of the few produce items seasonally perfect for winter, and add the perfect acidic sweetness to dressings, salads, sauces, and a variety of sweet treats.

Disclaimer

This article is purposive for intended general information and does not mark individual circumstances. It is not an alternative to professional advice or help. It should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician must be consulted to diagnose and treat any medical condition. Any action you take due to the information on this page is entirely at your own risk and responsibility!

 

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Rishi Govind is a nutritionist and nutrition counselor in New Delhi, India. He is a Postgraduate and passionate about his work. Rishi has over 3 years of experience helping people change their relationship with food and their bodies. He specializes in helping people with chronic dieting issues, food allergies and sensitivities, and digestive problems. Rishi's approach is rooted in the belief that everybody is unique and deserves individualized attention. Rishi is passionate about helping his clients feel their best. He is committed to helping them find peace with food and their bodies so they can live their lives to the fullest.

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