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If my last article on the “Top 10 Most Environmentally Destructive Foods” left you reeling with questions about what you CAN eat without unknowingly harming the planet, don’t panic. Eating with the planet in mind only requires a few modifications to your normal routine. Don’t worry, you don’t have to starve in the name of cutting carbon emissions!

Some simple ways to ensure your diet has a minimal impact on the planet is to know exactly where the things you eat come from. Avoiding processed foods is a great way to improve your own health while being mindful of the planet. The most eco-friendly foods can be picked straight from the ground or off of a tree. If the food you buy comes from a factory, chances are there is a ton of hidden carbon that comes with that snack.

As a rule, buying local is always the best way to go. Not only is local produce fresh, but it has not been air-freighted or hauled across the country to reach your shopping cart. To ensure that your produce is local, shop at a farmer’s market or look for “local” stickers in your grocery store. Buying organic, local produce is ideal. However, in a pinch, it is preferable to buy local, non-organic produce instead of organic items that have been shipped far distances. It is also helpful to buy produce that is in season. If you live in New York and buy a pineapple in December, chances are that fruit traveled a long way to get to you.

Now that you know how to shop smart, here are the top 10 items to look out for when shopping. This powerhouse list is packed with delicious, low-impact options that you can feel good about.

1.  Garden Peas

Peas naturally fix nitrogen into soil, making them an eco-friendly alternative to soybean plants. This ability to fix nitrogen into the soil eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizer and will leave soil rich with nutrients after harvest. Pea plants thrive in cool conditions, effectively reducing water waste associated with hot temperatures.

Mushroom Mutter Masala

2.  Lentils

According to the Environmental Working Group, lentils are the top “climate-friendly” protein. Combining the carbon emissions involved in producing lentils and the post-production emissions (from processing, transport, and retail) only totals 0.9 kg of CO2. Chicken, the lowest emitting animal protein, is nearly seven times higher.

3.  Tomatoes

A locally grown, summer ripe tomato has a low carbon footprint (ranking second on the Environmental Working Group’s list) and taste that will make you swear off spongy, shipped supermarket tomatoes for good. Tomatoes not only have a low-carbon footprint but they grow deep root systems that absorb moisture from deeper soil, limiting the need for water in hot summer months.

4.  Beans

Like lentils, beans are a great vegetarian protein source. Choosing beans as the staple protein in meals over meat will greatly reduce your environmental impact. In total, dry beans only contribute about 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere for every kilogram consumed. Buying dry beans in bulk is the best way to avoid bisphenol A (BPA) that can be found in cans.

5.  Broccoli

Broccoli production releases less carbon than driving one mile in your car and this nutrient rich vegetable can be grown without synthetic pesticides. A member of the cabbage family, broccoli produces compounds that act as a natural pesticide. 

6. Nuts

Another low-carbon protein source, every four ounces of nuts consumed equals the carbon emissions of driving a little over half a mile. Considering the average serving size is one ounce, that’s an efficient snack. Keep in mind peanut butter does not fall under this category as processing adds to the carbon footprint of nut butters.

Vegan Baked Nut Cheese

7. Amaranth

Amaranth is an ancient grain that is packed with protein and nutrients. Amaranth is an incredibly resilient plant and requires little water and can grow in any soil conditions. This grain is thought to be an asset in combatting food scarcity. Amaranth adds biodiversity to the otherwise monoculture grain crop of the U.S.

8.  Potatoes

Potato plants also produce natural pesticides and fungicides that reduce the need for synthetic chemicals. Potatoes are water efficient crops, only consuming 50 gallons per pound (rice consumes 403 gallons) and can be stored for long periods of time without going bad.


9.  Oranges

Requiring only 55 gallons of water per pound, this TreeHugger.com article ranks oranges as the most water-efficient fruit. But be careful when buying orange juice, squeezing your own is the best way to get your vitamin C fix without sugar additives and hidden carbon.

10. Conscientious Chocolate

Not all chocolate is created equal. And thank goodness for that! Theo Chocolate, a Seattle based company believes that creating chocolate is a “journey from bean to jar.” All the cocoa beans purchased for Theo chocolate are organic, Fair Trade, and Fair For Life, grown in a sustainable manner that promotes biodiversity and positively impacts the lives of farmers who grown beans for them. Theo is not alone in their mission to create eco-conscious chocolate, check out this article for other sustainable brands.



Image Source: BBQ Lentil Meatball Sandwich with Sweet Miso Coleslaw

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12 comments on “Dine with the Planet in Mind: Top 10 Eco-Friendly Foods”

Click to add comment
3 Years Ago

I read that each almond takes a gallon of water to produce. This sounds like a lot... do the other nuts in that category require just as much?

Happy Vegan
4 Years Ago

I love all of these foods and eat them regularly since I recently became vegan. I did it to save animals and in the process, I am also saving myself and the planet, a win for all!

Michelle Allen
4 Years Ago

Fresh salad picked right from our school garden!

Laura Lauralaura
4 Years Ago


Barbara Wilson
4 Years Ago

Looks good

Melanie Schrader Ertman
4 Years Ago

Only whole foods

Cheryl Pot
4 Years Ago

If It’s Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener? http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/business/yourmoney/09feed.html?_r=0

Cheryl Pot
4 Years Ago

Due to the efficiencies of mass transport, local does not always have a lower carbon footprint, although it does help food security and local economies. I choose organic over conventional. Buying local conventional produce is like subsidizing water pollution. In my heavily agricultural area, we now have to drill wells 400ft deep because the upper layers are unsafe due to agricultural chemical pollution. Why not subsidize a better life for organic farmers in other countries? The US exports chemicals, like DDT, to third-world countries when they're illegal here. I posted this as a polite comment online, but you decided to leave it off your site...

Cheryl Pot
4 Years Ago

Orange is Greener When It's Organic http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-gordon/orange-is-greener-when-it_b_163650.html

Cheryl Pot
4 Years Ago

An orange is only green if it's organic. Conventional nitrogen fertilizers have a huge carbon footprint, while organic production can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Tropicana found that the largest part of the carbon footprint of its orange juice was the fertilizer, more than transport or running the factory.


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