For a healthy body, a healthy planet, and a healthy future, it's important that we each look carefully at including the most sustainable foods in our diet.
The global food industry is one of the most environmentally wasteful supply chains humans have created, using vast quantities of water, land, and other resources while producing vast greenhouse gas quantities for inefficient returns.
But food sustainability isn't easy to achieve, and keeping to an environmentally friendly diet is a challenge for even the most dedicated eco-warriors. This article explores simple meats and vegetables that are sustainable food sources and that you can easily incorporate into your current lifestyle and diet.
From bison and beans to rice and lentils, here's our guide to the world's most sustainable foods.
What is sustainable eating, and what are sustainable foods?
Sustainable foods are types of foods that are grown or reared in a manner that limits their negative impact on the environment and the communities that produce them. Sustainable foods are environmentally friendly foods that minimize greenhouse gas emissions and use resources as sustainably as possible.
Sustainable foods aim to lower the carbon footprint involved in their production. By choosing to eat sustainability, we, in turn, help minimize our personal environmental impact on the global level.
Besides environmental factors, sustainable eating also focuses on the way animals are raised and slaughtered and how farmers are treated and paid. Future foods must be sustainable if we are to manage the ever-expanding human population and the ever-dwindling stock of resources (land, water, and the food itself) that we have on the planet.
List of the most sustainable foods
Our sustainable foods list includes meat, fish, and vegetables. Of course, the ethics of eating meat is contentious, but many meat products are considerably more sustainable than others.
Here are the most commonly available sustainable food examples:
Beans are one of the most widely produced and widely available sustainable foods on the market. They are also particularly easy to incorporate into your existing diet and come in a wonderful variety of different types.
Beans are legumes, and this family also includes pulses. They are sustainable to produce (with low water content and high yield), and they are incredibly healthy. Beans are a source of protein (perfect for veggie and vegan diets) and a great source of B12, which traditionally we get from red meat such as beef.
Beans are as varied as pinto beans, kidney beans, fava beans, and soybeans (used to prepare tofu).
Mussels are a highly underrated seafood because, unlike most seafood, mussels can be produced sustainably. The majority of mussels are actually farmed, using long lines strung out in the water. Harvesting mussels doesn't result in large amounts of by-catch or destruction to coral reefs.
In terms of health, mussels are packed full of protein. Their meaty texture and taste make them an exceptionally viable alternative to traditional kinds of seafood and meats, which are no longer able to be produced sustainably.
#3 Organic vegetables
Of course, no sustainable foods list is complete without including vegetables, but you do need to be carefully selective about the vegetables you purchase.
The best route to take is the organic route, which involves far fewer pesticides added to the soil. This helps keep your veg natural. It also protects the soil from becoming overloaded with unnatural substances, which is essential for the long term viability of any patch of farmland.
#4 Leafy greens
Leafy greens are the epitome of healthy foods and include everything from kale to spinach. If it's green and leafy, then it's going to be good for you. Leafy greens are easy to produce in large quantities while taking up minimal resources, and there's a lot of different variants for you to try.
Leafy greens are not only great for salads and smoothies but can easily be incorporated into your other meals too (kale crisps, spinach curry, lettuce wraps, and so much more!).
Rice is a staple food source in many parts of the world, and the reason behind this is its traditional hardiness and high energy content.
Rice is easy to grow, and despite our vision of enormous rice paddies filled with water, rice doesn't actually need much water to grow (the water in rice paddies keeps away harmful pests and bacteria). Rice is easy to cultivate, easy to cook, and can be stored for long periods of time.
Lentils are a type of legume (and are often considered a type of bean), but we'll include them separately because they are a fantastic protein source and a great alternative to other kinds of beans.
Lentils need little water to be produced, but they can yield huge quantities of protein. They are perfect for salads, soups, curries, and so much more.
#7 Organic fruits
Like vegetables, it's impossible not to include fruit on our sustainable food list, but you need to be careful which fruits you buy. Again, it's always a safe bet to choose organically grown fruits when you're in the store or at the market.
Try to source local, seasonal fruit if you can, as this will involve a lower carbon footprint (they'll have been transported far less distance to reach the shelf). Fruits are incredibly diverse, and your local availability will depend on climate, demand, and many other factors.
Meat (especially red meat) is traditionally difficult to produce sustainability, purely because it takes a large amount of land and a large quantity of water to feed cattle. Soaring demand for beef products, such as steaks and hamburgers, has directly contributed to deforestation and climate change.
However, if you're not ready to give up meat for a plant-based diet, then one of the most sustainable meat options is bison. Bison actually help to restore vegetation through trampling, and their grazing tactics are far more sustainable than cows.
How to eat sustainably
We understand, it can be difficult switching foods and making drastic lifestyle changes, but it's never impossible. The key to eating sustainably is starting small. Switch that beef burger for a veggie burger, or prepare a tasty tofu chili instead of a chili con carne.
Sustainable local foods are the way forward, as these allow you to reduce your carbon footprint massively. Rather than importing lamb from New Zealand, why not buy local grass-fed lamb instead?
Ultimately though, the quickest way towards sustainability is to cut out meat or to at least cut down your consumption to a few times a week rather than every day. This lowers the demand for mass-produced meat and drastically helps to lower your environmental footprint (a plant-based diet also has numerous health benefits, too!).
The world's most sustainable foods: the last word
As production techniques and transport methods constantly adapt to ever-changing supply and demand chains, the idea of sustainability is constantly evolving too. Eco-friendly food is becoming more cost-effective and more readily available for mass production, making it an ever easier lifestyle choice. Making a choice now to eat more sustainably can benefit your body and the planet we live on, so why not give it a try?
If you're looking to become healthier and lower your environmental impact, then why not bookmark our guide to the world's most sustainable foods?