9 ways to make your diet more environmentally friendly

As the severity of climate change increases, many of us are considering how we can lead more environmentally friendly lives. For example, some people have invested in eco-friendly technology, upped their recycling habits, or begun cycling to work rather than driving.

But one of the most impactful things that we can do to help fight climate change is to make more sustainable food choices. In short, sustainability is about being able to meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. However, as it currently stands, our global food habits account for over a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, so there’s much change to be had.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of nine ways that you can make your diet more environmentally friendly. From eating less meat and making more mindful seafood choices, through to reducing food waste and eating seasonal or home-grown produce – even the smallest changes can make a significant difference.

1. Reduce your intake of meat and other animal products

Farming animals for meat and dairy products uses up vast amounts of land, water, and animal feed. The livestock industry alone is responsible for nearly 15% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. And with global meat consumption having soared by 500% between 1992 and 2016, it’s unsurprising that one of the most important things we can do is to moderate or reduce our consumption of animal products.

If the idea of a vegan or vegetarian diet seems daunting, it’s worth remembering that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing change. For example, vegetarian and vegan diet spin-offs have become increasingly popular in recent years. Many people now follow flexitarian or pescetarian diets, which both significantly reduce your meat intake. And the environmental impact of these changes is huge. For example, research shows that if every family in the UK replaced a red meat meal with a plant-based meal just once a week, it would have the same environmental benefit of taking 16 million cars off the road.

There are also various health benefits to vegan and vegetarian diets. For example, studies show that a vegetarian diet can be almost twice as effective in reducing body weight as non-vegetarian diets. In addition, vegetarian populations have been shown to have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks available on Amazon which can offer some inspiration, for example, BOSH! by Henry Firth, VEG by Jamie Oliver, and The Vegan Cookbook for Beginners by Jacob Davies. Alternatively, you could have a go at making some dishes from our article: 10 sweet and savoury vegan recipes.

2. Take steps to make your diet more varied

According to WWF, 75% of our world’s food supply is sourced from just five animal species and 12 plants. As a result, the pressure to produce these supplies and meet demand is high. This lack of variety in agriculture is bad for both nature, the environment, and food security.

In response to this issue, WWF alongside Knorr (one of the world’s largest food brands) has identified Future 50 Foods which can help limit the environmental impact of our food system.

The Future 50 Foods include various plant-based foods such as lentils, wild rice, and kale – as well as a variety of less well-known foods like pumpkin flowers. Not only do these foods reduce environmental impact, but they also add great nutritional value to meals. You can find more information about Future 50 Foods on the WWF website.

3. Be more mindful with seafood choices

Currently, 90% of all global fish stocks are either entirely exhausted or overexploited. Not only does this disrupt food chains and threaten marine species, but with oceans covering over 70% of the Earth, the health of marine life is essential for maintaining all future life on Earth, including humans.

Reducing your intake of seafood wherever possible is a great step to take. And if you’re not ready to give it up completely, there are still some responsible changes you can make to help limit the environmental impact.

The popularity of fish like salmon, cod, and tuna has put disproportionate pressure on their fish stocks and encourages overfishing. Therefore, it’s more sustainable to opt for less popular sources of seafood, such as anchovies, skate, and black cod.

It’s also worth considering the carbon footprint of seafood – for example, whether it’s been transported from another country. Though, it’s also important to remember that just because seafood is farmed or caught in the UK, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s sustainable. For example, according to UK charity Sustain, UK Cod, European Eel, and Wild Atlantic Salmon and Halibut are among the least sustainable seafood species caught in the UK.

The Environmental Defense Fund has this handy tool that allows you to pinpoint which seafood choices are the most environmentally friendly. You can also read tips on how to make environmentally responsible seafood choices on WWF.

4. Take steps to reduce your food waste

Food waste is a huge problem and can have a devastating impact on the environment. According to UK Charity WRAP, the UK produced 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, which was associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. And according to WWF, if food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions after China and America.

There are various ways that you can play your part in reducing food waste. For example by freezing anything that you can’t eat while it’s fresh, and buying produce loose where possible so you can buy only what you need. You can find more tips and tricks on how to reduce your food waste on BBC Good Food. In addition, why not try some of these money-saving recipes made from leftover foods?

Olio is also a useful (and free) app that allows you to give away food to people in your local area, rather than wasting it. It’s as simple as uploading a photo and description of the food, and letting people know when it’s available to be picked up. You can find out more about Olio’s mission in the video below.

5. Grow your own produce where possible

There are many benefits of growing your own home produce. Firstly, home produce is environmentally friendly because it’s free of the carbon footprint that comes with shop-bought food. Raw and fresh, it’s also a lot healthier and more nutritious, unlike grocery store products which go through a lengthy process of being harvested and transported. Plus, gardening is also a great form of exercise, so you’ll be getting fitter on the job too.

If you’re looking for ideas of what to grow from home, you might find some ideas in our articles 8 superfoods you can grow from home or 10 things you can grow in a window box at home. From strawberries and tomatoes, through to radishes and broccoli, anyone can grow their own produce – window sills, patios, balconies and allotments can be used if you don’t have a garden.

For more green ideas, it’s worth having a browse of the home and garden section of our site which has various gardening articles.

6. Look for products containing RSPO certified palm oil

Unsustainable sources of palm oil are responsible for extensive deforestation. This puts wildlife such as tigers and orangutans under significant threat and also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for climate change. Examples of everyday products containing palm oil include pizza dough, margarine, chocolate, packaged bread, shampoo, and lipstick.

However, encouraging people to reject palm oil altogether is dangerous, as this could lead to the use of even worse alternatives that require more land to produce. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to shop for products that contain RSPO certified palm oil.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a non-profit member organisation with a certification scheme. For RSPO certification, companies must follow a set of environmental and social criteria which help to minimize the negative impact of palm oil cultivation.

You can find out more about sustainable palm oil in the video by WWF below.

7. Reduce your plastic usage

Plastic pollution is a pressing environmental issue. It threatens animal species, endangers public health, and is a leading cause of land, water, and air pollution. Around 8 million tonnes of plastic infiltrates our oceans each year, much of which takes at least 400 years to break down. Plastic production has increased significantly from 2.3 million tons in 1950, to 448 million tonnes in 2015, according to National Geographic. This is expected to double again by 2050 if nothing is done to prevent it.

Therefore, taking steps to reduce the use of plastic in connection with your diet can make it more environmentally friendly. Global energy leader Iberdrola has a list of useful ways that you can reduce your plastic usage. This includes avoiding single-use plastics like drinking straws, eating recyclable chewing gum, buying more bulk food, and taking your own cloth or paper bags to the supermarket.

8. Eat seasonal fruit and vegetables

The mass production of food across the world means that we’re able to enjoy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables all year round. However, different stages of the production process have an exceptionally negative impact on the environment. For example, the extensive land required to grow the produce, and the carbon footprint that comes with transporting it to different countries.

As a result, eating fruit and vegetables that are grown during their natural season and then consumed in the same country will have the lowest environmental impact. You can use EUFIC’s interactive map to explore when specific fruits and vegetables are in season. Seasonal produce is also cheaper, more nutritious, and tastes better. Plus, buying it will support the local communities who produce it.

9. Get the Giki app

Free to use

Giki is a free app that provides information about the ethics and sustainability of over 250,000 products. You can learn how a product’s ingredients are sourced, whether its packaging is recyclable, and find advice on which products in UK supermarkets are the most healthy and sustainable.

You can find more information about the Giki app here.

Final thoughts…

With an issue as extensive as climate change, it’s easy to feel helpless or believe that you can’t make a difference. But with research showing that if every UK household ate a plant-based meal just once a week it would have the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off of the road, little changes put together can lead to huge results.

We all have an important role in looking after our environment, and as this article has hopefully shown, it doesn’t have to be a difficult one to play. Plus, simple environmentally-friendly changes like reducing your meat intake, eating a more varied diet, and buying seasonal produce are also beneficial for our overall health and wellbeing. So why not start making positive changes for yourself and the environment today?

If you’d like to learn more about how you can make a difference to the environment by living more sustainably, you might like to have a read of our article 13 tips for sustainable living.

What steps have you taken to make your diet more environmentally friendly? We’d love to hear from you. Join the discussion on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below. 

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