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9 Lower-Carbon Footprint Foods To Add To Your Grocery List

Flat lay of various beans & grains like kidney, lentils, chickpeas, white beans, farro, and white rice with wooden spoons and carrots
Image by Nataša Mandić / Stocksy
April 18, 2021

The environmental impact of our food choices has become a key talking point in current sustainability dialogues1. Knowing what, where, and how our food is produced can make a tremendous difference in our climate mitigation efforts.

One study from the University of Oxford reported that food production plays a major role in greenhouse gas emissions, with far-reaching environmental outcomes. From altering natural ecosystems and biodiversity to minimizing ecological resilience, all stages within the supply chain (think processing, transportation, distribution, retail, and packaging) emit greenhouse gases that advance climate change.

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Choose lower-carbon footprint foods.

As a whole, turning to an unprocessed, whole foods diet is one way to eat for our own well-being, as well as the planet's. Here are nine foods with lower carbon footprints to add to your basket (or market tote) during your next shopping tour:

  1. Fruits: Ideally fresh, organic, and local: apples, bananas, oranges, citrus, plums, avocados, grapes, peaches, seasonal berries, etc.
  2. Whole grains: quinoa, amaranth, rye, bulgur, buckwheat, millet, corn, rolled oats, etc.
  3. Vegetables: potatoes and other root veggies, mushrooms, cassava, tomatoes, leafy greens, etc.
  4. Nuts: cashews, walnuts, pistachios, etc.
  5. Beans: Buy them in bulk if possible.
  6. Pulses: lentils, chickpeas, mung beans, soybeans, fava beans, yellow peas, etc.
  7. Sustainable seafood: tinned fish or smaller fish such as SMASH.
  8. Organic tofu.
  9. Tempeh.
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Other ways to eat more sustainably.

The conversation around a more sustainable food system can be complex and nuanced, but there is plenty we can do to help support environmental efforts.

While opting for lower-carbon footprint foods plays a pivotal role in reducing our environmental impact, other dietary strategies can help us take environmental action one step further. Avoiding air-freighted foods, reducing food waste, embracing "wonky" produce2, being a climate citizen, utilizing less plastic, eating seasonally, using a carbon calculator, opting for low-carbon livestock, growing our own food, and cutting back on meat and dairy are some of the many strategies for tackling our global environmental concerns.

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Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer

Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor from San José, Costa Rica. She received her master's degree in communication and journalism from The University of New Mexico, emphasizing well-being, sustainable fashion, health communication research, and graduating Summa Cum Laude. A former professional dancer, she's earned multiple academic and accredited certifications in performance design, positive psychology, doula training, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, mindfulness, innovation leadership, and integrative health. Her work has appeared at top consulting brands and organizations across Latin American and the US, including Byrdie and Albuquerque The Magazine. She currently lives between Costa Rica and New Mexico.