A ranking of sustainable food that’s best for your health *and* our planet
by Emily Laurence
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. It’s a win all around when the sustainable food on your plate benefits your body as well as the environment. Fostering our personal relationship with Earth—and the global community of food sourcing—connects us to a greater responsibility as inhabitants of this planet.
A new large-scale analysis published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines the environmental impact and healthfulness of 15 different foods. Researchers considered which foods have been scientifically linked to decreasing the risk of disease in combination with the resources required to produce them. Not all foods are created equal when it comes to nutrition, water consumption, pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion.
Unsurprisingly, processed foods and red meat negatively impact the environment 40 times more than vegetables and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, Many of the foods you already eat are good sustainable food choices.
This is the sustainable food that’s best for you and the planet
You’ve known since you wouldn’t eat them as a child that vegetables are good for you. And now you know they’re the best food you can eat as far as the environment is concerned. Researchers found that vegetables have the most minimal impact on the Earth.
There are 12 vegetable you need to buy organic—and 15 you don’t:
After vegetables, fruit ranked high both in terms of health and sustainability. Like vegetables, fruits don’t require an overabundance of water to grow (looking at you, almonds), and greenhouse gas emissions pale in comparison to production of meat products. Plus, the growth of fruits is good for soil health.
Treat yourself to a healthy slice of strawberry shortcake:
3. Whole grains and refined grains
Grains such as wheat, corn, barley, and quinoa are full of nutrients and certainly are healthy, but vegetables and fruits are still linked with more benefits. They rank high yet still slightly lower when it comes to sustainability too: it takes more work and energy to harvest grains, both whole and refined, than vegetables and fruit, which are less processed.
Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about gluten:
4. Olive oil
Olive oil is linked to good cardiovascular health, and sourcing it creates an environmental footprint smaller than nuts, dairy, and meat.
The Mediterranean diet is a good choice for eating sustainable food:
When it comes to animal products, eggs rank even higher than fish in terms of sustainability. Egg sourcing creates more greenhouse gasses than vegetables, fruits, grains, and olive oil, but not as much as poultry (interestingly enough) or beef. Eggs also fall in the middle when it comes to land use and soil depletion. On the health front, eggs are a surprising source of antioxidants.
In fact, you might consider eggs “nature’s multivitamin“:
Taking this ranking into consideration, it’s pretty clear that when you eat for maximum health benefits you directly benefit the environment, too. Pretty cool how that works out right? Just another thing to love about the rise in plant-based eating.
Making healthy, sustainable food choices doesn’t have to be expensive. And if you do eat meat, here’s how to do it in an ethical, sustainable way.