Shop and snack your way to a healthier planet (and a healthier you).
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Photo by Meredith

What you eat makes a big impact on your health—and the health of the planet. About 25 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions can be linked to food, according to research published in the journal Science.

If you're interested in designing your diet to make less of an impact on the Earth, try these eat-green strategies from Sujatha Bergen, health campaigns director for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

1. Buy what you'll eat and use — before it goes bad.

Americans waste 30 to 40 percent of the food we grow and produce, per the latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates.

"Americans waste too much food, on average 400 pounds per person per year," Bergen says. "Food is the number one contributor to landfills today and produces more greenhouse gases than 37 million cars."

To limit how much food you personally toss, design a meal plan before you shop and stick to it as closely as possible. Freeze or preserve what you don't think you can incorporate to your menu in time, and score bonus points by considering:

  • Ways to use as many parts of produce as possible, such as whizzing up a batch of Carrot-Top Pesto

  • Multipurpose ways to optimize your proteins, like making Basic Chicken Stock with bones after you cook the meat

2. Skip beef (even just once more a week).

Just behind wasting less, eating less meat is the next best change you can make to your menu for the environment. That doesn't mean you have to go whole hog and eat a completely vegan diet, though.

"If Americans cut just a quarter pound of beef from their diets each week—the equivalent beef in a typical hamburger — it would be like taking 10 million cars off the road for a year," Bergen says. "Americans are among the largest per-capita consumers of beef in the world. Beef is by far the single-largest contributor to climate pollution associated with the food that we eat."

Beef increases greenhouse gas emissions in several ways: the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow most cattle feed is manufactured using fossil fuels, cows produce methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) when they digest this food, and when cows eat, they produce manure which also emits climate pollution.

Other meats like chicken and pork are linked to heavy water and air pollution, so aim for at least one completely meatless meal a day or day a week — if you don't already. These 11 vegetarian recipes for die hard meat-lovers will make the transition easy.

3. Decrease dairy consumption.

Dairy cows produce that same methane during digestion and through their manure.

"Eating and drinking less dairy can also have a big impact. Dairy from cows causes much more climate pollution and uses more water and land to produce than plant-based alternatives," Bergen says.

If you want to make this eco-friendly swap, seek out almond, soy, oat, hemp, or coconut milk or yogurt at your supermarket. Or go DIY and try our Homemade Plant-Based Milk or Vegan Yogurt recipes.

4. Do your research about seafood.

Salmon, shrimp, and other seafood has far less of an impact on the Earth as their land-based animal protein counterparts. (It's about on par with rice and soy, and ranks lower on the World Resource Institute's Protein Scorecard than nuts and eggs — and definitely pork, poultry, dairy, and beef.)

Still, it's important to be savvy about where the seafood you're eating is being sourced. To ensure you're buying fish that are caught sustainably, use the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch app, Bergen recommends.

"Increasingly, the seafood we sell in the U.S. isn't wild-caught but farm-raised overseas, often in factory farm–like conditions where the fish are exposed to dangerous antibiotics and chemicals (many of which are banned in the United States), stored in bacteria-laden ice, and even fed pig feces tainted with salmonella," she says. "The clincher? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only inspects about 2 percent of all seafood that comes from abroad. It's best to stick with what's caught closer to home."

5. Opt for organic, if possible.

Speaking strictly from an environmental perspective, organic fruits and veggies are worth the extra financial investment if you can afford it, Bergen says. (They may be better nutritionally as well, but more long-term research is needed.)

Unlike organic, conventionally-grown produce can be sprayed with pesticides and grown with fertilizers that have the potential to "degrade air, water, and soil, while threatening the health of workers, farmers, and communities," Bergen says. "We recommend buying organic if that is an option," especially of the produce items that have been shown to hold onto the most pesticide residues.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a new "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables that earn a spot on Bergen's best-to-buy-organic line-up. For 2020, these include:

1.  Strawberries

2.  Spinach

3.  Kale

4.  Nectarines

5.  Apples

6.  Grapes

7.  Peaches

8.  Cherries

9.  Pears

10. Tomatoes

11. Celery

12. Potatoes

6. Shop local.

Not only will you be supporting your neighbors, but you'll also be reducing the amount of resources needed to transport your food across the country — or the globe. The average piece of supermarket produce travels 1,500 miles to reach your store, according to a report from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Seek out your local farmers market or take part in community-supported agriculture (CSA) and almost everything will be harvested within 100 miles. The farmer can answer your questions about how the items were grown (and suggest their favorite ways to use them!), too.

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