Here are 10 items any shopper can choose for a greener kitchen and a more sustainable way of life.
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Lemon Pea Salad
Photo by lutzflcat

Given the looming dangers of climate change and the ever-growing global population, there's never been a better time to choose sustainably produced foods. We can help you make smart, simple choices for a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.

For starters, reducing consumption of meat and dairy is a solid first step in eating more sustainably. One research review from Oxford University published in the journal Science found that 83 percent of global farmland and 60 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat and dairy industries alone. But reducing your reliance on animal products by opting for more vegetarian meals isn't the only way you can make your grocery list more eco-friendly. Here are 10 of our favorite easy-to-find, ultra-sustainable grocery items that will make a big difference to your carbon footprint.

1. Sunflower Butter

Childhood favorite peanut butter has become problematic of late due to widespread allergies, and one of the most common substitutes, almond butter, is not much better, at least from a sustainability perspective. About 80 percent of the world's almonds are grown in California, which has been experiencing some of the most severe droughts in history in the past several decades. As a result, water-intensive almonds are far from the most sustainable choice.

Luckily, sunflower butter poses none of the same sustainability (or allergen!) issues as either of these two spreads. Drought- and heat-tolerant, sunflower seeds make a rich, creamy butter that is just as delicious spread on toast or used as a dip for apple wedges.

Homemade Honey-Sunflower Butter
Homemade Honey-Sunflower Butter | The dailygourmet
| Credit: thedailygourmet

2. Organic Peas

When monocultures are planted again and again in the same soil, they deplete its nutrients, requiring the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers to nourish it - far from the most sustainable agricultural choice. But legumes like peas naturally fix nitrogen in the soil (up to 285kg per hectare planted), reducing the need for fertilizers. Choose organic peas, devoid of pesticides and herbicides, for a deliciously sustainable green vegetable to serve as a side or stirred into pasta or rice.

peasandpancetta_naples34102crop.jpg
Peas and Pancetta | Photo by Naples34102

3. Buckwheat

According to a recent report compiled in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund entitled Future 50 Foods, buckwheat is one of the healthiest - and most sustainable - choices you can make in the supermarket. The versatile grain grows well in acidic and underfertilized soils and can even be used as a cover crop, reducing erosion and the need for chemical-based herbicides like glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, which was deemed a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015.

Lentils and Buckwheat Salad To Go (Gluten-Free)
Lentils and Buckwheat Salad To Go (Gluten-Free) | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

4. Organic Kale

Leafy green vegetables like kale are resilient and easy to grow in cold temperatures, and choosing organic means you're keeping chemicals out of the soil. Kale is also one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in vitamins A, K, and C, so it gives you a huge nutritional bang for your buck. Sauté it in a simple combo of olive oil and garlic for a delicious, sustainable, healthy side to any main.

Mediterranean Kale
Mediterranean Kale | Photo by KGora

5. Rope-Grown Mussels

The ocean's rich resources are quickly depleting, and many wild stocks are overfished to a dangerous degree. Farmed fish isn't much better; while aquaculture practices are slowly improving, issues with contamination, overuse of antibiotics, and net protein loss for carnivorous fish like salmon persist in the industry. Mussels, however, are different. Grown on long ropes suspended in the ocean, mussels naturally filter and clean the water, and harvesting them does not disturb the sea bed, making them one of the most - if not the most - sustainable farmed seafood option.

Drunken Mussels
Drunken Mussels | Photo by catherine.drew

6. Wakame

Nutrient-rich seaweed is responsible for half of all oxygen production on the planet. Wakame, common in Japanese cooking, is rich in nutrients and doesn't require the use of fertilizers or pesticides to grow.

Wakame can also help you reduce your consumption of animal products, as it's one of the only plant-based sources of the essential omega 3 fatty acid EPA, also found in (less sustainable) fatty fish like salmon.

Easy Wakame Brown Rice
Easy Wakame Brown Rice | Photo by bd.weld

7. Organic Carrots

One 2017 study in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that carrots were one of the most carbon-efficient foods to produce. Compared to the other produce on the Journal's list, which includes potatoes and onions, carrots are also richer in nutrients including beta carotene, making them the superior choice.

Orange Maple Roasted Carrots and Fennel
Orange Maple Roasted Carrots and Fennel | Photo by France C

8. Oat Milk

Cow's milk is far from the most sustainable option out there, with researchers at Oxford University concluding that the environmental impact of producing a glass of cow's milk is at least three times that of producing a glass of any plant-based milk. But as mentioned above, almond milk isn't necessarily the best alternative. The 2017 study in Journal of Cleaner Production found that oat production emits less than a quarter as much carbon as rice - another popular plant-based milk alternative. Oat milk, then, is well-deserving of its current popularity.

Oat Milk
Oat Milk | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

9. Okra

Antioxidant-rich okra is one of the most heat- and drought-resistant vegetables in the world, according to the aforementioned Future 50 Foods report, making it a great choice, especially for those living in drier climates. Simmer it in gumbo or jambalaya to take advantage of its natural thickening properties.

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Roasted Okra | Photo by CSteichen

10. Hemp Hearts

Fast-growing hemp doesn't require fertilizers or pesticides to produce, and the plant also takes up less land and uses less water than many other crops. Hemp was also shown in one 2001 study to remove toxins from the earth in which it grows, and a 2007 study even found that the plant can increase the microbial content of soil, improving the health of the land over the long term. And like wakame, hemp hearts are a great source of plant-based omega 3s, reducing the need for animal proteins in your diet.

Oatmeal Chia Hemp Chocolate Chip Vegan Bars
Oatmeal Chia Hemp Chocolate Chip Vegan Bars | Photo by Linda T

Eating a sustainable diet can start with a single step. Consider including just a handful of these sustainable foods in your weekly meal rotation, and you'll be well on your way to reducing your carbon footprint and improving the health of both your family and the planet.