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8 Foods With Lower Carbon Footprints

8 Foods With Lower Carbon Footprints

IIt’s no secret that climate change is a real concern that more and more of us face every day. But there are reasons for optimism; we can take action to positively impact climate change and even help slow its progress. Getting started can be as simple as walking into your own kitchen because one small change that can have a big impact is eating more foods with lower carbon footprints.

The global food system is a major contributor to climate change. It is responsible for 33 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. So the more we can support food producers who make it possible to buy food with lower carbon footprints, the more we can move the needle towards carbon neutral, or even carbon negative, practices being the norm.

Luckily, we have evidence to show us which foods have a lower carbon footprint you can buy in most grocery stores… because what’s sustainable about turning you into a niche, carbon-negative tea that you have to order from Canada?

8 foods with lower carbon footprints

1. Root vegetables

Our World in Data, a far-reaching research group, collected data from 38,700 farming operations in 119 countries to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of the simple ingredients that many of us use so often in cooking. On average, plant foods have 10 to 50 times less CO2 emissions compared to most animal products. This is evident when we look at our first low-carbon food, root vegetables, which emit 0.4 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram (kg CO2/kg).

2. Nature’s Path Products

One packaged food brand that you can easily find in the grocery store that supports sustainable food production is Nature’s Path. They offer a variety of cereals, oatmeal, bars, granola bars, chips, bagels, waffles and more. This brand is considered an industry leader in sustainability, in large part due to the Regenerative Organic CertifiedⓇ label they proudly display on their products, confirming that they adhere to high environmental standards. This certification takes an important step beyond organic towards even more effective sustainability practices.

Regenerative organic agriculture combines various processes that help revive soil and ecosystems, increasing the carbon sequestration power of soil and surrounding plant ecosystems, while naturally reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the certificate also prioritizes animal welfare and social equality.

3. Citrus fruits

Because citrus fruits are harvested from trees that typically remain in the ground for decades—sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and keeping it long-term in the soil—they are an excellent choice for sustainable food. With only 0.3 kg CO2/kg, you can feel good enjoying these bright bursts of flavor.

4. Oats

It’s hard to beat a skillfully assembled bowl of oatmeal with all the toppings in the morning, especially when you realize how low its impact on the environment is. This also applies to oat milk. Compared to other milk alternatives, oats dominate because they use much less water, about six times less than almond milk. Dry oats only emit 0.6 kg of CO2/kg, making your grandma’s cookie recipe that much sweeter.

5. Algae

Just as plants on land sequester carbon, so do plants under water. Different types of algae, including kelp, kelp, wakame, nori and spirulina, have become super popular recently, mainly due to their impressive health benefits. But the marine ecosystems that call these salty superfoods home remarkably demonstrate 20 times the carbon sequestration power of terrestrial forests because they grow faster and can cover a larger area.

6. Neutral organic milk and butter

Appearing in major grocery stores coast to coast, Neutral Foods is a dairy line that proudly boasts brand-wide carbon neutrality. They achieve this by partnering with dairy farmers to significantly reduce production emissions, choosing smarter packaging options, diligently measuring (and reducing) emissions throughout the life cycle of their products, and purchasing offsets where further reductions cannot be made. This is significant as dairy production contributes up to one third of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the global food system. Plus, they’re the first dairy brand to claim carbon neutrality – and they’ve got the evidence to back it up.

7. Nuts

While nuts can get a bad environmental reputation due to the high water needs of some varieties, Our World in Data found that they provide 0.3 kg of CO2/kg. Moreover, the data actually show that nuts have a negative land use figure in the emissions calculation. That’s because, with the growing popularity of nuts, nut trees are replacing cropland, sequestering serious amounts of carbon and building healthy soil for years to come.

8. Beans

When it comes to sustainable protein choices, it’s hard to beat beans. The BBC has created a sustainability calculator that shows the environmental impact of around 40 different foods based on data from 40,000 farms and 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers. Using this calculator, eating one serving of beans every day for a year produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving 93 miles. Compare this to the emissions that one daily serving of conventionally raised beef would add up to in a year – a whopping 7,196 miles traveled.

While this list is far from comprehensive, these foods can give you a head start for living a more eco-conscious culinary life. Generally speaking, when shopping for low-carbon lentils, try to focus on plant-based foods, products with minimal ingredients, packaging-free or minimally packaged foods, seasonal products, and locally produced foods from farmers who use environmentally friendly practices.

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