Say what you will, but the science is in. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, produced by more than 100 scientists from around the globe, consequences of climate change, like extreme temperatures and intense downpours, are disrupting our food production systems in a way that impacts yields. At this point, food shortages might translate to higher prices or reduced availability of certain items, but if we don’t begin to alleviate our climate problem, experts believe we will face significant issues feeding our growing population.
Climate change and its impact on our food system is a complicated issue, but here are a few things at the crux of it. Extreme weather can delay the planting of certain crops, thereby shortening the time during which food is grown. Weather patterns can also make pests more difficult to control, and therefore, they destroy more of the food that’s grown. The nutrition quality of food is also at stake, meaning that certain crops may supply reduced amounts of vitamins and minerals.
If the idea of leaving our planet and future generations better off isn’t enough to sway you to make some dietary changes, here are some planet-friendly eating practices that will leave you better off, too.
Rely on more plants for protein
Pulses — the term for plant-based proteins, like beans, lentils, and peas — are an incredibly sustainable source of protein. They require less nitrogen fertilizer compared to other crops, and therefore, have a lower carbon footprint. They also require less water to grow, and many types of pulses can grow in dry environments.
They’re not just good for the planet — they’re good for your body, too. Studies suggest that when people replace some of the meat on their menus for these plant-based powerhouses, it has a positive impact on longevity, reduces the risk of diabetes and heart diseases, promotes a healthier weight, and may cause a healthy shift in your gut bacteria.
And really, nothing could be easier than adding pulses to your menus. You can meal prep a batch of dried beans in your Instant Pot to use throughout the week, or pop open a lower-sodium can to add a quick hit of protein to meals and snacks. Pulses have chameleon-like qualities, so you can use them in a range of recipes, including sweet treats and savory dishes. Try them:
- Whipped into dips and spreads
- Blended into energy balls and other snacks
- Roasted to create a crunchy snack or salad topping
- Stirred into pasta, soups, and stews
- To form the base of a natural veggie burger
Don’t worry about bloating and gassiness from adding beans to your menu; most people adapt to increasing amounts of these foods by taking it slowly at first and drinking plenty of water. Also don’t worry about the idea of combining plant proteins to make sure you have a so-called complete protein. This is an outdated theory. It’s only necessary to include a variety of nutritious plant-based sources throughout the day. Your body will do the rest.
Eat less meat
Get the better newsletter.
You knew this was coming! Both this report and one released earlier this year, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, suggest that cutting way down on meat consumption is better for the planet (not to mention your own health). No one’s suggesting you become a vegan or vegetarian (though that can be beneficial), but you can make a dramatic impact by beginning to scale back. Beef and lamb are associated with particularly high carbon emissions, so maybe begin your journey there.
The truth is, while you need protein and the nutrients found in beef and other animal products, you don’t need to get them from those foods, and in fact, we’re collectively better off getting them from plant-based sources. Instead of eating an animal-based protein at each meal, try one plant-based protein meal a day or perhaps, try a meatless day each week — maybe on a Monday when you’re more likely to be in tune with your health. In addition to foods from the pulse family, incorporate single-ingredient whole grains (like quinoa, oats, and brown rice) as well as nuts and seeds into menus. The USDA offers many suggestions for mixing up your protein options with more plants.
Here are some ideas to start you off.
- Serve a main dish plant protein burger with a generous portion of green beans topped with toasted, slivered almonds.
- Have a nourishing burrito bowl using black beans, brown rice, and a base of colorful veggies. Top with pumpkin seeds for added protein and crunch.
- Make a flatbread pizza crust using chickpea flour and top with a non-dairy walnut pesto along with additional veggies.
- Stir your overnight oats with shredded carrots and cinnamon and in the morning, add a drizzle of nut or seed butter. Use pea protein milk to boost the protein content even further.