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10 ways to improve your diet’s impact on the environment

10 ways to improve your diet’s impact on the environment

a plate of green and healthy foods

Honestly, we were shocked to see the impact that some foods have on our environment. Who would have thought avocados would have such huge deforestation impacts? If you’re an avid ‘eco-warrior’ then it’s more than likely you’re aware of the arguments against meat. But our minds were blown when we found harmful fruits and vegetables too. This week we’re providing a variety of diet suggestions. Yes, we’re going to take a look at 10 harmful foods that you can swap out for alternatives and make a huge difference to your impact! Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of meat completely, but these food substitutes are a great place to start.

1. Food substitutes for lamb 

Are you a lover of lamb? It might shock you to learn that it is the most carbon-intensive meat out there. These methane-burping creatures are producing a hefty amount of greenhouse gases, in fact, you could eat a bowl of porridge every day for 3 months and create the same carbon footprint as one 2kg lamb joint. So how can you swap them out? 

Other than lamb chops, fortunately, it isn’t used in many recipes. Swap out your shepherd’s pie meat for some Quorn. Ditch the chops to once a month. Then, anywhere else you used lamb, like in burgers, opt for a meat-free version. There are plenty of food substitutes for meat, and in the case of lamb, should be done wherever possible to reduce your carbon footprint. 

2. Food substitutes for beef 

You might remember from our recent blog that beef can have quite a high carbon footprint. Well, it’s just behind lamb. The difference is that for each methane-producing animal, you get more meat and therefore a slightly smaller carbon footprint. A raw steak from the UK can have a carbon footprint of 5.8 kg CO2e but that can triple if it’s from Brazil. 

If you’re determined to keep beef in your diet, you can still reduce the impact by buying local produce. However, if you’re open to alternatives, there are plenty of food substitutes for beef. Quorn for mince, Beyond Meat burgers, seitan steaks, there is always an alternative to whatever popular meat dish you’re cooking. 

3. Cheese 

First of all, it’s important to state that different cheeses have different carbon footprints. 250g of parmesan creates 4.8 CO2e while 250g of goat’s cheese is just 1.6kg CO2e. What’s important to note is that it is the dairy that influences the CO2e levels of cheese. The more milk, the higher the total carbon footprint. 

When it comes to food substitutes for cheese, there are some vegan cheeses. But as the British public, we’re all big fans of our cheese and crackers of an evening! So, from the popular cheeses, be aware that cheddar, parmesan, and ricotta have a higher carbon footprint than cottage, brie, and mozzarella. The easiest way to reduce the impact of your cheese is to eat less of it and opt for softer cheeses. 

4. Farmed Salmon 

While fish can have a smaller carbon footprint compared to beef or lamb, it can still have a damaging effect on our environment. The same way we farm cows, fish farms are created to produce high demands. Shockingly, 1kg of farmed salmon equates to 11.9kg of CO2. Although some fish are more eco-friendly than others. For example, 200g of fresh mackerel caught and sold locally is just 480g of CO2e compared to 1.9kg of CO2e for 200g of tinned tuna. 

Farmed salmon is damaging to the environment for several reasons, but sadly wild-caught salmon isn’t available locally in the UK, so sustainable salmon isn’t an option to choose. Be sure to swap out salmon for an eco-friendly fish where you can, or alternatively, find a food substitute like tempeh or seitan (a bit like tofu but higher in protein!) 

5. Nuts 

It’s a broad topic ‘nuts’. From one of our recent blogs, we know that almonds are quite damaging to the environment due to their high water footprint. Many diet books promote nuts for their high protein value, creating an unhealthy demand. But, it’s important to note that not all nuts are equal and there are ways to create sustainable nut-based solutions. 

Similar to how you select your cheeses, heading for the most eco-friendly option is a great way to reduce you carbon footprint. Almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts have the worst environmental impact when you combine both their carbon and water footprints. The worst water footprints belong to almond, cashew, and pistachios, but when looking at carbon footprints almond, macadamia, and pine nuts come out on top. As you can see the popular nuts for spreads have one of the worst impacts. So, swap out your Nutella for some Fairtrade chocolate spread and your peanut butter for sunflower butter. That should drastically improve your impact! 

6. Milk 

Here’s an item with many different food substitutes, but not all options are better. A pint of UK cow’s milk will add 1.1kg CO2e to your carbon footprint, whereas soya is just 0.55kg CO2e.  

We’ve previously spoken about almond milk issues on this blog but today we’re providing answers. We promote oat milk as the most eco-friendly option. The carbon footprint for a pint of oat milk is just 0.55kg CO2e, but its water footprint is also low, the packaging is more eco-friendly and often its transport journey is shorter compared to soya and almond varieties. It’s an all-round cracking substitute! 

7. Chocolate 

We’re sorry to say that our beloved sweet treat is in fact quite damaging to our environment. First of all, we want to remind everyone that sustainability is difficult when demand is high and ultimately, chocolate is in high demand. Forget the casual bar you may have on the weekends, consider all the easter eggs, Christmas treats, and birthday chocolate trays in the meantime. 

1kg of chocolate can produce 19kg of CO2e, it’s one of the highest plant-based carbon intense foods. It’s difficult to cut out chocolate completely, but there are ways to ensure your chocolate is as eco-friendly as possible. It means only buying Fairtrade options, ensuring there are no palm oil ingredients, and where possible, choosing a vegan option. 

8. Sugar 

We know; another sweet (that’s leaving us bitter!) removal from the diet. However, sugar is slightly different in that it is the crops that are so harmful to the environment. We’ve said it before, we don’t agree with demonising one food group, or one ingredient like sugar, that seems to be everywhere! 

There are different types of sugar of course, and there are plenty of alternatives to sugar for health reasons. But are they just as beneficial for the environment? Research suggests not. If you’re looking to reduce the impact of sugar on the environment, don’t switch to sweeteners, instead opt for brown sugar where possible and ensure it is from a Fairtrade source. 

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9. Soy 

Soy in and of itself is not bad for the environment, like most food items it is the way it is cultivated and used that is unsustainable. 29% of Brazil’s deforestation can be linked to soy production, and sadly, it’s where most of the UK’s soy comes from – overseas. 

Soy has been viewed as a plant-based alternative for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. It is used in a variety of products such as tempeh, tofu, miso, and soy milk but soy is also a core ingredient used to feed… animals. Yes, reducing your consumption of meat can also reduce your demand on the soy industry. Sourcing your soy from areas that protect the local environment is the best way to adjust your impact – which means not from Brazil.   

10. Food substitutes for avocados 

Another item we have previously discussed. We’re aware of the water intensity and huge deforestation issues that are linked to avocados but as such a popular and trendy item. How can we swap them out? Honestly… it’s easy! 

Avocado on toast? What’s wrong with a classic jam, butter, or fried egg? Guacamole addict? Switch to ‘eda-mole’ (edamame beans) or pea-mole instead! There are plenty of food substitutes when it comes to avocados… remember 10 years ago when we’d never even heard of them? Let’s simply head back to basics instead – plus you’ll make a killer saving on your weekly food budget! 


So, there it is. Not every eco-friendly food substitute is benefitting the planet, but there is always a way to lessen your impact. No matter what diet you’re on. This week our members are getting rewarded for making 3 simple food swaps in their diets, you could be too. Sign up to become a Greenredeem member and get rewarded for every green action you take. 

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