Health May 04, 2023

4 ways to tweak your diet towards a healthy lifestyle and a better planet

What does eating healthy have to do with the planet?

Peoples’ diets are as varied as the people themselves. What's common is how significantly eating habits affect our health, which is no surprise, but also the environment around us.

It might be easy to see ‘health’ as individual and personal and the ‘environment’ as societal and structural, but consider this: there are roughly 8 billion people on this planet. On any given day, what we eat for lunch requires a vast amount of resources and energy to produce, distribute and consume, and leaves a heavy footprint on an already buckling climate.

Currently, global food production:

  • Emits 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions with the livestock sector accounting for almost half (14.5%) of these emissions
  • Takes up 40% of the world’s land
  • Uses 70% of freshwater
  • Is the largest factor threatening species with extinction

Highly processed, low-nutrient food are heavy on the planet

Fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and whole grains are all-round winners. They are rich in nutrients we need to grow, heal and flourish. To add to that, they are minimally processed and require little intervention to produce – in other words, quite easy on the environment.

On the contrary, unhealthy food, such as fast food, candy and highly-processed meat, are low in nutrients and high in empty calories. They are loaded with salt, sugar or the bad kind of fats, namely saturated and trans fats, of which the latter is also found in red meat and other animal-based produce. Consuming these regularly can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammation among others health risks. Meanwhile, unhealthy foods are generally very resource intensive to produce, for instance, requiring a lot of water and land to grow. Moreover, throughout their lifecycle, from farm to table, they leave behind a very heavy carbon footprint.

Luckily, you don’t have to cross check multiple, cumbersome lists, because it just so happens that most healthy picks are also easy on the planet.

Here are 4 ways to tweak you diet towards a healthy lifestyle and a better planet:

1. Eat plant rich meals whenever possible

Adopting a plant rich diet is a great start towards a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Animal-based food has a higher saturated and trans fat content, and is more taxing on the environment compared to its plant-based counterpart:

*USDA’s nutrition data on beef and tofu

**Greenhouse emissions from BBC Future

Meanwhile, even fatty plant derivatives, like oils and nuts, are packed with good fats, such as omegas and other unsaturated fats, compared to animal derivatives:

*USDA’s nutrition data on butter and olive oil

**Greenhouse emissions from LiveLCA

2. Consume minimally processed food that are closest to its natural form

Even plant-based foods are best when they’re consumed in a form that’s as close as possible to how they exist in nature. Take for instance the Vitamin C loaded, all time favorite fruit – the humble orange. A cup of orange juice carries 22g of sugar, 0.2g fiber, 110 kcal and is two times more carbon intensive than a medium-sized orange which carries 12g of sugar, 2g fiber and 62 kcal. This is one example of what the difference between enjoying the same produce processed or in its original form could mean.

3. Buy produce that’s in season and grown locally

Fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables outscores off-season produce in nutrients, taste, affordability and sustainability. The latter, either grown in controlled environments or shipped (or worse flown) long distance is harvested before reaching peak ripeness and coated with preservatives to last long. Not only does this cause the produce to lose its nutritional value but also significantly increase its environmental toll.

4. Different food in the same category can have a big difference, opt for the best

Though the most carbon intensive plant-based products can be vastly less taxing on the environment compared to animal-based foods, there’s still room to drive big impact through the choices you make. For instance, it takes a whopping 74 L of water, more than any other dairy alternative, to produce a single glass of almond milk. Pea protein milk on the other hand uses 85% less water, carries 8 times more protein, and boasts of a creamy and mild taste.


When it comes to food, we can rest easy knowing that fresh, nutritious and affordable options are often the best for the planet. To find more about the climate impact of what you eat check out this nifty carbon footprint calculator.