Many people feel an urgent need to reduce their impact on the earth because of the catastrophic effects of climate change and resource extraction.
One strategy is to lower your carbon footprint, which is a measure of your total greenhouse gas emissions not just from driving vehicles or using electricity but also lifestyle choices, such as the clothes you wear and food you eat.
Although there are many ways to minimize your carbon footprint, making dietary changes is a good place to start.
In fact, some research shows that shifting the Western diet to more sustainable eating patterns could slash greenhouse gas emissions by 70% and water use by 50% (1Trusted Source).
Here are 9 simple ways to minimize your carbon footprint through dietary and lifestyle choices.
1. Stop wasting food
Food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because food that’s thrown away decomposes in landfills and emits methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas (2Trusted Source, 3, 4).
Over a 100-year period, methane is estimated to have 34 times the impact as carbon dioxide on global warming (5, 6).
It’s currently estimated that each person on the planet wastes a staggering 428–858 pounds (194–389 kg) of food per year, on average (7Trusted Source).
Reducing food waste is one of the easiest ways to decrease your carbon footprint. Planning meals ahead of time, saving leftovers, and buying only what you need go a long way towards saving food.
2. Ditch the plastic
Using less plastic is an important part of transitioning to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Plastic wrapping, plastic bags, and plastic storage containers are commonly used by consumers and the food industry alike to pack, ship, store, and transport food.
Yet, single-use plastic is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (8Trusted Source, 9).
Here are some tips to use less plastic:
Forego plastic bags and plastic wrap when purchasing fresh produce.
Bring your own grocery bags to the store.
Drink from reusable water bottles — and don’t buy bottled water.
Store food in glass containers.
Purchase less take-out food, as it’s often packed in Styrofoam or plastic.
3. Eat less meat
Research shows that reducing your meat intake is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint (1Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
In a study in 16,800 Americans, diets that released the most greenhouse gasses were highest in meat from beef, veal, pork, and other ruminants. Meanwhile, the diets lowest in greenhouse gas emissions were also lowest in meat (10Trusted Source).
Studies from around the world support these findings (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
This is because the emissions from livestock production — especially beef and dairy cattle — represent 14.5% of the globe’s human-induced greenhouse gas emissions (14).
You can try limiting your meat dishes to one meal per day, going meat-free one day per week, or testing out vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.
4. Try plant-based protein
Eating more plant-based protein can dramatically cut your greenhouse gas emissions.
In one study, people with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions had the highest intake of plant-based proteins, including legumes, nuts, and seeds — and the lowest intake of animal proteins (10Trusted Source).
Still, you don’t need to cut animal protein from your diet completely.
One study in 55,504 people found that people who ate medium amounts of meat per day — 1.8–3.5 ounces (50–100 grams) — had a significantly lower carbon footprint than those who ate more than 3.5 ounces (100 grams) per day (15Trusted Source).
For reference, a serving of meat is around 3 ounces (85 grams). If you regularly eat more than that each day, try swapping in more plant-based proteins, such as beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds.
5. Cut back on dairy
Cutting back on dairy products, including milk and cheese, is another way to reduce your carbon footprint.
One study in 2,101 Dutch adults revealed that dairy products were the second largest contributor to individual greenhouse gas emissions — behind only meat (16Trusted Source).
Other studies likewise conclude that dairy production is a major contributor to climate change. Dairy cattle and their manure emit greenhouse gasses like methane, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and ammonia (1Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
In fact, because cheese takes so much milk to produce, it’s associated with greater greenhouse gas emissions than animal products like pork, eggs, and chicken (20Trusted Source).
To get started, try eating less cheese and replacing dairy milk with plant-based alternatives like almond or soy milk.
6. Eat more fiber-rich foods
Eating more fiber-rich foods not only improves your health but may also reduce your carbon footprint.
A study in 16,800 Americans found that the diets lowest in greenhouse gas emissions were high in fiber-rich plant foods and low in saturated fats and sodium (10Trusted Source).
These foods may help keep you full, naturally limiting your intake of items with a heavy carbon load.
Plus, adding more fiber to your diet may improve your digestive health, help balance your gut bacteria, promote weight loss, and protect against illnesses like heart disease, colorectal cancer, and diabetes (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
7. Grow your own produce
Growing your own produce in a community garden or your backyard is associated with numerous benefits, including reduced stress, better diet quality, and improved emotional wellbeing (26Trusted Source).
Cultivating a plot of land, no matter the size, can reduce your carbon footprint as well.
That’s because growing fruits and vegetables reduces your use of plastic packaging and your dependency on produce transported long distances (27Trusted Source).
Practicing organic farming methods, recycling rainwater, and composting may further reduce your environmental impact (28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).
8. Don’t eat excess calories
Eating more calories than your body needs may promote weight gain and related illnesses. What’s more, it’s linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions (31Trusted Source).
A study in 3,818 Dutch people demonstrated that those with higher greenhouse gas emissions consumed more calories from food and beverages than those who had low greenhouse-gas-emitting diets (32Trusted Source).
Likewise, a study in 16,800 Americans noted that those with the highest greenhouse gas emissions consumed 2.5 times more calories than people with the lowest emissions (10Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that this only applies to people who are overeating, not to those who are eating enough calories to maintain a healthy body weight.
Your calorie needs depend on your height, age, and activity level. If you’re unsure whether you’re consuming too many calories, consult a dietitian or healthcare professional.
Some options to reduce your calorie intake include cutting out nutrient-poor, calorie-rich foods like candy, soda, fast food, and baked goods.
9. Purchase local food
Supporting local farmers is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Buying locally lowers your dependence on food transported vast distances and may increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, helping offset your carbon emissions.
Eating seasonal foods and supporting organic growers are additional ways to minimize your footprint. That’s because food produced out of season is typically imported or takes more energy to grow due to the need for heated greenhouses (33Trusted Source).
Furthermore, switching to local, sustainably produced animal products like eggs, poultry, and dairy can slash your carbon footprint.
You may likewise gain a greater appreciation for the unique foods native to your region.
The bottom line
Revolutionizing your diet is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint that can boost your health as well.
By making simple changes like eating fewer animal products, using less plastic, eating more fresh produce, and decreasing your food waste, you can cut your personal greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
Keep in mind that efforts that seem small can make a big difference. You can even bring your neighbors and friends along for the ride.