BBCFocus_309_2

Five foods that could save the planet (and five more that definitely won’t)

The never-ending deluge of information about our food choices can be baffling, so what are the best foods to eat if we want to save the planet, and which should we avoid?

mussels

Eat more: Mussels

These shellfish can be grown on ropes, causing minimal damage to the marine ecosystem. But they can also absorb carbon from the environment to grow their shells. What’s more, being filter feeders they require no feed input whatsoever. They’re full of fatty acids and vitamins too.

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beef

Eat less: Beef

While there are issues with farmed meat in general, beef is in a league of its own. One study estimated that beef requires 28 times as much land as the same amount of poultry and pork, as well as 11 times as much water and it produces five times as much greenhouse gases.

legumes

Eat more: Legumes

Compared to other protein sources, legumes – beans, peas and lentils – require little water or fertiliser, and their carbon footprint is low. These plants even ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, converting it into ammonia that other plants need to grow.

soy

Eat less: Soy

Linked with everything from groundwater contamination to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, soy is high up in the rankings of worst foods for the environment. But it’s not the vegan munching on a soy burger who should feel bad – around 75 per cent of all soy is fed to livestock.

talapia

Eat more: Tilapia

These freshwater fish can be grown in closed tank systems, avoiding the water pollution usually associated with fish farms. As they are not carnivores like many commercial fish species, they don’t need to be fed fishmeal, which means their diet doesn’t deplete wild fish stocks.

tuna

Eat less: Tuna

It’s possible to purchase ‘ethical’ tuna, but it’s difficult to navigate the various species and fishing methods in order to ensure it is sustainably sourced. Skipjack is good, Bluefin is bad. Pole-and-line is good, long line is bad. Your best bet is probably to stick to safer options if you fancy some fish.

soft-cheese

Eat more: Soft cheese

Cheese generates the most greenhouse gases after red meat, which is something that non-vegan vegetarians ought to bear in mind. However, if you must eat it, opt for the other varieties as they contain less milk, and tend to require less energy during the production phase.

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sugar

Eat less: Sugar

The huge quantities of sugar produced around the world have a significant environmental impact. Sugar cane is one of the world’s thirstiest crops, and the conversion of sensitive habitats like Vietnam’s Mekong Delta into sugar monoculture has seriously harmed biodiversity.

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