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What to Eat for a Greener Diet

posted Apr 28, 2016, 10:11 AM by Julia Quam   [ updated Apr 28, 2016, 10:12 AM ]

All month long, we’ve been celebrating Earth Day by discussing how you can make greener food choices. Our blog posts have mostly focused on how you can cut back on food waste: We’ve covered repurposing and preserving ingredients left over from a previous recipe, making use of whatever you have on hand by learning to cook without a recipe, and composting food scraps to nourish your vegetable garden.

In addition to how much food you waste, the types of foods you choose to eat affect how green your diet is. Evidence suggests that plant-based foods may be more sustainable. For example, in their scientific report, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found moderate evidence that an overall dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is associated with less impact on the environment. The committee gives examples of health-promoting plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.  According to this article from the Harvard School of Public Health, a more sustainable American diet would be higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in highly processed foods and meat. Greenhouse gas emissions and the diversity on our farm landscapes both play a role.  

You probably already know you should be eating more fruits and vegetables and less highly processed food. Loading up on fresh fruits and veggies at our salad bars is a great place to start. Another great option is to try including more plant-based protein sources in your diet. Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, including a wider variety of protein sources in your diet has health benefits according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

You probably think of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products when you think of protein, but plenty of plant-based foods are also in the protein group. Back in February, we wrote about the nutrition and sustainability of benefits of pulses, which include beans, peas, and lentils. Pulses offer a lot of nutrition in a tiny package: they’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy soluble fiber. To include more pulses in your diet, try adding them to soups or salads, snacking on hummus or edamame, or incorporating protein-rich soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, or soymilk into your favorite recipes.

Nuts and seeds are also part of the protein group. In addition to their protein content, they tend to be rich in hearty healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try spreading an apple or banana with peanut butter, adding walnuts to your oatmeal, topping your yogurt with pumpkin seeds, or snacking on a handful of almonds.

Although they’re not part of the protein group, many whole grains also provide plenty of protein. Amaranth, kamut, quinoa, spelt, wheat berries, and wild rice are some of the highest protein whole grains. Whole wheat bread and pasta are also good sources of protein.  Learn more about whole grains and protein here.  

Not sure how to cook with plant-based protein sources? Scroll through our recipes for meals and side dishes that incorporate beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains or stop by and ask one of our dietitians when you see them in your cafeteria.  

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