Sustainable Food Shopping

Regardless of your reason to shop sustainably, you can help benefit the planet with a few simple habit tweaks. Here’s how.

Vegetables are a staple of sustainable food shopping
Woman holing a tomato

Regardless of your reason to shop sustainably, you can help benefit the planet with a few simple habit tweaks. Reducing packaging, shopping locally, aiming for organic, and eating in season will help decrease your carbon footprint.

Sustainable food shopping: where to start 

Food contributes a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions which are bad for the environment and our health. You can start making a push towards sustainability by exercising your food shopping one (non-carbon footprint) step at a time. Sustainable shopping comes down to buying only what you need and reframing your thoughts around waste. 

Waste-ful to waste-not 

In the United States, food waste is estimated to be as high as 30-40% of the total food supply. (1) This food loss happens because of production problems, over-ordering at the retail level, or as a result of spoiling. Consumers contribute to food loss when they buy or cook more than they need and throw away the leftovers.

One of the best ways you can prevent food waste is to pre-plan a meal plan and recipes for the week. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is via a meal planning app, such as Lifesum. When you go shopping for your recipes, try not to go when you’re hungry because even if you have planned meals, you may end up buying more than you intended. 

Use leftovers as motivation for meals. Instead of tossing extra bits of food, such as extra pasta from dinner, turn it into a new meal like Tuna and pasta salad for lunch the next day. You can also practice waste-free cooking methods by saving extra vegetables, including the tops of carrots, or using a parmesan cheese rind to make a tasty soup stock. When you have extra fruits and vegetables, freeze them and use them for smoothies. 

Focus on these lower footprint foods  

Sustainable foods are produced in a way that doesn’t harm the environment as much. This includes protecting biodiversity (variety of life) and natural resources. (2)

Sustainable ingredients

Eating more plant-based foods is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the environment. Greenhouse gasses can impact the atmosphere and our health. Conventionally produced animals have a carbon footprint of about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. (3)

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that a shift towards more plant-based foods can reduce environmental impact. One option is to fill your meals with legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and some nuts. In addition, they recommend limiting refined grains, such as white bread, pasta, and added sugars for overall health. (4)

Another ingredient that’s gaining popularity in the sustainability department is insects. They are high in protein and nutrients while having a significantly lower impact on the environment when compared to meat. Learn more here: Lifesum Becomes First Health App to Integrate Insects

Eat in-season

Eating foods that are in season offers better prices, freshness, and a reduced environmental impact. When foods are grown and harvested out of their natural growing season, they are often are treated with ripening chemicals or heat to make them ripen faster, but this can compromise their nutritional content. One study found that when broccoli was grown during its peak season, it had higher vitamin C content. (5)

Seasonality varies, depending on where you live. Check out a seasonable guide for your area, such as the Seasonal Food Guide for the US.

Organic vs. conventional

Conventional farming practices use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, excess water, and fossil fuels that can damage the environment. Organic methods ensure that the farming techniques are less harmful to the environment via decreased pollution, less water, reducing limited soil erosion, and using smaller amounts of energy. (6) If you have the capabilities, buying organic foods can help the environment in some ways. 

Local produce 

Eating certain foods that are naturally grown in your local climate means that they have traveled shorter distances. Just think about the lengths it takes to bring a fruit or vegetable from another country to yours. Also, when food has to travel further, it loses some nutrients. The nutritional value of fruits and vegetables is highest immediately after harvesting and slowly declines over time. (7)

Simple sustainable switches 

Sustainable food shopping goes beyond just the food. You can shop sustainably by skipping single-use bags that you buy at the store. Bring your reusable shopping bags to carry your groceries. You’ll also save a bit of cash each time you do so! 

Many foods are wrapped in plastic. Whenever possible, buy in bulk to reduce packaging. If you do buy an item with plastic packaging, check the type of plastic it's made from and recycle appropriately. 

Another way to make a sustainable switch is to create a meal plan. This will help you buy a bunch of food that you use instead of buying things out of impulse, which will most likely be wasted. Want a healthy meal plan tailored to your meal preferences? Download the Lifesum app today! 

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All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.