Eco worrier: Can a plant-based diet help to reduce your carbon footprint?

This month, our Eco Living Editor, Ellen Tout, explores the environmental impact of our food and how a vegan diet contributes to the bigger picture

by Ellen Tout


5 minute read

There are many reasons for trying a plant-based diet – from health to ethics and sustainability. Studies show that one of the most effective things a person can do to lower their carbon footprint is to avoid all animal products. The reality is that meat and dairy farming contribute to global warming, pollution, deforestation, land degradation and loss of native species. Adopting a varied vegan diet, however, produces less emissions and uses about a third of the land and three times less water. 

Flex your veggie muscles

I’ve followed a vegan diet for three years but, like all change, it was a process rather than an overnight switch. I’d encourage you to first try flexitarianism and build up in manageable steps. Could you commit to meat-free Mondays? How can you be more creative in the kitchen? Perhaps try incorporating different foods, such as lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. In most research about plant-based diets, the key word is ‘varied’, so enjoy experimenting. Imagine the positive impact if we all replaced meat and dairy with plant-based meals a couple of times a week. The Vegan Society’s website is a great resource for ideas, information and recipes. The BBC mockumentary Carnage could also help you rethink your food mindset. Plus, I’d recommend joining your local vegan Facebook group.

However, a vegan diet is not perfectly green. Look out for products containing palm oil – it’s often added to give a creamy taste – and avoid plastic, processed goods. Of the plant-based milks, oat has the lowest environmental impact. Cut your food’s emissions further by buying locally, composting scraps, compleating (eating the whole edible part of the fruit or vegetable) and avoiding waste. I also recommend taking a quality vegan multivitamin (with added B12) and ensuring your diet is balanced and diverse. Beans and quinoa, for example, are protein-rich, and calcium is found in broccoli, greens and squashes.

Research has highlighted the important role pulses, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, play in creating a sustainable future for farming. They are great sources of protein, iron and fibre, and are kinder to the planet. Pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops – they literally make the soil healthier and don’t need pesticides or chemicals. Plants are magical. Why not view veganism as an experiment and see where it takes you?

Easy does it

Melissa Hemsley’s new book of ‘flexitarian recipes for planetfriendly eating’ focuses on UK-grown ingredients, cutting food waste and simple veggie swaps. Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £13.34)

Chop-chop dinner

This is one of my favourite cookbooks, bursting with easy-to-follow, tasty and accessible recipes. 15 Minute Vegan by Katy Beskow (Quadrille Publishing, £8.71) 

For more on plant-based eating, go to psychologies.co.uk/real-eco; vegansociety.com; bosh.tv

Email your questions about sustainable living or planet-saving advice to ellen.tout@psychologies.co.uk with ‘Eco worrier’ in the subject line. Follow @Ellen_Tout

Image: Getty

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