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8 Food Substitutes You Can Make to Save the Environment

slicing pecan pie on wooden table, overhead view
slicing pecan pie on wooden table, overhead view

Image: Shutterstock/merc67

During the time of our ancestors, they simply just consumed whatever they had grown in their farms. Currently, mentioning the same idea to people living in this day and age is like captioning a horror story, but the notion of not being presented with several choices seems redeeming. It is tough having to navigate the food system in terms of best nutritional selections, but when we throw in making choices regarding the planet’s health as well, it can appear like an even more confusing act.

However, it really doesn’t have to be daunting. Begin with a few swaps and incorporating more to your routing as you go. It’s a great way to adjust to eating in a manner that is great for your body and the planet as well. Here are some places to begin.

Broccoli for asparagus

Asparagus can be said to be the fancy cousin of broccoli. The difference comes in their water usage. Broccoli utilizes 34 gallons of water per pound—approximately similar to the water cauliflower and Brussels sprouts use—whereas asparagus requires 258 gallons of water per pound.

Millet for rice

Millet is also referred to others as “the new quinoa.” Once considered bird food, millet has graduated to trendy superstar. Millet has always been a staple grain all over the planet for decades. So what is so special about the millet? Other than its awesome taste and ease in cooking, it is savagely drought-resistant and uses very little water. As a matter of fact, it has the least water requirement compared to all the other grain. As for rice, it is a very thirsty crop.

A study revealed that in areas of iodine deficiency where millet is a great component of the diet, its ingestion may impart the start of endemic goiter. Therefore, it is advised that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your thyroid concerns before including the grain in your diet. Aside from millet, you can also incorporate amaranth into your menu, which is delicious and needs less agricultural resources compared to rice.

Pecans or hazelnuts for almonds

California’s almond crop consumes 1.1 trillion gallons of water every year for a gallon per nut, and surprisingly California has been undergoing a historic drought. 1.1 trillion gallons of water is not a drop in the bucket. Meantime, pecans and hazelnuts need much less water and both nut crops are grown in areas that don’t have scarcity of water (most nuts are generally thirsty crops). They need to be grown in areas with plenty of rainfall.

Sunflower or safflower oil for palm oil

Cooking oils is tricky since majority have drawbacks. For example, olive oil requires loads of water, canola and soybean crops are mainly GMO, and coconut trees make less as they age. However, palm oil takes the cake. It is responsible for continuous deforestation in Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests in its production hence endangering several species including orangutans. Sunflower and safflower crops are the best bets for cooking oil are, which are generally GMO–free and not especially thirsty.

Legumes for meat

Transitioning to a plant-based diet is not going to take place overnight. Nonetheless, if everyone in the U.S. just skipped meat or cheese one day a week for a year it would be equal to taking 7.6 million cars off the road. Mixing legumes with a grain forms a complete protein compared to meat and is healthier for your body as well, therefore break out the beans and lentils!

Organic, humane and grass-fed eggs and dairy

Organic, humane and grass-fed eggs and dairy have the least environmental effect. Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog organization states that generally these products are the least harmful, most social choices and in some instances, grass-fed and pasture-raised products have also been proven to be more nutritious, and bear less risk of bacterial contamination.

Whole wheat for white

Whether its bread or pasta, it is better to opt for the whole-grain version. Aside from being better for our health, whole-grains are also better for the planet in that the less processing a food undergoes, the least effect it has on resources.

Local berries for goji and acai berries

Just because a trendy berry is grown in the Himalayas does not automatically make it any more glorious than berries grown in your locale. Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries themselves are overflowing with magic. Opt for berries and other antioxidant rich fruits that are grown locally near you and not the imported choices.

This article comes courtesy of our friends at It originally appeared as 8 Food Substitutes You Can Make to Save the Environment.

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  • Reply
    January 2, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Interesting list of substitutions. I would be sad to see my almonds go (I like them much better than hazelnuts), and I would miss açai berries. I like the idea of broccoli for asparagus, leaving asparagus for an occasional treat, since I like it. I’m a big fan of rice, and haven’t had millet in years. I will try it; some of what I end up changing depends on what my husband does or doesn’t like… I’ve already gotten to mainly using whole wheat flour and pastas, and have been using pasture raised eggs. These substitutions are good because the are not difficult to make, and even if one person can’t do all of them, doing several of them will help.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2020 at 7:54 am

    Yes, palm oil production cause deforestation of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia, but the same time 92.54 million hectares allotted for soybeans produce the same amount of oil as 9.16 million hectares of oil palms. Hard problem, which must be solved…

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