Alright tree huggers! If you’re ready to take your diet to expert green level, follow these simple tips about how to eat, stock your kitchen, store your food, and save it from going bad or heading to the landfill.

The life cycle of food includes the production, processing, transportation, storage, retail, and consumption and disposal of that given food. Coming up are tips for each of these practices.

How to eat

1. Eat less overall – in developed countries like the US it’s not uncommon for us to overeat. This leads to weight gain that could lead to obesity, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Many resources go into growing, processing, and transporting foods – water use, land use, potential fertilizer and pesticide use, hard work by farmers and farm workers, tractors and farm equipment, gas and oil, refrigeration of foods on farms/trucks during transport, trucks/planes/boats for moving food, vitamins and minerals to potentially fortify foods (like refined grains, milk and plant “mylks”, specialty bars & powders, some snack foods), store space, food packaging… By eating food that meets your needs most of the time, you are contributing to a healthier body and planet.

2. Eat less meat, eggs, seafood, and dairy foods – these foods are responsible for more greenhouse gases, more land use, more water use, and more nitrogen and phosphorus application per serving compared to plant protein sources like nuts, seeds, beans, and peas. Watch your seafood consumption as many areas are being overfished, affecting the food chain overall. You can get your protein from these foods in plants (like beans, nuts, seeds, and peas) as well as other nutrients from a balanced primarily plant-based diet.

3. Eat more legumes and tree nuts – these foods offer healthy fats, fiber, protein, and often more vitamins and minerals per gram compared to meat. Plus they use much less water, land, fertilizer, pesticides, and energy than beef.

4. Eat less processed foods and more whole foods – processed foods usually have added salt, preservatives, sugar and/or food colorings. Plus the processing in itself tends to remove natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers that are naturally present in food. Try to eat whole foods instead or foods that are not refined. Try making your processed favorites at home if you can.

How to shop

1. Buy less processed foods – energy goes into processing of foods – just one more step added to the resources used in order to make food. Processed foods also tend to come in lots of packaging. And it’s not good for you typically so limit these foods.

2. Buy more whole foods – they’re better for you, undergo less if any processing, and can often be found package-free (in the produce section if you use your own bags or in the bulk section)

3. Buy foods in bulk with your own cloth/mesh bags – or your reused plastic produce bags from a previous trip. If you don’t have bulk bins accessible to you, try buying bigger bags or cans of essentials to you (rice, pasta, dry beans, frozen fruit/veggies, meats) – just try and make sure you buy the amount you will be sure to use before it goes bad. That way you will not waste food or money you spent on that food!

4. Buy things you know you will eat – sometimes we want to try new foods or recipes and that is all good and well! If you end up not liking that food or recipe, gift it to a friend or if its unopened you can donate it to a food bank, church, or food drive. On the other hand, if you know you don’t like broccoli and you keep buying broccoli but it is laid to rest in your veggie crisper, maybe stop buying that pesky broccoli!

5. Buy local – try to buy in your country, even in your state or county if possible. You can try to connect with local farmers at farmers markets and sometimes smaller grocery stores that connect with local farmers. This is becoming more mainstream as farmer’s markets and buying local popularity is growing.

6. Buy in-season – Buying in season means the food tastes better, looks better, and the price is better! Supporting in-season allows food to be grown the way it would grow out on it’s own in nature, where the temperature, rainfall, wind, and climate overall is just right for the perfect yield. We have all bought strawberries out of season at some point…and they aren’t great. That’s because they are best in spring and summer!

7. Buy organic when possible – it’s more pricey and there is usually not as big of a selection, but it’s the better option for the environment. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides aren’t allowed, so alternative means for pest control and soil health are used instead which is better for our planet in so many ways.

8. Buy the ugly produce and products with damaged packaging (as long as it isn’t open and exposing food contents) – many people won’t and those foods may end up unsold and thrown out by the stores. It tastes the same, I promise! Consider subscribing to “ugly food boxes” if they’re available in your area.

How to stock your kitchen and store your food

1. Buy kitchen tools and appliances secondhand – secondhand shops and garage sales are almost always full of them. You can also check out online sale groups, like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace – even Ebay (but shipping charges may eat your money up).

2. Buy kitchen appliances energy-efficient – if you are in the market for something shiny and new with hopes of a lower electric bill, invest in newer energy-efficient appliances like a fridge, microwave, or stove/oven combo. Ask yourself what appliances you really even need. A toaster, a full size oven with 6 burners on the stovetop, a blender? Buy what is right for you/your family and leave the rest behind.

3. Consider these tips for saving energy in the kitchen – Unplug appliances when you are finished using them since sometimes they still use electricity. Also try to keep a full fridge as it helps the fridge use less power to keep everything cold inside. Don’t lower the temp too much or you will waste energy that way too.

4. Learn proper storage of foods – learn whether foods should be stored in the fridge, in the dark, away from certain foods, in water, in closed containers, or in bags with holes. That way you aren’t having food go bad prematurely and will have less food waste.

5. Eat leftovers – some people are not fans of leftovers and I will never understand why! If it stores well in the fridge, eat it within day or two. Just make sure you are following proper food safety guidelines by cooling and reheating foods properly. Freeze them if you don’t plan on eating leftovers within 48 hours. You can also repurpose your leftovers into a whole new recipe – shows on the Food Network has had chefs do some pretty cool remakes of leftovers!

BONUS ROUND! Your last attempt at keeping it green.

How to save food from waste

1. If fruit and veggies are on the verge of going bad, throw them in a smoothie or a soup.

2. If you know you won’t be able to use all the fruit and veggies that are on the verge of going back, stick them in the freezer for another time or dry/dehydrate them (for chips or dried fruit snacks).

3. Give your leftovers to someone who you know will eat them if you won’t be able to before they spoil.

4. Donate unopened foods you know you won’t use or didn’t like to a food pantry, food bank, food drive, family in need, or church/other center that organizes the such.

5. If all else fails, COMPOST! That way the nutrients in the food are recycled back into soil to nourish the earth and future plants for new food growth.

Missing something from the list? Drop a comment or email me at so I can keep the list growing!

Written by Stacy Ramirez, MS, RDN, LD


PLANETARY HEALTH: The good, the bad, and the diet solution

How can you make the biggest change to shrink your environmental footprint? By what you’re putting in your mouth! Wanting to get or stay healthy in the meantime? You are in the right place with the right dietitian today!

To read more for yourself on the following, see the research article ‘Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems’.

The good:
Increasing crop yields and improving production practices have
contributed to reductions in hunger, improved life expectancy, falling infant and child mortality rates, and decreased global poverty. Translation: BIG wins all around!

The bad:
Rapid urbanization, increasing incomes, and inadequate accessibility of nutritious foods have led to global shifts to unhealthy diets that are high in calories and heavily-processed and animal source foods. Translation: Things have changed pretty drastically in the last several decades for those of us in high-income countries. On the other hand, so many people are still food insecure or don’t have access to the healthy foods we all require for healthy lives.

The solution:
Planetary health boundaries include the total global amount of cropland use, biodiversity loss, water use, greenhouse-gas emissions, and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that can be due to food production, which can be improved by change in diet (to reference diet – planetary health diet) and change in food production systems. Translation: Basically, our current food production system needs a huge overhaul because the way we make food right now is causing some major stress on mother Earth. That starts with our diets and other systemwide changes. According to the report and its many citations we can’t continue at this rate or we may not all live to see the next century.

Report focuses:
1. Final consumption (healthy diets), 2. Food production (sustainable food production

Most of us in the US and dietitians can help with changes in final consumption. Farmers, advocates for changes in government and food policies, environmental scientists, food scientists, and even chefs can help with food production.

Considering I am a dietitian, my focus primarily lies in the area #1 – food consumption. And that is how I strive to help you, my reader who I am so thankful is here right now – whether a dietitian, advocate for healthy eating, or food consumer (aka everyone, so spread the word!).

“Food systems are comprised of all the elements (eg, environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, and institutions) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food.” – EAT-Lancet report ‘Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems’

So where does that leave you to help?
Mainly in preparation and consumption of food – by choosing whole foods with minimal processing, few animal products, even fewer red meats and refined grains/sugars, and by eating the food you buy versus letting it go bad and go to waste.

Curious about how you can also help with the food production side of things? You can help by buying local, organic, and in-season foods. Also, did you know there are ___ species of edible plants? Go ahead and pick up a few odd varieties of your fave veggies too, which helps promote biodiversity. Vote with your money, honey!

So planetary health diet, what is it exactly? Some factors (eg, age, sex, disease state, exercise) may set you apart from the suggested serving sizes below, but more or less your average day should go something like this:

If you have a food scale handy, super! Of you’re like the 99% of people who don’t, here is a breakdown of the diet NOT in the metric system:

Whole grain rice/wheat/corn/other grain: 8 oz precooked weight (other measurements vary per grain eaten)
Potatoes or cassava*: 2 oz (1/4 cup)
All vegetables*: 11 oz
Dark green veg: 4 oz (~2 cups)
Red and orange veg: 4 oz (1/2-1 cup)
Other veg: 4 oz (1/2-1 cup)
All fruit*: 7 oz (3/4-1 cup)
Whole milk*: 8 oz (1 cup) or dairy equivalent varies (1 oz cheese, 5 oz yogurt for example)
Beef/lamb*: 0.25 oz
Pork*: 0.25 oz
Chicken/other poultry*: 1 oz
Egg*: 0.5 oz (about 1/6 an egg)
Fish/shellfish*: 1 oz (farmed or wild caught)
Dry beans/lentils/peas*: 2 oz
Soy foods*: 1 oz
Peanuts*: 1 oz
Tree nuts: 1 oz
Palm oil: 1 tsp
Unsaturated oils*: 1.5 tbsp
Lard or tallow: 1 tsp
All sweeteners: 1 oz (8 tsp)

*upper limits for some foods to provide higher end of calorie needs (up to 2500 calories/day)

The following are upper limits of each food group NOT in the metric system measurements:

Potatoes or cassava: up to 4 oz (1/2 cup)
All vegetables: up to 21 oz (with 4 oz each of dark green, red/orange, and other veg)
Fruit: up to 11 oz
Whole milk: up to 16 oz (2 cups) or dairy equivalent (2 oz cheese, 10 oz yogurt for example)
Beef/lamb: up to 0.5 oz
Pork: up to 0.5 oz
Chicken/poultry: up to 2 oz
Egg: up to 1 oz (about 1/3 an egg)
Fish/shellfish: up to 4 oz (farmed or wild caught)
Dry beans/lentils/peas: up to 4 oz
Soy foods: up to 2 oz
Peanuts: up to 3 oz
Unsaturated oils: up to 3 tbsp

Other diet notes:
Many foods are exchangeable for one another, as seen below:
– Beef/lamb exchangeable for pork and vice versa
– Chicken/poultry exchangeable with eggs, fish, and plant protein sources
– Legumes, peanuts, tree nuts, seeds, and soy are interchangeable
Unsaturated oils should include equal parts of each: olive, soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, and peanut oil.
Lard and tallow are optional when pig/cattle are consumed as to put each part of the animal to use, as this can provide energy from fat.

Any food can be eliminated for allergy, religious, personal preference, or preferred dietary pattern like vegan, etc. I don’t recommend eliminate whole food groups like vegetables or grains because they have many health benefits and make up a big part of this diet!

Notes about foods not included in the planetary health diet:

The suggested reference diet did not give ranges for foods like refined grains, salt, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, spices and herbs, plants considered as seafood, insects, consumed amphibians/reptiles, and other unique animals not typically consumed worldwide (things like bison, alligator, rabbit, etc). But some of these foods may be regional or specific to smaller percentages of the global population.

The report touched on insect consumption as a more environmentally friendly protein swap for meat but its questionable if all populations would be open to eating insects regularly. Some traditional diets include regular consumption of insects and have throughout history. However, insects haven’t been well studied for their effects on health either. There have been a few studies showing health benefits of cricket consumption but there are a bunch of other bugs that need more looking into before general recs can be made for everyone.

Algae and in-vitro meat were briefly brought up in the report in the spectrum of potential protein sources but without much detail. Algae contains omega-3 fats, is high in protein, and some varieties are consumed by some people. You can find algae in capsules sold as omega-3 supplements in the US (vegan omega-3 alternative to fish oil omega-3 supplements). In-vitro meat is still pretty far off from popularity and even availability as it is super expensive and newly developed.

So there you have it! Now you know the scoop on the diet being promoted to the whole world.

Want to take your tree-hugging, ocean-saving, animal-loving skills to the next level? Follow these tips:

1. Drink water – out of the tap if it’s safe and in your own reusable bottle.
2. Bring your own reusable produce and grocery bags to the store when you go shopping for food. Or Mason jars if you’re fancy.
3. Shop in the bulk section and fill your own bags/containers.
4. Try to buy condiments, snacks, dried goods, sauces, etc in glass jars, cardboard boxes, paper bags, or tin cans. Or compostable packaging if you’re really lucky.
5. Try your hand at making your own condiments, sauces, snacks, etc to reduce buying in packaging.
6. Buy only what you need so food doesn’t go bad.
7. Plan your meals before you shop to prevent food waste.
8. Pass on grocery delivery services so you can practice many of the tips I just listed above.
9. Bring your own cup or container for to-go foods/drinks if you eat out.
10. Try to dine-in if you eat out. Ordering food to go uses LOADS of plastic packaging.
11. Buy at farmers markets first, then at grocery stores.
12. Buy local, organic, and in-season.
13. Buy new varieties of the foods you normally buy, like a different breed of squash or tomatoes.
14. Buy the “ugly” or “wonky” produce because chances are not many other people will buy it (leading to higher chances it’ll be thrown out) and it tastes the same anyway.
15. Eat your leftovers.
16. If you can’t eat your leftovers in time, freeze them to eat for another day or give them to someone who will be happy to eat them
17. Try to compost. I hope to be able to do this one day!
18. Feed appropriate leftovers to animals who can eat them (chickens, pigs, cattle, dogs, rodents, etc).

You can only do your best, but the world needs all that you can do!

Written by Stacy Ramirez, MS, RDN, LD