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What Is A Climatarian Diet? Can It Save The World?

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What Is A Climatarian Diet? Can It Save The World?

Eat & Drink

Want to eat more sustainably? The climatarian diet could be just what you're looking for.

Here's what you need to know about this growing eco trend.

Francesca Brooking

Wed 15 Dec 2021

Climatarianism is a word that’s growing in popularity as more of us start to measure the environmental impact of what’s on our plates.

Typically, eating more sustainably is attributed to going vegan or vegetarian to cut out meat consumption, but in reality, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Enter the climatarian diet.

Read on as the pebble team dive into:

  • what this new trend really means
  • why it’s considered more eco-friendly
  • and the food you can eat when following this diet

Here’s what you need to know.

A harvest of fruit and vegetables on a wooden board

Discover why a climatarian diet can help you eat more sustainably

What is the climatarian diet?

In a nutshell, the climatarian diet is about eating with the planet in mind.

It’s a predominantly plant-based diet focusing on whole rather than processed food.

The main difference between climatarianism and veganism is that it doesn’t rule out meat consumption or animal products, encouraging you to reduce them instead.

Plant foods often have a smaller carbon footprint than meat, but eating fruits and vegetables that have been flown around the world increases transportation emissions too.

Instead, it’s about eating local and seasonal produce.

And beyond the plate, it’s about reducing plastic packaging, limiting food waste and choosing sustainable food brands and businesses.

Person holding up freshly harvested carrots. Eat seasonally for aclimatarian diet
“The greenhouse gases associated with food waste in the UK are the equivalent of those produced by 10 million cars”

Why is a climatarian diet better for the environment?

A climatarian diet could reduce your CO2 emissions by 1.5 tonnes a year.

That’s because you’re drastically reducing the carbon emissions caused by growing or producing, processing and transportation.

Making more conscious decisions about your diet is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to cut your carbon footprint.

Particularly as food production contributes to around 37% of global greenhouse emissions with animal-based foods producing twice as much as plant-based ones.

"The greenhouse gases associated with food waste in the UK are the equivalent of those produced by 10 million cars.

While diets high in meat, dairy and food eaten out of season have a disproportionate environmental impact" says Mark Breen, Senior Creative Partner at environmental charity Hubbub.

Climatarianism is also a vote for more ethical agriculture as it focuses on local, seasonal and regenerative systems rather than intensive farming.

A field of growing crops at golden hour

Eating a climatarian diet is voting for regenerative farming systems

What are the health benefits of a climatarian diet?

The climatarian diet isn’t just good for the planet. It has some top health benefits for you too.

The lack of processed food and artificial ingredients are much better for your mind and body.

By default, you’re also limiting your intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats.

Processed meats in particular have been linked to a whole swarth of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and gastrointestinal disorders.

A climatarian diet focused on whole plant-based foods reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases and obesity.

What’s more, you’re eating foods as close to their natural state as possible so they’re much more nutrient-rich.

"Eating locally and seasonably is also beneficial for your health," says Thomas Henri, Nutrition Consultant and Founder of Plant Nutrition Journey.

"One study found that locally sourced broccoli has nearly twice the vitamin C content than broccoli which has travelled some distance."

A bowl of vegetables and eggs
“Do eat grass-fed meat and dairy products from animals that are part of a regenerative farming system”

Can climatarians eat meat?

Climate-friendly diets are typically attributed to veganism on the whole and that’s understandable when plant-based food products account for 29% of the food industry’s total carbon footprint in comparison to the 57% from animal-based foods.

However, depending on what you eat, being vegan isn’t always the most sustainable choice.

For example, avocados!

Why are avocados bad for the planet?

Avocados use up a huge amount of water and they're also flown in from places like Mexico and South America, giving them a huge food miles footprint if you buy them in the UK.

And as for ethics? Although growing avocados can be a lucrative business, it’s attracted criminals and cartels who threaten farmers for their land and money.

Kenya has also banned the export of avocado varieties to curb skyrocketing prices and local shortages on home soil.

It’s for these reasons cutting out meat is optional for climatarianism.

For those who would still like to eat meat, it’s recommended that you cut your intake down so that meat is more on the periphery than the main focus of your diet.

This could look like adopting more plant-based meals throughout the week such as Meatless Mondays or Plant-Based Weekdays.

It’s also about what type of meat you eat - so swapping out lamb and beef for chicken, ideally sourced from local butchers rather than intensive farms.

In fact, switching beef for chicken can cut your carbon footprint by nearly half.

“My advice would be don’t eat grain-fed meat from intensive farmed livestock systems,” says Patrick Holden, CEO of Sustainable Food Trust.

“But do eat grass-fed meat and dairy products from animals that are part of a regenerative farming system. And critically, know the difference between the two.”

If you like fish and seafood, go for ones that are sustainably caught.

If possible, avoid farmed fish as the waste it causes pollutes the surrounding water and seabed. Plus any chemicals and pesticides used contaminate marine life.

Slice of salmon with vegetables on a dark plate

Use the Good Fish Guide to find sustainably sourced fish and seafood

What can you eat as part of a climatarian diet?

Here are some of the key climate-friendly food products to help you eat more sustainably.

Lentils, peas and beans

Lentils, peas and beans are all part of the legume family (ie they grow in pods). They’re highly nutritious, high in fibre and low in fat.

They also make a great meat alternative for dishes like chilli, lasagne and pasta sauces.

Lentils in particular are one of the best sources of climate-friendly and plant-based protein.

And another thing? Growing legumes can make agriculture more sustainable too.

They can convert atmospheric nitrogen into useful nitrates which improves soil health and reduces the need for fertilisers.

For more ideas check out our Sustainable Recipes section.

Huge white bags of beans and lentils

Lentils and beans make excellent meat alternatives

Whole grains

Whole grain products include pasta, brown rice, popcorn, oats, barley and wheat.

They require less processing and water which puts less strain on our environmental resources.

Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet as they’re naturally high in fibre, helping you feel fuller for longer and reduces the temptation to overeat.

They’re also linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems. Porridge is a great example of this.

Bowl of oats on a board with a white cloth napkin

Whole grains are extremely good for you and kind to the planet too!

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are another great source of protein, vitamins and minerals.

They’re versatile too, making delicious additions to sweet and savoury dishes, soups and breakfast toppings and snacks.

The best nuts and seeds are peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Acorns are a fantastic mineral-rich seasonal food source too.

Not every nut and seed is created equal, however.

Avoid almonds and cashews as they have high water and carbon footprints.

Acorns scattered on a white cloth for climatarian diet.

Acorns are a great seasonal addition to the autumn menu!

Seasonal food

Eating a more plant-based diet for the planet is all well and good, but it doesn’t help if your food has come from across the world.

Eating seasonal produce helps reduce the carbon footprint of transportation, processing and packaging as you’re eating more locally. You’re also supporting local farmers and producers and helping improve soil health.

“Buy vegetables that are in season rather than buying strawberries at Christmas from the other side of the world,” says Holden.

Use the seasonal food calendar on Eat the Seasons to help you include more seasonal produce.

The Food Miles Calculator is also another great resource to work out how far your food has travelled.

Person harvesting a green leaved plant from the earth
“Buy vegetables that are in season rather than buying strawberries at Christmas from the other side of the world”

Responsible palm oil

Palm oil is tricky.

On the one hand, it contributes to deforestation, wildlife habitat loss, soil erosion and higher carbon emissions.

On the other hand, it’s not as simple as cutting it out completely.

Palm oil is in everything from bread to chocolate and cosmetics. It also has a much higher yield than other alternatives for the amount of land and resources used, so it’s ultimately better for the environment.

Look for products with RSPO certified sustainable palm oil instead as it guarantees that it comes from responsible sources.

Check out this app which can tell you which supermarkets products have palm oil.

Bowl of oil, palm fruit and fronds

RSPO certified palm oil is still the more sustainable option

Tea, coffee and chocolate

And what about the nation’s favourite drinks and indulgences?

Growing Arabica coffee in places like Brazil or Vietnam and exporting it to the UK has on average a carbon footprint equivalent to 15.33 kg per kilogram of coffee.

Want to know more? Is Coffee Bad For The Environment? 7 Problem Areas For The Coffee Industry

If you choose coffee from Fairtrade and sustainable suppliers, that figure could fall to 3.51 kg of CO₂ equivalent per kg of coffee.

The same principles apply to tea and chocolate.

Unsustainable tea and cocoa plantations contribute to loss of biodiversity, an increase in soil erosion and fertilisers pollute waterways.

Choose ethical brands that support sustainable agriculture and for hot drinks, only boil the amount of water you need.

Also we've done a lot of the hard work for you! See below.

Coffee cherries growing on a plant

Do think about where your coffee, tea and chocolate come from

Think beyond your plate

Being a climatarian is about thinking of the whole picture not just about where your food comes from, the miles it travelled and the resources used in its production.

It’s about choosing food that’s not wrapped in plastic, buying in bulk or loose to cut down on packaging, reducing food waste, composting food scraps, freezing leftovers, walking or cycling to the shop instead of driving…

These all contribute to a more climate-friendly diet.

“Eating more seasonal and local vegetables and less and better meat and dairy, while reducing food waste are the best things you can do to eat better for you and the environment," says Breen.

What's Your Carbon Footprint? Dine Differently For The Planet

Mason jars of dry food on a shelf for climatarian diet.

Using zero waste shops is a great way to reduce excess packaging

Tools and apps to help you be a climatarian

Being more climatarian with what you eat doesn’t have to be a stab in the dark every time you’re at the supermarket.

There are plenty of tools and apps to help such as:

Olio

The go-to food-sharing app to help reduce food waste. Looking for a particular ingredient? Have food you’re not going to eat? You can do it all on Olio. It’s free to use too.

Evocco

This app lets you scan your supermarket receipt and score the total carbon footprint it has. You can also get handy tips on reducing it. Take it further by offsetting your supermarket shop.

Person holding green rhubarb leaves

Have surplus food? Use Olio to make sure it goes to a good home

Giki

Another handy app that helps you cut your carbon footprint except the difference is it takes into account your entire lifestyle.

It then gives you steps you can take to be more green in different areas of your life.

The Good Fish Guide

You can be a climatarian and eat fish. You just need to know which ones are sustainable. Luckily, the Good Fish Guide by the Marine Conservation Society can help you follow an ethical diet.

The tool gives fish and seafood a sustainability rating so you know exactly which ones to go for and ones to avoid.

Food Miles Calculator

This is a handy tool that lets you work out how far your food has travelled to get to your plate.

Person holding a paper bag with red apples

Use the Food Miles Calculator to find out where your food has travelled from

Lifesum

Lifesum is a healthy living app that allows you to follow diets and create tailored meal plans. If you’re feeling stuck for climatarian recipe ideas, you can get started with its suggested 7-day meal plan.

Gousto

If you’re looking for easy climate-friendly recipe kits, B Corp certified Gousto meals could reduce your carbon emissions by 23%.

Eat Green

For more eco recipe ideas, check out Eat Green by Melissa Hemsley.

It has over 100 recipes that champion sustainability by using local, seasonal ingredients, reducing food waste and adding meat and dairy as optional extras.

A recipe book with lettuce leaves on it.

Get inspired to eat more sustainably with Melissa's recipe book

Ultimately, the climatarian diet is about eating with the intention to reduce the carbon footprint in your diet.

It’s about doing better rather than being perfect.

The reality is, the majority of the carbon footprint in the food industry doesn't lie with the consumer.

The industry still has a long way to go in terms of sustainability.

For Holden, that could look like an easy to understand labelling scheme where all “farmers use the same way of measuring their sustainability with a score that could include whether the product is climate-friendly, nature-friendly, animal welfare friendly and whether it’s Fairtrade.

But for now, the climatarian diet is a stepping stone towards taking control of what we eat, eating more in line with our ethics, voting for those in the industry that are making a difference and having a positive individual impact we can feel good about.

Read more. Do more...

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