In the age of organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, humanely-raised, locavore-approved food, the notion of “eating clean” can seem daunting. Balancing nutrient content with calorie content is hard enough alone. Factor in a modest grocery budget and concerns for the planet, and the act of eating virtuously appears next to impossible.
The good news: Unless you’re eating fast food for every meal, a dramatic diet makeover probably isn’t necessary. Focus instead on small, simple changes–like these 10 smart food swaps–to improve the health benefits and environmental sustainability of your daily diet.
Try: Hemp Milk
Instead of: Almond Milk
Once reserved for vegan cafes and hipster coffee shops, almond milk has become the non-dairy drink of choice. But almond milk delivers only a fraction of the nutrients of whole nuts because it’s essentially just a small amount of pulverized almonds mixed with water. Coupled with the environmental impact of the almond industry (a single almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to grow), switching up your dairy alternative makes sense. Enter hemp milk. Derived from the sustainable hemp plant, rich in vitamin D, calcium, protein and omega-3s, it’s a high-minded swap worth trying.
Try: Canned Sardines
Instead of: Canned Tuna
Commercial tuna fishing is hugely disruptive to marine species and their habitats. Most American brands, including bestselling Bumble Bee, do not offer ocean-safe products or disclose how their tuna is caught. Sardines, packed with protein and more nutrients than you can shake a rod at, are an excellent alternative. They also happen to be one of the world’s most sustainable fish species. If you simply can’t live without tuna, look for pole-and-line or troll-caught varieties from brands like Wild Planet and American Tuna.
Instead of: Walnuts
Did you know it takes a whopping 4.9 gallons of water to produce a single walnut? As a record drought continues in California, the world’s #1 nut-producing region, consider a less thirsty alternative: the pistachio. They require less water to grow and, unlike other nuts, can tolerate stretches of time with no water at all. Bonus: they’re also lower in calories.
Instead of: Butter
It might sound strange, but switching up applesauce for butter in baked goods can be a great way to help save calories and the planet. Commercial dairy farms are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution; butter is a significant source of calories and saturated fat. Replacing butter with an equal amount of applesauce in treats like cookies and cakes is a no-brainer. You’ll get moist, flavorful results every time, and we bet you can’t taste the difference.
Instead of: Beef
Most Americans don’t consider rabbit a supper staple, but they should. It’s an excellent source of lean protein with a mild flavor that’s versatile enough to work in a wide range of dishes. Famously good at breeding, rabbits are easy to raise and use a fraction of the land and natural resources required for cattle. In fact, the amount of resources required to produce one pound of beef can produce six pounds of rabbit meat.
Try: Swiss Chard or Collard Greens
Instead of: Mesclun or Spring Mix
Bagged salad mixes might be a tempting weeknight shortcut, but they also cut out valuable nutrients. What most people consider to be the building blocks of a healthy salad (mesclun, spring mix, iceberg) is really little more than colorful, crunchy water. Opt instead for dark greens like collards, Swiss chard and kale which pack way more nutrients per bite and cost a fraction of the price.
Instead of: Swordfish or Grouper
When it comes to seafood, the list of sustainability concerns is lengthy. More than 100 species of fish are currently listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Topping the list are swordfish and grouper, which have been dangerously overfished for food and sport over the last three decades. Try swapping in cobia, which tastes almost exactly like a cross between the two, with a firm, meaty texture that’s great on the grill.
Try: Agave Syrup or Honey
Instead of: High Fructose Corn Syrup
Americans consume a staggering quantity of sugar each year, much of it in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Odds are, if a food contains large amounts of the stuff, it’s heavily processed and full of other not-so-good-for-you ingredients. Corn farming accounts for a disproportionately large sector of American agriculture, leaving behind an equally large carbon footprint. Look instead for products sweetened with minimally processed agave syrup or honey.
Instead of: Imported Shrimp
What’s so bad about eating imported shrimp? It’s hard to say exactly because only about 2% is inspected by American regulatory agencies. What we do know is that imported shrimp can be contaminated with banned chemicals, pesticides and even animal waste. Commercial shrimp farms also destroy coastal mangrove forests, which are a critical buffer against hurricanes and flooding and home to many animal species. Crayfish are a tasty, and often more affordable, swap sustainably raised in the USA.
Try: Porcini Mushrooms
Instead of: Black Truffles
Long touted as one of the world’s most delicious (and expensive) foods, the black truffle is starting to lose its cachet. One major factor is a recent influx of inferior (what some incensed chefs call “imposter”) truffles from China. Previously used as pig feed, Chinese truffles have flooded the market in North America at prices on par with their more delicious European counterparts. Chinese truffle farms use huge quantities of water and their full environmental impact is still unknown. Why not opt for rich, savory porcinis instead? These pungent ’shrooms grown abundantly in the U.S. and are available both fresh and dried, year-round.