A sustainable diet and personal health are tied together. You really can’t have one without the other because eating holistically healthy has a lot in common with reducing your personal carbon footprint. 

Sometimes we feel like we have no control over our impact on the planet, but our diets are different. Every day, three times a day we make a decision about our personal footprint just in the foods we choose to eat. 

When we’re talking about sustainable foods, there are a lot of things that we can do to make ourselves feel better about what we’re eating, but they may not have as large of an impact as we would like to think that they do.

The steps below are the most powerful ways that you can impact change with your diet. 

1. Go Plant-Based

Eat a plant-based diet loaded with organic and local fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Meat, fish, and dairy should be an occasional treat if they’re ever included in your diet. Eating lower on the food chain is the number one step to reducing your impact on the planet in a meaningful way. Livestock takes up land that could be used to grow crops to feed the population. They also release harmful gases in their flatulence and belching like methane gas and ammonia.

2. Choose Whole Foods

Amp up your plant-based diet even more by avoiding processed foods whenever possible. Processed foods are often made with corn and soy, which are for the most part, genetically modified. Genetically modified agriculture uses loads of pesticides, which pollute our groundwater and create dead zones in the soil.

3. Get to Know Your Local Food Economy

Foods that are grown sustainably close to home are easier on the planet than organic foods grown at a massive farm 1,500 miles away from home. This wastes fossil fuels and means that fresh produce loses much of its nutrient value before you ever get to eat it. We’ve become accustomed as a society to wanting what we want when we want it. We import 85 percent of seafood and 60 percent of fresh produce, depending on the season. Instead, get to know your local economy and what’s available in your neck of the woods. 

4. Learn Your Labels

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) sets standards marked by the USDA Certified Organic label. If you see the USDA organic seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content. Organic crops are grown without synthetic fertilizers or genetic engineering. This is healthier for consumers who avoid ingesting pesticide residue and GMO crops. Organic livestock is free of antibiotics, growth-promoting hormones, and feed must be certified organic as well. 

5. Control Food Waste

According to Fitmc, we Americans chuck nearly 15 percent of the food we buy. What a waste! But the good news is, it can be easily prevented. With a little creativity, you can make many a meal from last night’s old news. For example, if you made salsa, a veggie side, or extra meat throw it into an omelet, a wrap, or a stew. It’s my pet peeve when yummy herbs go to waste, and they often do because it seems each recipe calls for a little bit of this and little bit of that. Instead of buying large portions of three different kinds, grow your herbs at home and enjoy the benefits of picking off what you want when you want it.

6. Get Involved

Become involved in organizations that support the causes you believe in; some of my favorites are Environmental Working Group and Farm Sanctuary. Let your voices be heard by contacting your local representatives and keeping yourself up-to-date on new legislation by following the FDA, USDA, and CDC websites.