Carbon footprint of protein foods

Written by Christina Lampert

There’s a reason behind the massive hype around the two main plant-based meat companies: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. That’s because they are solving a huge problem related to not only global warming but also human health.   

Global warming was something that I had never previously understood growing up. What is the problem and why is it a big deal to solve? I’ve now learned that it all lies within the Greenhouse Effect. While I wish Jimmy Neutron’s brain blasts were a real thing, I ended up doing the research, knowing full well that I’ve learned it in high school science class. Allow me to oversimplify here: 

  • Our sun emits warmth into our atmosphere.
  • It then bounces off of Earth’s surface back into our atmosphere to go back out to space.
  • Some of the warmth that bounced off remains inside of our atmosphere vs. heading back into space. This is a good thing or else we’d be freezing.
  • Greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide, ozone, etc.) are the ones responsible for trapping this heat so that we can live.
  • However, too many greenhouse gases mean more heat being trapped in our atmosphere than what is considered normal for our Earth.

The next question becomes, what does this have to do with beef?

According to National Geographic, every time a cow burps or passes gas, they release a greenhouse gas called methane. This specific greenhouse gas is 28 times more powerful at warming our Earth compared to carbon dioxide.

Since this research, I’ve eliminated any purchase of beef from my grocery visits. As a result, I’ve naturally been exposed to new forms of protein

It’s challenging to think about the idea of protein coming from anywhere other than animals. We’re taught growing up that chicken and beef are typically main sources of protein and that’s why we should continue eating them.

I learned a few things reading a China Study that were not visible in the food pyramid we all know. When looking at your overall health, the author states that plant-based sources of protein are actually considered better for you and your health.

Research from the book claims that “There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods, that are not better provided by plants.” They also deduce shocking results demonstrating that animal proteins promote the growth of cancer cells.

Animal protein foods also emit more carbon in general when compared to alternative sources.

Carbon footprint of protein foods

Beef is the greatest emitter according to the chart below:

Carbon footprint of protein foods
Carbon footprint of protein foods

Note: Farmed Shrimp surprised me. It’s largely because we import most of our shrimp and mangrove trees are typically cut to build new shrimp farms. Mangroves are some of the most powerful trees that absorb carbon for hundreds of years. When cutting down, all of that carbon gets released back into our atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

With this newfound knowledge, I sought after low environmental impact alternatives that still provide the protein that our bodies need.

Below are foods that have as much protein as a beef burger (20 grams) while leaving much less of a carbon footprint.

1. Edamame Pasta

Favorite Brand: Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti

Protein Amount: 24 Grams of protein in ¼ of a cup

Cooking Recommendations: Make sure to not overcook and drain immediately or else they will stick together. Pairs well with homemade pesto. 

2. Red Lentil Pasta

Protein Amount: 25 Grams of Protein in 1 Cup

Favorite Brand: Tolerant Organic 

Cooking Recommendations: Try making this with traditional marinara or a creamy homemade Alfredo sauce.

3. Tilapia Fillet

Protein Amount: 23 Grams of Protein in 1 Fillet

Favorite Brand: Whole Foods 

Cooking Recommendations: Begin by coating the fillets with olive oil, then season the fillet with Italian spices. Apply a thin coat of flour and bread crumbs. Transfer to a hot cast iron skillet coated again with cooking olive oil or coconut oil. Cook each side 3-5 minutes. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto each cooked side and add capers to the skillet for taste.

4. Salmon

Protein Amount: 40 Grams of Protein in 1/2 of a fillet

Favorite Brand: Whole Foods 

Cooking Recommendations: Coat the fillet with olive oil or coconut oil. Add Italian seasonings to the top of the fillet and squeeze some fresh lemon juice. Place into the oven for 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees.

5. Beyond Burger

Protein Amount: 20 Grams in 1 Burger by womenshealthmag

Favorite Brand: Beyond Meat 

Cooking Recommendations: Heat coconut oil for cooking in a cast-iron skillet on high. Once hot, add beyond burger patty and cover with a lid for 6 minutes. Flip patty to the other side and re-cover with lid for another 6 minutes. Pairs well with Sir Kensington’s Special Sauce.

6. Chickpeas

Protein Amount: 39 Grams in 1 cup

Cooking Recommendations: Spice them with paprika and garlic salt. Add to any spinach salad paired with avocado and red onion. Dress with balsamic glaze and olive oil.  

Author bio: Christina Lampert is a sustainable: content creator, NYFW model, and entrepreneur.

Known as The Sustennial, she founded the Sustennial Network, an online celebration of the sustainable millennial lifestyle. Her social channel attracts over 2,300 unique site visitors and she actively engages with 1,890+ Instagram followers, deeming her a successful micro-influencer. She’s partnered with brands including PiperWai Natural Deodorant, Crate of Good, and more. 

You can visit her website or follow her on Instagram for regular enviro-friendly, plant-based diet strategies.

Examples Video and Content Excerpts from Her Site:

To learn more about sustainable living and how to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle, visit our homepage.


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