The bad news is that there are certain types of foods whose production is very harmful for the environment. The good news is that those types of foods are exactly the ones that are most harmful to our health too. This means that if we are able to eat better, then we are not only improving our own health, but also that of our planet.
Over the past 50 years, increased food production has helped improve quality of life worldwide. However, this also fostered a global shift towards unhealthy diets. In the past people followed traditional diets that were typically high in quality plant-based foods, whereas today we observe a transition towards diets that are characterized by high consumption of calories, highly processed foods (with refined carbohydrates, added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats), and high amounts of animal products. As we’ll see in more details in the following, the production of animal products is particularly harmful to the environment compared to that of plant-based foods. 
How your food choices impact the environment
“Every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London — and the average American eats that much each month.”The Newyorker “Can a burger help solve cllimate change?”
Food production contributes approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the livestock sector alone represents almost half (14.5%) of these emissions. Agriculture is the largest cause of global environmental change, which includes climate change, deforestation, desertification, and damage to coastal reefs and marine ecosystems. 
The figure below shows in more detail how producing of animal-based foods tends to cause higher greenhouse gas emissions (orange bars) than producing plant-based foods.  In addition to gas emissions, food production also consumes a lot of natural resources. In the chart the green bars represent the use of land, which causes deforestation and species extinction, and the blue bars represent freshwater consumption, which causes water contamination as a result of the process.
Red meat (especially beef) has a disproportionally huge impact on all three dimensions of greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater consumption and land use. This is not surprising because producing meat requires first of all producing foods to feed the cattle, for example cereals. If we ate directly these cereals, instead of using them to feed the cattle, then we’d use much less resources. So, regular consumption of red meat is not only harmful for our health but also for that of our planet. The World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) declared that consumption of processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans” and that consumption of red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  In addition, as shown in the table below, red meat (beef) is more expensive compared to other healthier sources of proteins. 
The impact of food production on the environment is amplified by the huge problem of food waste.
Only in the US up to 40% of all food produced goes uneaten, and about 95% of discarded food ends up in landfills. Decomposing food waste produces methane, a strong greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Worldwide, one-third of food produced is thrown away uneaten, causing an increased burden on the environment.Food Waste, Harvard Nutrition Source 
What can you do to improve your own health and that of the planet
The best diet for our own health happens to be also the best diet for our planet. As described in more details in my article The Ultimate Guide to Different Diets: Which One Is Best For Health? , the Award-winning author Michael Pollan gives a short yet powerful summary of what this best “diet” is in his seven-word manifesto:
Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.Michael Pollan
This easy to remember motto is very much aligned with the latest science on nutrition and can actually work exceptionally well for most people regardless their goals, from losing weight to achieving and maintaining optimal health in the long run. This approach to healthy eating is also beneficial for the environment as it suggests to eat “not too much” (helping to reduce waste) and “mostly plants” (minimizing the impact on the environment).
So what can you do to eat in a way that’s healthy both for your and your planet?
There are many this you can do to improve your eating habits in a healthy and sustainable manner, however to keep thing simple I strongly recommend prioritizing the following two actions:
- Eat more plant-based and minimally processed whole foods. Minimally processed plant-based whole foods are lower in environmental impact than animal-based foods, and they are generally healthier and cheaper.
- Reduce your food waste. Plan your meals ahead of time and only buy what you need. If you need help building your own meal plans, take a look at my Free weekly meal planner for healthy eating.
Making small changes to your eating routine can have a big impact on the environment. So next time you’re at the grocery store, think about the environmental impact of your food choices. By making small changes to your diet, you can help protect your health and the health of our planet for future generations.