Best Protein Sources for You and the Environment

SUPER SPICY CITRUS CHICKENDetermining which sources of protein are healthy for your body is often challenging. Combine looking for heart and body healthy protein with options that are good for the environment and finding the best sources of protein is further complicated. Fortunately, Kerri-Ann Jennings M.S., R.D., one of the editors for Eating Well Magazine, gave some tips offered by the Environmental Working Group on which protein sources are healthy and environmentally friendly.

Good Protein Sources

The sources of protein that are best for health and the environment are the type of protein you want to try reaching for when planning your next meal.

  • Lentils are an excellent source of protein that is healthy and has a low carbon footprint. Lentils are high in protein and as such are often added to a vegetarian diet.
  • Milk is another source of protein that is healthy and has a relatively low carbon footprint. Kerri-Ann Jennings suggests buying from local dairies to further cut down on carbon emissions by limiting shipping.
  • Beans are often considered a meat alternative due to the high protein content. While it is high in protein, beans also produce very little carbon emissions. They are particularly good for the environment when dried since the beans are not processed.
  • Chicken and eggs are great sources of protein that is also environmentally friendly when compared to other meats. Eggs contain not only protein, but also vitamin D, lutein and zeaxanthin, which is healthy for the body. Keep to one egg a day for lower cholesterol levels. Chickens, like eggs, have a low carbon footprint when compared to other meats. They are also high in protein and lower in unhealthy fats than other meats.
  • Tuna is a great source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids and good taste. Not only is tuna healthy for the body, but it is also more environmentally friendly than salmon or meat products because tuna is caught wild and like other fish does not pollute the air. The main carbon use of tuna is through shipping the fish.
  • Tofu is another source of protein that is high in protein, but lower in carbon emissions. The main carbon emissions come from the growth of the plant, which is lower than animal-based food products.
  • Nuts are a healthy source of protein that has a low carbon impact when compared to meats. Nuts are not only full of protein, but they have heart healthy fats that are great for the human body. Adding some almonds, peanuts or walnuts to your diet will improve your health.

Poor Protein Sources:

Protein sources that are bad for both human health and the environment are best eaten only occasionally rather than eating it often.

  • Beef is one of the obvious sources of protein that is not the best sources for the environment. Beef is high in saturated fat and while an occasional steak or burger will not cause heart disease, too much saturated fat is unhealthy for the heart. Cows also have a large carbon footprint because they produce carbon while alive and shipping the meat increases the carbon footprint. When eating beef, select grass-fed and organic lean cuts of beef.
  • Goats are another source of protein that has a high carbon footprint. When considering the amount of carbon per ounce of meat, goats actually produce more than cows. Goat meat is also high in saturated fat, so it is best eaten only occasionally.
  • Farmed salmon or any other farmed fish has a terrible impact on the environment. Farmed fish uses a large amount of water, electricity and fish feed that contribute to greenhouse gases. Stick to tuna or buy wild caught salmon instead to reduce your carbon footprint.


Take a little extra care when selecting your sources of protein. Cutting back on red meat will lower your carbon footprint while also improving your health. Try to get more protein from sources like beans, nuts, fish and whole grains for a healthy diet that is also environmentally friendly.

Be sure to also check out a related article on the best foods to build muscle.

Sources: Eating Well

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