Protein is an essential nutrient – important to a balanced diet and vital for bone development and repair of damaged tissues. However, with the world population expected to exceed 10 billion by 2050, experts say it would be impossible to meet protein demand without significant adverse environmental effects.
Today’s food system contributes 30% of global GHG emissions, even though about 1 billion people worldwide are not eating enough protein. Consequently, reliable protein sources are essential to the food industry.
What Is Sustainable Protein?
The term “Sustainable Protein” entails developing new protein sources. Possible examples of such foods are those that reduce the rate of global warming and provide enough calories to sustain growing populations. Protein-rich plant and cell-based foods fall under this category, but so do mycelium, algae, and microbes. Introducing novel practices for traditional meat and dairy production offers significant opportunities to reduce human activity’s adverse effects on the natural world.
What Are the Sustainable Sources of Protein?
Naturally, sustainable protein can be something other than meat-free. Some companies are working on feed supplements that will reduce methane emissions from cattle. Others are looking to insects or regenerative agriculture as promising alternatives to traditional meat production to reduce the environmental impact.
Here are some sustainable protein sources you can incorporate into your diet:
Spirulina is a water organism that can grow in fresh and saltwater. It is a type of cyanobacteria, single-celled microbes known as blue-green algae. Consumed by the ancient Aztecs, Spirulina gained popularity again when NASA proposed it could be grown in space for astronauts to use.
Often called a “superfood,” spirulina contains a wide variety of beneficial elements, including protein levels that are on par with those of eggs. A single tablespoon of dried spirulina powder provides up to 4 grams of protein and is high in nutrients. Riboflavin, thiamin, copper, iron and niacin are also present. According to research, this has antioxidant, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and brain-protective properties.
Spirulina is widely recognized as one of the most eco-friendly agricultural products available. Twenty times as much protein can be harvested from an acre of Spirulina, compared to corn or soybeans, and with ten times less water. And unlike animal protein sources, which contribute significantly to CO2 and methane emissions, Spirulina can help recycle CO2 emissions by converting 2 x its weight in CO2 into oxygen and nutrients.
Lentils are part of pulse crops, including lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, and peas. The humble lentil is a hidden hero in the kitchen, appearing in cuisines worldwide.
Besides being a great source of protein and fiber, lentils are also rich in the B vitamin folate and the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Growing lentils for food and using them to replace animal-based foods benefits the entire world. Because lentils are high in protein, they are a great plant-based alternative to meat — and one with a much lower carbon footprint. A lentil field produces far more protein than an equal area of cattle or chicken farming. And lentils have 10-20 times less greenhouse gas emissions than animal products.
3. Soy Products
When grown and processed ethically, soy may be a sustainable protein source for animals, people, and the earth. Eighty-five percent of soybean crops are grown for use in animal feed, with the remaining fifteen percent going toward human consumption and the manufacturing sector.
Compared to other irrigated crops like maize, soybeans are more water-efficient and use less water during production. Less land, energy, and water are needed to produce the same animal protein as soy. According to a recent study, soy isolate has a carbon footprint of up to 80 times less than that of dairy and meat proteins.
Eggs are not only a healthy food option, but they also have a low environmental impact during production. Eggs have been shown to have a minimal effect in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein by the World Resources Institute.
The environmental impact of raising chickens for their eggs is comparable to that of growing crops like soybeans, rice, or nuts. Relying on egg protein instead of protein from animals is a great way to save the environment from the harmful effects of excessive agricultural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Eggs contain essential vitamins and minerals, as well as high-quality protein. They are the ideal food because of their low environmental impact.
Fish and other marine life are a staple food for people, communities, and countries worldwide. According to the World Resource Institute’s protein scorecard, wild-caught and farmed fish have a low emission footprint. This makes seafood consumption more environmentally friendly than other protein sources.
A new study discovered that several popular wild-caught kinds of seafood, such as shellfish, are better for the environment than a vegan diet. In addition, wild-caught seafood is highlighted as one of the “excellent low-carbon choices” in a recent New York Times investigation into food’s role in global warming.
While eating healthy and nutritious food is essential for everyone, we should also take steps to reduce our negative environmental impact. Besides the foods in this list, other worthy mentions for sustainable protein include legumes, chicken, potatoes, nuts and seeds, and milk from grass-fed cows. Choosing alternative sustainable protein sources can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the food you eat while reducing energy consumption.