5 Sources for Protein with Less Environmental Impact

bowl of eggs and separated egg whites in measuring cup


Protein is an essential part of the diet. It is so important, in fact, that its name is derived from Latin word "protos" meaning "first," indicating that it is the nutrient of first importance. While protein is often associated with meat, it can also be sufficiently acquired from plant sources. Animal protein production is often harmful to the environment, requiring large amounts of resources such as chemical fertilizers, feed, land, and water, while outputting methane in the process. The most greenhouse gases are created from processing lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon. Americans have been shown to eat more meat than most other nationalities. Fortunately, there are alternatives as well as certain types of meat that allow for a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.


Beans are an environmentally friendly way to minimize meat consumption without compromising protein intake. Additionally, they are a fantastic source of fiber and other nutrients, making them a valuable contribution to any diet! 


Tofu is made from soybeans and has a carbon footprint that is roughly 1/3 that of beef. It is an excellent source for protein and is best when purchased as organic or non-genetically modified (non-GMO). 


Of all the land animal options, chicken has the lowest carbon footprint. Pound for pound, it requires less feed than hogs and cattle and also does not generate methane. Buying organically-fed, pastured chicken makes it an even more sustainable option.


Eggs supply the most protein for the lowest carbon footprint of animal products. Organic, pasture-raised eggs usually have the least amount of environmental impact and a higher nutrient quality, which can be seen in an orange-tinted yolk. 


While conventional beef is not an environmentally sustainable option, choosing organic milk or milk from grass-fed cows ensures a lower carbon footprint and raises standards for dairy farming. Buying from a local source is a great way to match eco-friendliness with nutrient density.

To learn more about sustainable protein sources and reducing meat intake, make a nutrition appointment at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health by calling (206) 834-4100.


  1. The World's Healthiest Foods. Protein. whfoods.org. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=92. Accessed Oct 2018.
  2. Godfray HCJ, et al. Meat consumption, health, and the environment. Science. Jul 2018;361(6399):eaam5324.
  3. Environmental Working Group. Meat eater's guide to climate change and health. ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts. Accessed Oct 2018.