Ten Low Emission, High Protein Foods

Cows are not low emission photo

Image credit: kwerfeldein via flickr

Did you know that it takes ten times more fossil fuel to produce one calorie of beef protein than to produce one calorie of grain protein? (Laura Stec, Cool Cuisine). And that "livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water?" (Dr. Popkin of the University of North Carolina, as quoted in the New York Times). Some reports have even gone so far as to say that food choice is as important as the car you drive in the battle to prevent global climate change.

But protein is an essential part of the human diet. You cannot survive without adequate protein in your diet. So how can you fill your plate with proteins without filling the atmosphere with waste gases or the lakes and rivers with run-off? Here are ten, sometimes surprising, low emission, high protein food sources to help you eat right.

Beans are one of 10 low emission high protein foods photo

Image credit: Stuti ~ via flickr

1) Beans

Beans have the advantage that they fix nitrogen, meaning they return nitrogen to the soil. So they do naturally what so many farmers try to do with petroleum based fertilizers. In fact, according to a European sustainable agriculture report, beans save 600kg of CO2 emissions per hectare when replacing fertilizers. And they come in a great variety, from white beans to black beans, suitable for preparing divine menus, from classic baked beans to bean aioli. If you have not yet tried "pasta e fagioli," a classical Italian dish is based on borlotti beans, then you have something to look forward to. Beans deliver approximately 25% of their calories as protein. Pasta contains only about 14% protein, but together wheat and beans deliver a full complement of amino acids, a complete protein.

Meatless Meat is one of 10 low emission high protein foods photo

Image credit: D.L. via flickr

2) Novel Protein Foods (NPF)

Novel Protein Foods are designed to address a critical point of fact: people like meat. They like the way it tastes, the way it feels in their mouth, the way it balances out a mound of mashed potatoes and green beans on the plate. Mock meat is the "gateway drug" of vegetarian diets, a necessary step for many people psychologically dependent upon meat to make the break from our caveman heritage. This category promotes Star Trek diet ideas too: how about some meat grown in a petri dish? We put NFPs at number two due to their potential to wean people from meat and to promote technological imagination in the search for the sustainable diet.

Herring are one of 10 low emission high protein foods photo

Image credit: Jacob Bøtter

3) Herring

The unexpected star of an analysis based on the Pimental Study is the lowly herring, popular in Scandinavian and Dutch diets. Experts agree that we need to think about fish like beef cattle: you have to feed an awful lot of little fish to a big fish to get a salmon or tuna steak on your table. Although alternative protein sources for aquaculture feed is one solution, the obvious answer is to nourish people directly with the smaller fish. And the analysis of the Pimental numbers proves the case (in total CO2-equivalent emissions, which includes methane):
  • Herring: 0.56 gCO2/Kcal of protein
  • Tuna: 5.75 gCO2/Kcal of protein
  • Salmon: 11.21 gCO2/Kcal of protein
  • Shrimp: 40.12 gCO2/Kcal of protein.
Note: similar emissions for land-based animal proteins are given at item 8 in this list.
Soy is one of 10 low emission high protein foods photo

Image credit: wadem via flickr

4) Soy

The much maligned poster child of vegetarian meat-substitutes, soy is one of few non-animal sources of complete proteins. A complete protein describes a food source which delivers all of the essential amino acids, that is, the amino acids which the human body cannot build by itself. With the increase of soybean production for fuel use, soybeans have become a controversial source of vegetarian protein, as the boom in their growth has led to clear cutting lands and development of genetically modified crops. Nonetheless, no list of low emission protein sources is complete without tofu or do-it-yourself soy milk.

Hemp seed protein is one of 10 low emission high protein foods photo

Image credit: ooOJasonOoo via flickr

5) Hemp Protein

The wonder-plant of the green movement scores points in the diet and nutrition category too. Like soy, hemp seeds are a complete source of essential amino acids. After hemp seeds have been pressed to separate the oil, the protein-rich solids left behind can be processed into hemp protein powder, for supplementing a vegetable-based diet. Try a Nutiva hemp shake, Coolhemp frozen hemp treats or Hemp Orzo Pasta Salad.

Discover More Low Emission, High Protein Foods on Page 2

Related Content on Treehugger.com