First published: 21/02/2024 -

Last updated: 21/03/2024 -

Verified by our Editorial Panel

Sustainable food choices

A little more consideration around what we eat, where we buy our food from, how it’s packaged, as well as eating or making use of all the food we buy and throwing less in the bin, will help us reduce our carbon footprint and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

The true climate impact of what we eat isn’t easy to calculate. We know agriculture and food production will always cause some degree of greenhouse gas emissions. Food carbon footprints vary according to many factors: how it’s produced, where it comes from, how it’s packaged, how it’s recycled or disposed of, how much food goes uneaten, whether or not the food is in season. 

Many households across Wales are struggling with the current cost of living crisis and more expensive food bills. Charities such as FoodCycle Wales help households and communities overcome food poverty, loneliness and food waste. Local food partnerships also work to give us all access to affordable, healthy, sustainable and tasty food. If you’re struggling with household food bills, help is available via You can also contact your local authority for advice on support such as food banks and pantries in your local area.  

What can we do?

Cooking meals from scratch where possible and eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, starchy foods such as potatoes, bread or pasta and protein sources – will help us maintain good health and reduce our carbon footprint.

To ensure we are making sustainable food choices, begin by understanding the carbon footprint associated with different types of food: 

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Meat is among the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, especially ruminant livestock (cows and sheep) which produce a lot of methane and can be fed on soy, the production of which is linked to global deforestation. Our farmers are working to reduce emissions and farm sustainably as we strive towards net zero, and play a significant role in our economic and cultural fabric. As a source of protein, meat can form part of a healthy balanced diet. However, we should limit red and processed meat to reduce our risk of bowel cancer and this will also help us reduce carbon emissions. When choosing to eat meat, try to buy local, sustainably farmed produce if it’s available. Buying meat from overseas causes emissions through additional storage and transportation and may not have been produced using typically high standards of farming practice of Wales. In some cases, it can also be responsible for deforestation. See the NHS Eatwell Guide for more information. While meat can form part of a balanced diet in the Eatwell Guide, the guide emphasises that fruits, vegetables and other plant-based products should form a higher proportion of our diet than meat and dairy.

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Dairy and dairy-free alternatives 

Milk and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt do contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions of our food, in the same way as meat. Milk and dairy can form part of a healthy diet and are recommended in the NHS Eatwell Guide as these products contain calcium, which is an essential nutrient. While dairy can form part of a balanced diet in the Eatwell Guide, the guide emphasises that fruits, vegetables and other plant-based products should form a higher proportion of our diet than meat and dairy. If you chose a dairy-free diet, choose products which are fortified with calcium. There are many plant-based milk products now available, such as oat, soya, almond and coconut, and alternatives to other dairy products, like cheese. Non-dairy alternatives vary in their sustainability, however. Oat milk, for example, can be more sustainable than soya milk as it grows in the northern hemisphere and doesn't raise concerns about deforestation and habitat destruction. You can read more on this here.  


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Fish & seafood 

Fish and seafood also form part of the recommended NHS Eatwell Guide. That's because fish and shellfish are good sources of essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. If you choose not to eat fish, the NHS lists the best plant-based sources of omega-3. Look for sustainability credentials on packaging such as the Marine Stewardship Council blue tick, and learn more about the most sustainable fish and seafood to eat in the UK.  

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Fruit and vegetables 

If we all ate more fruit and vegetables, we’d live healthier lives – most of us do not eat enough and would benefit from including more in our diets. Not only do these foods tend to be cheaper, but they normally require less intensive production methods and use less water. Growing our own, if we can, will help reduce our carbon footprint (see the RHS Crop Planner for when to sow and harvest different crops). Buying local fruit and vegetables grown in season and in natural sunlight will also be kinder to the environment than the same food grown out of season (e.g. in heated greenhouses), or which may have been imported from overseas. Take a look at the Vegetarian Society’s guide to seasonal UK-grown produce.

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Meat-free options 

Not everyone wants to eat meat, or may be looking for a meat alternative some of the time. While meat substitute products can be easy to prepare and more affordable than some types of meat, look out for artificial ingredients, fillers or additives, added sugars, higher calories, preservatives and levels of fat, salt and sugar. Try to eat as many in season fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and other pulses, which are part of a good diet. 

You can learn more about the environmental impact of different foods from Our World in Data, here 

What else can we do?

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Do some research  

There are many foods that can be bad for the environment, so why not do some research on how to eat a more planet-friendly diet? Flooded rice (a type of paddy rice) for example, accounts for one-third of the planet’s annual freshwater use; sugar leads to habitat destruction, and involves intensive use of water and pesticides; palm oil (found in many foods) is a major cause of deforestation in the world; some types of fish, like bluefin tuna and Atlantic salmon, are severely overfished. 

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Avoid unnecessary packaging 

Choose un-packaged food products when you can. Instead, use your own refillable bags or containers for loose items to reduce packaging. And always recycle packaging according to local guidelines.

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Think before food shopping 

Some food thrown away by households in Wales could have been eaten. The average householder throws away approximately £60 per month of food. See Love Food, Hate Waste for more tips and advice on how meal planning can save you money, and learn more about actions we can all take to reduce food waste. 

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Donate unwanted food 

You can donate food you that you don’t need to local food banks. Some supermarkets have points where you can do this, or you can search for food banks near you. Alternatively, try a local sharing app like Olio, or another redistribution group. To access local surplus food, charities and community groups can sign up for organisations and apps like Too good to go, FareShare Go or Neighbourly.

Why take Action?

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Reduce our carbon footprint 

The food we eat makes up a sizable portion of our individual carbon footprint. By learning more about the foods that effect our planet most or least, not wasting edible food, and following the NHS Eatwell Guide, we can maintain a healthy diet and reduce our climate impact. 

Support sustainable farming and animal welfare 

For those who choose to eat meat, buying local, high-quality meat when we can will help promote Wales’ agricultural industry which plays a significant role in our economy, as well as being assured typically higher animal welfare standards. 


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Support a diverse local food economy 

Buying local food where we can will provide greater assurance around where it has come from. It will also mean we are supporting the local economy and jobs in farming and food production.  

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Protect rainforests and biodiversity 

We can support Wales’ goal to become a globally responsible nation and help to reduce our ecological footprint by buying fewer imported food products, some of which are causing the destruction of rainforests and animal habitats. For example, we can make more informed choices around many of the food products we typically buy, from coffee, to products containing cacao, and palm oil (found in over 50% of all packaged items in our supermarkets) which are amongst the key contributors to global deforestation. See Deforestation Free Nation - Size of Wales. 


Enjoy cheaper, tastier fruit and veg

Growing your own fruit and vegetables, if you’re able to, or buying local and seasonal fruit and vegetables will help cut your carbon footprint. It’s cheaper, too. Fresher, riper seasonal fruit and vegetables also taste better, and keep us in touch with the seasons. 

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Improve health 

By following the NHS Eatwell Guide, we can make balanced food choices that will reduce carbon emissions and improve our health. 

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