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Kate Geagan

Sustainable Ingredient Superstars

Between regular gas emissions and a global health crisis, the planet has taken a big hit recently. Here are 5 eco-friendly foods to consider.

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Building an eco-friendly kitchen doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, it’s never been easier, thanks to a group of companies with fresh-thinking, passionate founders who are committed to bringing accessible solutions to the marketplace. Not only do these up-and-coming companies and their sustainable ingredients earn high nutrition marks, but when you select them, you’ll be contributing to a more resilient, healthier world.

1. Sorghum

Widely available but often underused, sorghum is a gluten-free grain grown locally in the US. Choosing it over other ancient grains can lead to a lower carbon footprint, as fewer emissions are used during its transportation, explains Sharon Palmer, a leading plant-based nutritionist and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. “It’s also is a drought-tolerant crop, originally from Northeast Africa, which means it requires less water,” she adds. Sorghum also happens to be a nutritional jackpot, packed with protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins and phytochemicals such as phenolic acids, anthocyanins and phytosterols. As a “forgotten” food of sorts, sorghum offers a key characteristic that sustainability experts suggest you search for when shopping: diversity. Increasing the variety in your cart exposes you to a larger spectrum of nutrients while enhancing the biodiversity in the food system, which is good for the health of pollinators like bees and butterflies.

2. Moringa


A tropical tree that thrives in low-water conditions, moringa can be used to reforest areas in Africa prone to desertification. “Nutrient-dense, climate-smart crops like moringa are critical to improving the health of humanity and of our planet,” says Lisa Curtis, a former Peace Corps volunteer and founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli, a company that has helped bring moringa to the market. Considered one of the most nutritious plants on the planet – according to Kuli Kuli, moringa boasts twice the protein of kale and four times the iron, three times the calcium and 250% more fiber – moringa also offers at-risk populations a path to better food and livelihoods. (Kuli Kuli sources its moringa from small farmers with a focus on African women.) An easy way to give this superfood a shot is to add some powdered moringa, like those from Kuli Kuli, to your morning smoothie.

Photo courtesy of Kuli Kuli

3. Dairy-Free Brie

Fermentation, a recent hot food trend, is being used by a new generation of innovators to take on the challenge of plant-based cheese. One such company is wildbrine, a creamery that uses wild lactic acid culture and an artisanal fermentation aging process to deliver a cashew-based brie that has the satisfying “tang” of the real thing. This is great news, as researchers continue to hone in on the vital “gut-brain” link that powers wellness, and fermented foods play a powerful role in your microbiome’s health. Plus, plant-based foods produce less pollution than animal-based ones. According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, for instance, cheese has one of the highest carbon impacts of any ingredient, second only to beef, creating an estimated 2.45 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per serving, compared to a scant 0.11 pounds for legumes.

Increasing the variety of ingredients in your cart exposes you to a larger spectrum of nutrients while enhancing biodiversity.

4. Okara Flour

Flour in a metal bowl
Photo courtesy of Renewall Mill

As the founder of an organic juice company, Claire Schlemme saw firsthand the mounds of pulp the juicing process creates each day. This realization ultimately led her to swap juice for flour when she founded Renewal Mill, a company that works to create a circular food economy, where by-products are transformed into functional ingredients that offer affordable nutrition. Its pure organic okara flour, for instance, is gluten-free and made from the pulp left over from creating soy milk. Packed with 7 grams of complete protein per serving, it boasts four times the fiber of whole-wheat flour plus calcium and iron. It’s this kind of innovative thinking that meets the goals laid out by global sustainability leaders for “agricultural intensification” – processes that extract more nutrition from existing crops in ways that don’t place stress on the environment.

5. Shelf-Stable Plant Milks

The ingredient lists of Elmhurst nut milk products read refreshingly simple and clean; think “nuts, water, salt.” How? The company pioneered a method that uses water to draw nutrients from nuts, grains and seeds for plant-based milks that are healthy and delicious with a smooth mouthfeel. And the difference is reflected on the nutrition facts panel. For example, eight ounces of Elmhurst almond milk packs an impressive five grams of protein, while traditional plant milks have less than one gram. Its cartons are also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and because they are shelf stable until opened, they can help reduce your impact on the environment even further. The reason: Chemicals such as hydrofluorocarbons may cool the refrigerators in the milk aisle, but they also warm the planet. Therefore, swapping the refrigerated items in your cart for those that can be shipped and stored without coolants can help fight global warming.

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