Top 10 Foods to Avoid for Environmental Reasons

Lower your Carbon Footprint by Avoiding These Foods

We’ve got dozens of articles here at ecolife discussing all of the great things you can do to adopt a more environmentally friendly diet – like growing your own fruits and vegetables, buying locally, and choosing organic product. But you may not have thought about some of the other less than eco-friendly foods you should be eliminating from your regular diet. We’ve got you covered with this top 10 list of foods to avoid for environmental reasons:

  1. GMO ingredients: Not only are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) suspect in terms of their social and environmental ills, they may also be detrimental to your health.[1] So look for GMO-free options in the produce aisle as well as in all packaged foods found in grocery stores. For more information on this subject check out our article "Overview of Genetically Modified Foods".
  2. High pesticide produce: The Environmental Working Group provides an annual Dirty Dozen report listing the produce with the highest detectable levels of pesticide residues. When considering where to spend your organic food dollars, these are ones that should top your list: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes, and imported grapes. In contrast, foods like onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, mangos, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potato, and honeydew melon are the fruits and veggies with the smallest levels of agriculture chemicals making them safe bets, organic or not.
  3. Conventional milk: Milk from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that’s been homogenized and pasteurized will more than likely be laced with the hormones, steroids, and antibiotics fed to dairy cattle during their lives in captivity, making it less than ideal for mass consumption. And that’s not the only eco-ills of this beverage: it’s also responsible for massive deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and intensive resource use for packaging. Organic milk, on the other hand, has been shown to be healthier, offering lower levels of saturated fats, more healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and abundant levels of vitamins and antioxidants.[2]
  4. Processed foods: Foods like macaroni and cheese, instant dinners, and packaged snack bars more often than not are made with few nutritionally-rich ingredients. Rather, they’re full refined sugars, preservatives, bleached flour, additives, high fructose corn syrup, and other unpronounceable ingredients with questionable health impacts. Not only that, but they’re generally overpackaged, resulting in a much larger environmental footprint than preparing your own meals from whole foods from the produce aisle or the farmer’s market.
  5. Frozen meals: TV dinners and frozen pizza are packaged in plastic-coated cardboard containers to protect the foods from freezer burn. Though this packaging looks similar to other packaged foods, it is most often not recyclable. 
  6. Bottled water: With water and air pollution, resource waste, trash issues, and human rights concerns all connected to bottled water, it’s something that should be easy to banish from your grocery list. Of course, the fact that it’s more often than not simply tap water in a fancy package is added incentive for ditching the bottle and going reusable instead.
  7. Take out food: We'll avoid going into the health problems associated with fast food and take-out meals. Instead, think about the unnecessary packaging consumed by stopping at the local burger joint for a quick meal. And that’s saying nothing of the deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution associated with shipping cheap food across the globe.
  8. Unsustainable seafood: Chilean Seabass, Caviar, King Crab, Atlantic and Pacific Cod, Halibut, Mahi Mahi, Sea Turtles, Shrimp (farmed and wild), Sole, Snapper, Sturgeon, Swordfish, Tilapia, and most Tuna are all tops on the list of seafoods to avoid. These species either have dwindling populations or are harvested with extreme environmentally destruction methods. Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH guide for a complete list of sustainable seafood.
  9. CAFO chicken eggs and meat: If you haven’t yet watched Food Inc or Earthlings, you should! It’ll be an eye-opener for the cruel and inhumane conditions imposed on egg-laying and poultry chickens, dairy and beef cattle, pigs, lambs, and goats in confined animal feed operations (CAFOs). If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, you can still consume eco-friendly eggs and meat by looking for verifiably humane products like those with the USDA free range or free roaming labels or by getting to know your local farmer through the farmer’s market or your neighborhood CSA (community supported agriculture).
  10. Unfairly traded foods: With chocolate, coffee, tea, many nuts and fruits at the top of the unfairly traded foods list, you’ve got plenty of options to show your solidarity with farmers and food producers around the world. In doing so, you’ll also help promote more sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture methods since most fair trade organizations require some level of commitment to organic farming methods.



1  A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health . (2009). Retrieved January 22, 2011, from International Journal of Biological Sciences:

2  Organic Milk is Better for you, say scientists. (2011, January 17). Retrieved January 22, 2011, from The Independent:

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