There’s a lot of talk these days about what to eat and what not to eat. Do you go paleo? Cut out the carbs? Stop eating animal products?

If you’re trying to get healthy and also do the right thing for the planet, it can be confusing to navigate the options. How do you separate the fads from useful information?

To eat or not to eat beef?

Here’s an example: beef. While paleo dieters may promote red meat eating, some doctors claim that avoiding meat can greatly improve your health. Meanwhile, scientists are warning that beef production takes up too much land, uses too much water, and pollutes our air.

So do we stop eating beef?

Not necessarily.

A while back, a Wall Street Journal article by a vegetarian cattle rancher (that’s right, we can’t make this stuff up!) got a lot of attention. The rancher claimed that if cattle are grass-fed and good farming practices are followed, raising beef can actually be good for the planet.

That’s a big “if.” Most beef in the U.S. is raised on factory farms—in conditions that aren’t good for the cows, the planet, or our families.

Boiling it all down

What does it all boil down to?

  • Factory farming is the real culprit. The animals are fed grain and soybeans, which isn’t healthy for them — and which requires growing a lot of grain and soybeans. These farms also create tons of carbon emissions. Rampant waste compounds the problem.
  • What’s bad for the planet is bad for you. The good thing is, what’s good for the planet is good for you. What’s good? Food that’s minimally processed, in season, and locally grown.
  • It’s sensible to cut back on animal-based foods. That’s because it takes more resources — land, water, feed, transportation — to produce meat and dairy than fresh, locally grown produce.
  • It’s best to choose local, organic, and grass-fed. If you’re going to eat beef, you can still make choices that are better for you, the animals, and the planet.

Simple eating principles

That brings us to these basic eating principles to lower your carbon footprint:

Are you seeing a trend? Again, what’s good for the planet is also good for you and your family.

Good for you doesn’t have to mean boring or bland. You have so many interesting and satisfying options these days. Making some diet changes can be a great excuse to try new restaurants and recipes and experience some of these for yourself.

A small step with a big impact

The best thing? You can have a huge impact. The food system is responsible for a third of global carbon emissions. That means that by taking the simple action of eating a bit differently, you can make a big difference.