You’ve already made recycling a lifelong habit, you take pride in turning down single-use plastic straws and bottles on a daily basis, and you ride carpools or take public transportation whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint, prevent global warming and save our oceans. But could you do more to help? Yes, and it starts with your food choices.
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Choose your ingredients wisely
When you supply your body and brain with the best possible nutrients, you don’t have to turn your back on a mission of sustainability. Indeed, these two initiatives easily go hand in hand. And unlike abs, which we all know start in the kitchen, sustainably sourced ingredients actually start in the fields.
“In the past 100 years, our food system has undergone a significant shift from small local farms to a large industrial system,” said Margie Saidel, MPH, RD, LDN, vice president of nutrition and sustainability at Chartwells K12. “As our lifestyle has evolved, so have our eating habits. We now demand a large selection of inexpensive foods that are heavily processed and preserved in every season. It turns out that the way we have all enjoyed eating for so long is damaging our environment and our planet. Unfortunately, the result is the onset of climate change and the impending battle to feed our growing world population. “
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Fortunately, it’s not all darkness and doom. Saidel says we can all do our part to make eating more sustainable, and one at a time we can make changes – starting with the following:
Put plants first
It is healthiest to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, as plants can provide the protein your body needs, along with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to maintain health and protection from disease. This isn’t limited to leafy greens, however – don’t forget legumes, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and seitan, which are some examples of great vegetable sources of protein.
Focus on seasonal and local
Have you got used to having a wide range of fresh products in your supermarkets at any time of the year? “Due to our global economy, we import fruit and vegetables from all over the world so that we can also make them available locally out of season,” says Saidel. “Seasonal food means that you are eating products that are grown in your area.” This approach puts more emphasis on helping local farmers and reduces the time and distance between harvest and market. Find farmers markets and community supported agriculture in your area. You’ll enjoy fresh produce grown in your community or nearby that tastes great – and if there are certain products you crave year-round, canning or freezing can preserve them.
Choose sustainable seafood
Choose seafood that is either caught or farmed to protect the harvested species and other species, as well as the ocean itself. Knowing how sustainable your seafood is is a lot easier than you might think – the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch helps you make sustainable choices with a free mobile app that puts fish in the Best, Good categories ”Or“ avoid ”are classified as a healthy ocean.
Eat whole foods
Whole foods mean as close as possible to their natural form (read: less processed). Some simple substitutions to make things easier for you are mixing half whole wheat flour with half white flour the next time you make cookies (the kids won’t notice!) Or mixing half brown and half white rice with your favorite food. According to Saidel, fresh produce, seeds and nuts in their natural form are fantastic choices for providing the widest possible variety of nutrients to maintain your health and prevent disease.
Cut down on animal protein
“Many people do not realize that the production of animal feed has devastating effects on the environment because of greenhouse gas emissions, land for cattle instead of food for humans and the enormous water requirements of animal feed production,” explains Saidel. “That doesn’t mean you have to stop eating meat – but there are a number of things you can do to help protect the planet.” She says eggs, dairy, poultry, and pork have a lower environmental impact than red meat. So switch your animal protein sources to eat fewer hamburgers, steaks, and roasts. You can also reduce your usual serving size of animal protein by combining both plant and animal sources (e.g. mixing your burger with mushrooms or legumes, or having a beef and bean burrito). You can also experiment with recipes like a plant-based pan, salad, grain bowl, or pasta dish where animal protein isn’t the star of the show, but a supportive role. When buying meat, always choose grass-fed organic meat from the pasture.
Reduce food waste
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a whopping 30 to 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in landfills. “With a few changes to your routine, you can do your part to reduce food waste in your own home,” says Saidel. “Start planning meals for the week and bring your ingredient list to the grocery store. Even better, plan your meals with the intention of using the foods that are in your refrigerator or pantry. You can also freeze leftovers to use on another day. Finally, store food properly to extend its lifespan by using Foodsafety.gov’s free FoodKeeper app.