40% of New Year’s resolutions focus on health. Now that spring is in the air, it is the perfect time to reflect upon successes and shortcomings, but in a different light. Earth Day celebrations shift the focus from waistlines to footprints (carbon, that is),which can be just as effective in improving overall health.
Eat a plant based diet
According to a study published by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, production for a meat-based diet requires more resources than for a vegetarian diet. Thus, consuming less meat (i.e. making meat a side dish rather than a main dish) may improve our environment. Plant based foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes are also great sources of nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants and are generally lower in calories when compared with meats [i].
When adopting a plant-based diet, some look to choose organic options. Organic foods are produced without pesticides, decreasing exposure to these potentially harmful substances. For those who are not able to choose organic produce, it is important to remember that the benefits of fruits and vegetables outweigh any potential exposure to pesticides. For those looking to include some organic options, frozen organic foods can be less expensive than fresh ones. The Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list is also a useful tool to help identify the fruits and vegetables most and least likely to be contaminated.
Choose the right kind of meat
When eating beef, try to choose grass-fed. According to the Environmental Working Group, while grass fed cattle produce more methane than those that are corn fed, more of the carbon is sequestered into the soil rather than released into the atmosphere.
Grass fed cows are also a source of conjugated linoleic acid, a fat that may be helpful in weight loss, and anti-inflammatory omega 3s [ii][iii][vi].
Fish contains essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA. However, the earth’s supply cannot keep up with human demand. Also, certain fish may contain toxins like mercury or PCBs. In order to cut back on risk and preserve supply but also to benefit from fish’s healthfulness, choose to eat a 3oz serving (size of a deck of cards) of fish one to two times per week. The Environmental Working Group recommends choosing wild rather than farmed salmon, trimming fat/skin before cooking and broiling, and baking or grilling instead of frying to decrease PCBs. Additionally, try eating leaner and smaller varieties of fish as these have shorter lifespans and accumulate fewer toxins [iv].
Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website to see the safest seafood choices in your region: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx
The further food has to travel, the more fuel is released into the environment. Similarly, the longer produce takes to get to the table, the less nutrients end up on your fork. Vitamin C degrades upon contact with heat, light and oxygen [vii][viii].
In order to buy local, nutrient rich food, visit your local farmer’s market or look for the “local food” section in your grocery store. Go to the following website to find the farmer’s market nearest you: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/FARMERSMARKETS
What are you eating out of? Bags of beans and cardboard tetrapacks of soups use less packaging than their canned counterparts. They often have less sodium and may reduce exposure to BPA. Remember to recycle all packages when possible!
Consider re-using kitchen scraps to start a garden in your backyard.
- You can regenerate a celery plant from the stub. Soak the stub in warm water overnight then plant in your garden.
- Take the extra cloves of garlic you were too lazy to peel and plant them in a sunny spot. Once the stalk pokes through the soil cut it off. Wait a few weeks then harvest.
- Ginger-Take fresh ginger root and plant it. Wait a few weeks then harvest!
Take the extra step
Research shows that breaking up time sitting may be just as important to health as performing formal exercise. Walk to the grocery store or library as opposed to driving. You will burn your own carbon fuel as opposed to your cars. Aim for 10,000 steps per day [v].
Whether you are a tree hugger or a health conscious consumer, making a few healthy changes will prove fruitful both your health and the environment.
[i] Pimiental D & Pimiental M. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 2003. 78;3: 6605-6635.
[ii] Daley CA, Abbot A, Doyle PS, Nader GA & Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef.Nutrition Journal. 2010.9;10:1-12.
[iii] Miner JL, Cederberg CA, Nielsen MK, Chen X & Baile CA. Conjugated linoleic acid, body fat and apoptosis. Obesity.2012.9;2:129-134.
[iv] International Food Policy Research Institute and WorldFish Center. Fish to 2020: Supply and demand in changing global markets.2003.WorldFish Center technical report 62. Accessed at http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/oc44.pdf
[v] Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE & Dunstsan DW. Too much sitting: the population-health science of sitting behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010. 38;3:105-113.
[vi] Enviornmental Working Group. Meat eaters guide report: Why go organic, grass-fed and pasture raised? 2011.Washington DC. Available athttp://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/why-go-organic-grass-fed-and-pasture-raised/
[vii] Rickman JC, Barrett DM & Bruhn CM. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds.2007. J Sci Food Agric. 87:930-944.