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Nutrition and the Environment

Nutrition Diva gives food choices we can make that are good for us and good for the planet, as well.

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N,
April 23, 2013
Episode #040

Nutrition and the Environment

We usually focus on food choices that can make us healthier. Today, I thought I’d talk about choices that help make the planet healthier. Fortunately, it’s not an either/or proposition. The tips I have for you today are good for you and the environment.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the green movement that’s been spreading across the U.S., and even across the globe. People everywhere are trying to figure out how we can live, work, and play more sustainably. Sustainable eating is a huge part of that movement. It’s an issue near and dear to my heart, because I see it as a win/win proposition for all of us.

Bringing a little eco-consciousness to our food choices not only helps to make our environment cleaner and safer, but it can improve our health as well. It can even save you some money—and that’s something we all have on our mind these days.

Go Meatless Once A Week

For example, one thing you can do to make your diet a little easier on both the earth and your wallet is to eat lower on the food chain, at least some of the time. Raising livestock like cattle, pigs, and poultry uses a lot more land, energy, and water and generates more waste than producing the same amount of protein and calories from plants.

You don’t have to become a full-time vegetarian to have a positive impact. By one estimate, if every family in America went meatless just one day a week, the reduction in greenhouse gasses would be the equivalent of every family in America trading in their car for a Prius. And a growing number of people are doing just that, getting on board with movements such as the national Meatless Monday campaign, online at MeatlessMonday.com.

The planet isn’t the only thing that benefits when you eat less meat. Nutritionally, plant protein is lower in fat and comes bundled with lots of valuable fiber and antioxidants. And people who eat less meat tend to be thinner and have lower rates of many diseases. Now, I’m not saying that meat doesn’t have any nutritional benefits, because it does. It’s a great source of protein, iron, B12, and other nutrients. I’m just saying that there might be a lot of benefits to eating a bit less of it than we currently do.

Buy Local Foods Whenever Possible

Another big thing you can do to help the environment is to buy foods that are produced close to where you live. Analysts estimate that the average American meal travels 1,500 miles from its source to our plates. Too bad we can’t earn frequent flyer points for all the miles logged by our bananas.

Sometimes, the foods we want don’t grow locally. For example, I still buy coffee, olive oil, and lemons even though none of them grow where I live. But I’ve realized that it doesn’t make sense to buy lettuce from California when there are farms that grow lettuce fifteen miles from my house. And I’m willing to eat apples, which grow in my state, rather than bananas, which don’t. 

A lot of people have made this into a sort of game, called the 100-mile diet, online at 100milediet.org. You can play this game using whatever rules and loopholes you want, but the basic idea is to source all or most of your food from within a 100-mile radius. It’s kind of fun! I now buy eggs from a farm about 18 miles north of my house and vegetables from an organic farmer about five miles farther up the road.

Eating more local foods reduces the amount of fossil fuels that are used to truck, ship, and fly food around the globe. Because they don’t spend as much time in transit, local foods are also usually fresher and—especially in the case of fruits and vegetables—fresher means more nutritious.

Supporting small producers in your own community also strengthens the local economy and has all sorts of other benefits, such as reducing our vulnerability to food contaminations—which seem to be getting more and more common in our industrialized food chain. You can read more about the benefits of eating local and find farmers and growers close to you at Localharvest.org.

Consider Growing Your Own Food

Of course, the ultimate in fresh, local food is food that you grow yourself; and backyard vegetable patches are hot these days. Even the White House has one. A dollar’s worth of seeds can produce $50 worth of fresh, organic food. Of course, there’s some sweat involved, but most of us need more exercise than we’re getting, anyway. If you’ve never had a vegetable garden before, you’ll find some good advice for beginners at gardenertofarmer.net.

Administrative

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic, email me at nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com and please include the topic of your question in the subject line of your email. You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page

I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.  And for you Tweeters out there, I can be found on Twitter as well.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!

Resources for Sustainable Eating
 
Further Reading
How much can a garden save you? (Wall Street Journal)
Think Globally, Eat Locally (The Boston Globe)

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