With Earth Day just around the corner (April 22), eco-consciousness is on a lot of people's minds. At EatingWell, we realize that for many of us eco-friendly choices are a growing concern year-round, particularly when it comes to what we eat. Here are 5 tips to help you green up your diet that you can use all year long.
1. Buy organic: Choosing organic foods may reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 68 percent. That said, going all organic all the time can take a toll on your wallet. If you also buy organic because you're concerned about your personal health, consider forgoing organic if/when you buy these 15 fruits and vegetables (they make up the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15" list as least likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues): onions, corn, pineapple, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit and mushrooms. (Here's the EWG's list of 12 fruits and vegetables you should buy organic-the "Dirty Dozen"-as they're the most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues.)
2. Buy local: When you buy food that's been grown or produced nearby, you help cut down on the average 1,500 miles food travels from farm to fork. That means reducing the amount of oil being burned and the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Plus, buying locally often means supporting small farms-which are typically using sustainable agricultural techniques that protect water and build healthy soils. They don't have the option of moving their operations to new locations when the soil becomes unworkable. Their livelihood, and the health of the towns they live in, depends on sustainable growing techniques that preserve and replenish the fertility of their small patch of soil. Local growers also typically plant a wide variety of crops, in contrast to some large industrial farms, which grow hundreds or thousands of acres of the same crop. Crop diversity is a good defense against the spread of damaging insects and plant pathogens. If a problem arises in one crop, it's unlikely to spread to others.
3. Grow your own: Whether you grow a pot of herbs on your windowsill or replace a bed of flowers with dark leafy greens, a home garden is the ultimate local food source. Plus, it's a great way to supplement your trips to the grocery store. Not only are you saving food miles racked up from food producers, but you're also cutting back on how often you travel to the store and back. Picking-and eating-your produce when it's ripest means it's also at its peak nutrition-wise.
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4. Be sushi smart: Since 1950 about a third of all fished species worldwide have collapsed. Thus, making sustainable seafood choices is important. When you're ordering sushi, is that maguro (tuna) more sustainable than the sake (salmon)? To find out, download Monterey Bay Aquarium's latest guide or app (seafoodwatch.org), which categorizes sushi into best choices, good alternatives and those to avoid. Sake is generally a better choice than maguro, but in many cases it depends on where the fish was sourced. So ask your server where your sushi came from.
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5. Cut back on some types of meat: Did you know that more greenhouse gases are produced worldwide by animal farming than by transportation? Well, it's true! Some types of meat, though, have more of a negative impact on the environment than others. In fact, the Environmental Working Group recently looked at the environmental impact of 20 conventionally grown protein sources-including beans, dairy, produce, meat and poultry-and determined which are the best and worst choices. The top offenders (as in ones you should limit) are: lamb, beef, cheese and pork. Find out which foods were listed as the best sources of protein here.
What's your best tip to green up your diet?
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.
Related Links from EatingWell:
- Is Organic Food Really Healthier? And 6 Other Common Questions About Organics Answered
- Spring-Clean Your Diet By Ditching These 4 Foods
- 7 Ways to Clean Up Your Diet & Green Up Your Home
- Get 14 "Eat Green" Recipes in our Free Mini-Cookbook