While the challenges of climate change can seem overwhelming, we can make significant everyday choices to ensure a more stable future, starting at the dining room table. Even better, sustainable food choices also happen to be the best choices for our health, so it’s a double win! An earth-friendly diet is a health-friendly diet too!
So, with that in mind, here are four quick and easy tips to curb both your waistline and your carbon footprint.
Limit animal products
Livestock production is a major contributor to air and water pollution, deforestation, and greenhouse emissions. Whether cleared forests for grazing or massive corn fields for animal feed, pigs, sheep, cows and chickens use up a lot of space and resources that could be better used toward wildlife preservation or produce for direct consumption by humans. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined. You could never fly or drive again, and you would still have a larger carbon footprint than if you stopped consuming meat and dairy!
As for your personal health, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies processed meat as a carcinogen in the same group as cigarettes and asbestos, with strong evidence that high consumption of processed meat increases the likelihood of bowel cancer. Red meat also has strong links to colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. On the other hand, vegetarian diets are correlated with lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and hypertension. Vegetarians also have a lower BMI, on average, than meat eaters.
All this being said, you don’t have to become an overnight vegan to reap the benefits of a plant-dominant diet. Moderation is key. Simply eating meat less often, restricting red meat, and portioning meat as the side dish instead of the entrée can help the planet and your health. The goal isn’t a crash diet of veganism, but a sustainable lifetime of healthy habits. So adapt whatever habits work best to make sustainable, long-term choices.
Eat seasonally and organically, whenever possible
One easy way to eat locally and more nutritiously is to eat what’s seasonal in your region of the world. Go to your local farmers’ market or hit up the internet to find out what’s growing when. Eating according to season will naturally add variety to your diet—cherries in summer, pumpkins in fall, kale in winter—which will make your cart look even more colorful and inspiring, and might even convince you to cook more and go out less.
Foods that aren’t in season tend to require more pesticides and fertilizer, as well as travel farther distances to get to your grocery store. They also don’t taste as flavorful, and therefore don’t feel as satisfying. A November apple will taste much sweeter and richer than a November strawberry, and you’ll be making the better choice for the soil and the climate too!
Think outside the packaging
Another trick to eat and act more “green” is to challenge yourself to leave the grocery store with the as little packaging as possible. Most food packaging is mixed-material and therefore not recyclable (or, if recyclable, only at special drop-off sites). So instead of the bags of chips, try buying and cooking whole potatoes. Instead of fruit juices and gummies, try buying whole fruit! You’ll consume more fiber and more vitamins, without all the extra fat, salt and calories of processed foods. By reducing the amount of packaging in your grocery cart, you’ll automatically end up consuming more plants and less junk and sugar.
Shopping package-free is getting easier and easier. More grocery stores offer produce you can bag yourself (just remember to bring a reusable mesh bag), and bulk bins you can use to stock up on grains and nuts. And as zero-waste grocery stores become more popular, casks to refill bottles of olive oil, kegs to refill growlers of beer, and barrels to refill pickle jars are becoming readily more common. So save your body and landfills the unnecessary junk and buy whole foods whenever possible.
Get addicted to water
Shipping bottled beverages around the world requires tons of resources, literally, from the containers their packaged in, to the ships their transported in, to the trucks their delivered in. Not to mention that liquids are heavy, so they require even more fossil fuels than other food items. As for your personal health, sodas contain processed sugars or artificial sweeteners, both of which can alter your metabolism, making it more challenging to burn fat and lose weight. Also, the caramel coloring in many sodas, as well as the BPA lining on the can, have been linked to cancer, heart disease and reproductive problems.
Of course, not all beverages are created equal, and there are healthier alternatives. You don’t need to deprive yourself of bottle of wine with dinner or a cold soft drink on a hot day. Just consume mindfully and in moderation – and make sure to recycle the container when you’re done! And whenever possible, drink water. Consider installing a filter to make your tap more delicious, or adding citrus, mint leaves or frozen berries to your glass to make a cold cup of water even more delightful.
This might be the most important tip of all, for both your health and the planet’s. Next time you make a meal, sit down to enjoy it. Even if it’s only twenty minutes, turn off the television, put down the phone, and simply chew. Schedule more family meals: studies have shown that eating with friends or family leads to healthier habits. You’ll eat slower, enjoy the food more, and feel fuller faster.
By appreciating the meal in front of you and focusing on your experience and your loved ones during mealtime, you’ll also likely eat less without even realizing it. Which is important because Americans eat a lot more food than we actually need: about 2,481 calories a day, on average, which is 23% more calories than we consumed back in 1970. If we cut down our portions and only ate as much as we necessary to feel satisfied and energized, we would reduce the likelihood of many food-related diseases—like diabetes and heart disease—as well as reduce our consumption of natural resources.
Of course, not all these tips work for everyone, and it’s important to focus on what’s right for your needs. We all have different bodies, different resources and different challenges. A healthy habit may be a breeze for one person, and impossible (or even unhealthy) for another, so the most important thing is to listen to your own body. Be mindful of your own mental and physical needs and make the changes you can manage. And remember: even the smallest changes can have a massive impact.
Learn more [link] about how Alyne is committed to environmentally friendly practices.