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Eating for Sustainability; 5 Easy Ways To Make A Difference

fresh salad with raw vegetables

Every time you eat, whatever it is, you’re making a decision that has an impact on the environment and on your health. The food you eat gives your body the fuel it needs to thrive. An unhealthy diet can not only make you feel low in energy, but it can also put you at a higher risk of developing certain diseases as well as high blood sugar and cholesterol.

What you eat is not only central to your health but the environment. By choosing food that is locally grown and sustainable, you can take care of the earth as well as your health your diet. With the right knowledge, you can move forward and make the best eating decisions for both the planet and your body.

What Does Food Sustainability Really Mean?

With the state of the planet being such a frequent topic of conversation these days, no doubt you’ve been hearing the term sustainable in relation to your food. In this case, sustainable means able to be maintained at a certain rate or level and we’re specifically concerned with our resources. The trick is to find the balance between choosing sustainable products that are also good for your overall health. When you’re deciding if a product is sustainable or not, there are a few things that you can look at. There is no one definition of sustainable food but a few factors come into play.

First, take a look at the farming practices. Sustainable farming aims to increase output while still taking care of the Earth. In this instance, this means using methods like This would use things like crop rotation and avoiding the use of monocrops, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. Instead of planting just one type of crop, planting varied crops helps to support biodiversity and soil fertility. Other sustainable practices include low environmental impact, protection of public health, good employment practices and community support.

Chemical fertilizers increase plant growth and vigor, but, at the same time, they also stop the plant from developing naturally good characteristics. Things like a solid root system and nutritional characteristics are affected. The chemically produced plant can then accumulate in the human body which can be very dangerous. When disposing of the waste from chemical fertilizers, it can result in water pollution, degrade soil health, and deplete the environment. Another thing to consider is the amount of animals the may consume chemically produced goods, which is another way that these harmful chemicals enter the bodies of humans and the gene pool of animals. This shows how just a few elements of unsustainable food production can impact both the environment and your health.

Eating for Sustainability

basket of vegetables in hands of farmer in overalls

We can often feel disconnected from the food that we eat because of the long journey it's taken to get to our plate. The miles traveled, water used and time taken to grow, package and produce food products are often overlooked. Some of the foods with the highest environmental impact are animal-based such as beef and lamb. When compared with producing plant-based products, you can see why many people reduce or cut out certain foods to live a more sustainable life.

Here are a few standout environmental impact statistics when it comes to producing beef versus plant-based products:

  • 1 pound of beef requires anywhere between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce
  • Beef contributes 17.7 times as much greenhouse gases (GHG) as tofu
  • The plant-based company Beyond Burger requires 46% less energy and 99% less water to produce a plant-based burger than a quarter pound of U.S beef.

You might not want to cut out all meat from your diet and start eating tofu every day. That’s not going to be everyone’s choice, but reducing the amount of meat you eat or maybe starting off by implementing meatless Mondays can actually have a dramatic effect on your health and the health of the earth.

How Does Food Impact Health?

Your food choices impacts both the planet and your health. By eating for your health, you can actually take better care of the planet at the same time. It’s a win-win. The nutrients you feed your body are essential for growth and development. By looking at food as a way to increase health and reduce disease, you can make the right food choices that help your body to thrive.

It’s thought that one of the best ways to eat more sustainably is to heavily reduce or cut out meat and dairy products as these have the highest environmental impact on the planet. Although many people go plant-based for both their health and the environment, just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean it’s healthy. For example, eating a lot of highly refined grains is considered plant-based but is not necessarily healthy. The best way to follow a plant-based diet is by eating a variety of foods like vegetables, nuts, fruits, legumes and plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh.

Related: A Critical Warning for People Replacing Meat With Plant-Based Alternatives

You can also simply reduce the amount of meat and dairy products that you consume. Overall, eating more fruits and veggies is the best way to go. Most dietitians and nutritionists agree that by simply doubling the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat in a day, you’ll feel better and be healthier.

Epigenetics, Health, and Sustainability

woman covering her eyes with dragonfruit

No doubt, the majority of you are familiar with unhealthy foods that can damage our bodies. Some of these foods may add a few pounds while others might stiffen your arteries or slow down your metabolism. But, certain foods may actually help or harm your DNA. The emerging field of epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off. Several factors can impact epigenetics from what we eat to where you live and how you exercise.

Related: How Nutrition Plays a Role In Epigenetics; The Science of Nutrigenetics

By eating foods that make you feel better you can help to eliminate symptoms that often come with unhealthy food choices like gassiness, bloating and stomach cramps. An incredible side effect of taking care of yourself and eating healthy is that you are able to take care of the planet at the same time.

In the United States, obesity is sweeping the nation. The American diet has become far too accustomed to processed foods and high-sugar products thatso it’s no surprise that obesity rates are soaring. Heart disease is highly related to obesity and can be caused by a number of factors such as lifestyle choices but it can also be inherited through epigenetics. So what you eat can increase your descendant’s chances of contracting heart disease. Research also shows that a high-fat diet affects epigenetic changes associated with developing heart disease.

4 Ways to Eat More Sustainably

When you buy food, you’re showing that you support that brand. By increasing the demand for sustainable foods and practices, the industry norm can change. Understanding sustainable food choices and incorporating them into your everyday life can seem difficult. However, once you start making small changes, you’ll realize that there are several ways you can eat more healthy and sustainable foods. Here are four ways to eat more sustainably.

1. Eat Seasonally

Vegetables, fruit, and seeds in a box

If you can, eat seasonally as much as possible. Eating seasonally means you leave some of your food choices up to nature’s discretion. Seasonal food doesn’t need artificial help for it to thrive. This means that it’s likely to have fewer pesticides, chemicals and human assistance to grow. Eating seasonally also means you avoid eating foods that have traveled far which significantly cuts down on food mileage and carbon footprint of the food.

2. Grow Your Own Fruit and Veggies

Gardener holding freshly unearthed potatoes

Is there anything better than fresh fruit and vegetables directly from your garden? By growing your own herbs, fruit, and veg you know exactly what has gone into it to produce them. You eliminate the need for the food to travel so the carbon footprint is virtually non-existent. Subsistence farming is one of the most active ways to practice sustainability because the goal is to grow as much as you need instead of as much as you can. Growing your own food is obviously dependent on your climate but it allows you to get back to your roots and get back to better health.

3. Shop at Your Local Farmer’s Market

Friendly woman tending an organic vegetable stall

If you can’t grow your own food, another great option is to head to your local farmer’s market. This gives you the chance to eat locally grown food and support a business that employs sustainable practices. Buying local food means that it’s been grown and produced in your region. You vote every time you shop, so why not vote for businesses that are driven by sustainability and provide fresh produce and support local people in your area.

4. Reduce Food Waste

Composting the Kitchen Waste

When you throw away food, you’re throwing away resources and money. Americans waste nearly a pound of food each day per person. Between 2007-2014, consumers wasted 150,000 tons of food every day. Experts estimate that this food waste corresponded to the use of 30 million acres of land and 4.2 trillion gallons of water.

Either be more mindful of how much food you buy from the grocery store that might go bad before you get the chance to eat it or reduce the amount of food on your plate. You can always come back for seconds. When something has gone bad, it can still serve a good purpose. Composting is a great way to enrich the soil in your yard. and Use leftover food scraps, peels, or food that has gone bad.

Food sustainability often isn’t at the forefront of your mind when you’re shopping at the grocery store. Convenience, taste, and price can take control of your buying decision. The food you eat is not only at the core of your health but can also massively impact the environment. By making healthy food choices and eating plenty of plant-based whole foods, you can nourish your body and take care of the planet at the same time.

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