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10 Steps to Eating Healthy and Green

December 2009

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

When selecting foods to eat, do you consider a safer food supply and a more sustainable environment as well as good health? To eat more “green” Americans need to be more conscious of the foods they eat and how they are grown. Eating well should include the consumption of sufficient plant foods including whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lots of beans, nuts, low-fat dairy, or a dairy substitute such as soy, rice, or almond beverages. Here are ten “small steps” toward eating green:

  1. Choose whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Whole foods require far less energy, packaging, and transporting than their highly processed counterparts. Eat a baked potato instead of potato chips.
  2. Eat less meat. Plant-based foods such as beans, grains, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein. Most Americans eat far more protein than needed for growth, repair, and maintenance of body cells. Meat production of cattle, sheep, and goats has the largest carbon footprint of any agricultural activity. You don't have to go total vegetarian to make a difference. Simply cut back on portion sizes, use smaller amounts of meat in mixed dishes, or incorporate a few meatless main courses each month.
  3. Whenever possible, eat food that is grown, caught and processed close to home. Adapt your diet to include local foods that are in season. Purchase produce from local farmers at farmer's markets, farm direct stores, or community supported agriculture (CSA) food shares.
  4. Grow some of your own food in a home garden, patio containers, or a community garden plot. It's fun, educational, and delicious.
  5. Learn more about certified organic foods and consider purchasing organically grown foods that are grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Organic farming uses “green” principles of agricultural production. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.
  6. Water is critical for human health. It is also a precious and essential natural resource. Practicing water conservation, advocating for wise water use, will help to promote a safe water supply in every community.
  7. The biggest source of food waste is actually food that is purchased and then thrown out, uneaten. Instead of nourishing bodies, food is sent to landfills or processed through sewer systems (via the garbage disposal). Try composting produce peelings and scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells. Worm bins are a great learning project for kids and turn kitchen scraps into garden gold.
  8. Be an advocate for safe, healthful, whole foods grown and processed using “green” methods. Be an advocate for “green” foods with legislators, the media, food manufacturers, advertisers, government agencies, restaurants, schools, farmers, and anyone else that has influence over the food eaten daily.
  9. Save trees and minimize the use of plastics by bringing reusable tote bags and mesh shopping bags to the store to carry home your groceries. Purchase foods such as dry beans, oats, rice, pasta, and other foods in large size containers to reduce packaging.
  10. Use recycled food containers whenever possible. Steel and aluminum cans, cereal and cracker boxes, glass jars, and many plastic bottles can be recycled curbside in many communities.
By eating a plant-based diet, and consuming plant based oils for cooking, your diet will include lots of phytochemicals and antioxidants that help to decrease your risk for major diseases. “Green” foods are healthier for your body and for the planet. Take a small step to “go green” today!