Thursday, April 16, 2009

8 Simple Steps to the New Green Diet

From The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition

How to Shop for the Earth, Cook for Your Health and Bring Pleasure Back to Your Kitchen

The following guidelines can help you make healthier, greener food choices for your family’s diet.

1. Eat a variety of foods.
Eating a wide variety of foods is the best way to meet all your nutritional requirements, but the proliferating "variety" in supermarkets does not reflect biological diversity. Three species — rice, corn and wheat — supply nearly 60 percent of the calories and protein people derive from plants. And, of 200 crops eaten by humans, only 30 account for 90 percent of the world’s calorie intake.

2. Buy locally produced food.
The average mouthful of food travels 1,400 miles from the farm to our plates. Food from local farms is fresher and closer to ripeness, has used less energy for transport and is less likely to have been treated with postharvest pesticides. Buying local products also supports regional farmers and preserves farmland. If you get your fruits and vegetables at a farmers’ market or from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, you can ask the farmer whether the food has been genetically engineered or treated with pesticides.

3. Buy produce in season.
Out-of-season produce is costly because transport uses so much energy. It’s also more likely to have been imported, often from a country with less stringent pesticide regulations than the U.S. Instead, in winter, prepare seasonal crops like potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, beets and parsnips. Put away or freeze spring and summer produce, such as berries or snap peas, from local producers. All these foods retain their nutritional content in storage; using them cuts energy costs.

4. Buy organically produced food.
Organic certification guarantees that the product has been grown, handled and processed without synthetic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation. Foods that are labeled "100 percent certified organic" cannot contain genetically engineered ingredients. Organic certification also means the farmer is promoting biological diversity by rotating crops, conserving and renewing the soil, and protecting water sources.

5. Eat fresh, whole foods with adequate starch and fiber.
Whole foods — fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (beans), nuts and seeds — are the healthiest we can eat. The National Cancer Institute recommends we each "strive for five" servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day to protect against cancer, heart disease and common digestive ailments. Also, most fresh produce, legumes and whole grains, with the exception of corn and soy, are still genetically natural.

6. Eat fewer and smaller portions of animal products.

Meat and dairy products are major sources of fat in the U.S. diet, and contribute to higher risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Animal products, including farmed fish, may contain hormones, antibiotics and organochlorine chemicals, such as dioxin, DDT and other pesticides, which concentrate in animal fat. Fish caught in contaminated waters may contain high levels of PCBs or mercury.

Cattle, chickens, pigs and sheep consume more than 70 percent of the grains produced in the United States. So it’s likely that the meat, eggs and dairy products you buy were raised on bioengineered feed — primarily soy, corn or cottonseed meal. Modern meat production also consumes water, energy and land. Animal waste produces air and water pollution. And red meat production creates about 3.5 times more greenhouse gases than that of grains.

When you do buy meat, poultry or dairy, choose organic, which means it has been raised on organic feed.

7. Choose minimally processed and packaged foods.
A typical highly processed "food product" may contain little natural food and be high in fat, salt or sugar. It’s likely to contain genetically engineered soy- and corn-based additives, such as corn syrup and soy lecithin, which are present in 60 percent of all processed foods.

8. Prepare your own meals at home.
Cooking from scratch can involve a little more labor and time, but you can be sure you’ll save money and resources, because you’re not paying someone else to prepare, package, transport and advertise your meals. Home cooking is healthier and more nutritious because you start with fresh ingredients. And it can be its own reward, providing a truly creative outlet and rejuvenating the family meal.

Parts of these 8 Steps are adapted from: Joan Dye Gussow, professor emeritus of nutrition and education, Columbia University Teachers College, and Katherine L. Clancy, director of the Wallace Center for Agriculture & Environmental Policy, "Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability," Journal of Nutrition Education,Vol.18, No.1, 1986.