It’s Earth Month! Time to enjoy the green shoots of spring that are emerging, which not only reminds us of fresh starts and change, but also of the earth’s amazing capacity to renew itself. It’s also starting countdown to summer-which mean, yes, swimsuit season, shorts, and all that other exposed skin. What better time to make some lean and green changes that are both earth and girth friendly? We’ve compiled 14 things YOU can do to celebrate the environment and green your diet for Earth Day (April 22nd)- some you may have heard of before, some you may be doing already, and some may be completely fresh ideas for you-but I hope you’ll find inspiration as well as specific how to information in the tips below. You’ll emerge from the challenge looking and feeling your best as you spring into the new season! Got other new ideas? I’d love to hear them. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 1) Go Vegetarian Two Days a Week. This is the number one thing you can do to go green and get lean. Did you that going vegetarian one day a week creates a greater environmental saving for the planet than switching to an all local diet? This is good news for those of us living in parts of the world with short growing seasons. Plant rich diets are the fastest and easiest way to immediately start eating in a way that’s healthier for you and the planet. Think Mediterranean: pack your plate today with plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds), and serve smaller portions of animal products.
2) Switch to Organic Milk. I’m often asked where people can get the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to changing their grocery list to be leaner, greener, and better for our food system. Organic milk is one of the most powerful purchases you can make on all fronts, and research continues to show that it is even more nutrient rich than conventional milk: Organic milk has been found to contain 70-240% more omega 3s, to have a healthier omega 6: omega 3 ratio, to contain up to 50% higher levels of vitamin E, 75% higher levels of beta carotene, and 2-3x more antioxidants. It also has less of the artery clogging stuff- a new study found organic milk contains 20-40% less artery clogging saturated fat than conventional, with significantly higher levels of healthy omega 3 fats. And if you're a nursing mother, consider this; when mothers who breastfed chose organic milk instead of conventional, their babies enjoyed 36% higher levels of the heart healthy essential fatty acid CLA. When you choose organic milk, you’re also saying no to added hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals in your milk. This is especially important if you have children, whose bodies are more vulnerable to toxins and chemicals because of their lower body weight and continuous growth. Organic milk also has a profound ripple effect on the health of farms: More than 200 acres of farmland is used to grow food for livestock. Choosing organic milk helps ensure this land is free of pesticides and other toxins. With the average American drinking more than 17 gallons of milk a year, that’s over 5,100,000,000 gallons of milk we can potentially change for the better; better health for our families and our communities.
3) Serve a sustainable snack. Snacks are a bigger part of our grocery carts, pantries, and days than ever before-about 23% of America’s calories are coming from snack foods. Eliminate any single serving, highly processed "snack food" that you find in those inner aisles of the grocery store-and reach for Mother Nature's power packed snacks instead: my litmus test? It has to be a ONE INGREDIENT food-as close to its natural growing state as possible-this is the ultimate in nourishing yourself with food that has a high nutrient value to lower cost (remember, processing food creates profits, and adds about 30% to a food’s carbon footprint) and helps reduce all that packaging too. If you have an organic packaged snack that you love, try to buy in bulk and pre-portion yourself into reusable single serving bags to minimize all the packaging (and higher cost) of single serving bags.
4) Learn The Most Important Labels. With a sea of greenwashing claims at the grocery store these days, 3rd party certification is one of the strongest indicators ofindependently verified (as opposed to manufacturer claims) environmental stewardship. Look for USDA Certified Organic, Food Alliance Certified, Marine Stewardship Council (for seafood), Rainforest Alliance Certified, and Fair Trade Certified as pointers on your path to more sustainable shopping. Try using the super easy Label Lookup (from the NRDC) on your iPhone to help you see which labels have the most rigorous standards behind them next time your grocery shop.
5) Pass By the Palm Oil. Did you know that after China and the U.S., Indonesia is the planet’s 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases? That’s because of all the deforestation happening there to plant palm oil plantations—much of which ends up in cheap processed food here in the US. To-boot, palm oil is loaded with artery clogging saturated fat. Read your labels and try to avoid anything that contains palm oil. At the very least, choose brands that contain either organic or Sustainable Certified Palm oil. Here are some of my faves: Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios) are lean and green superfoods, and will pack protein & fiber (key for staying power) as well as heart healthy fats. Reach for fresh seasonal fruit, or dried fruit, Greek yogurt, edamame, air popped popcorn, hummus, olives, or a combo of hemp, pumpkin & sunflower seeds.
6) Get Hooked on Sustainable Seafood. Download the Seafood Watch app for finding sustainable and localseafood on your smart phone. Love sushi? Download the Sushi Guide to find sustainable sushi nearby, or just use one of the pocket guide PDFs to check out your specific region for sustainable seafood. Have you found“Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” seafood in your area? Now you can share the location with others using Project FishMap on your smart phone as well!
7) Put A Green Sheen on Your Night Out. Restaurants are one of the most energy-hungry ways to get your meal. According to Pacific Gas and Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, they use almost 5x as much energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building. Support those restaurants that are making every effort to reduce their impact while still providing you delicious cuisine by using www.dinegreen.com - choose from over 275 Green Certified Restaurants in the United States.
8) Wake up with Organic Coffee. This one change has many perks, as it can immediately impact your world; For most households, that daily coffee drink is one of the most direct connections with the “cooling lungs” of the planet,-the rainforest. Choosing only certified coffee ensures that rainforest is being sustainably managed. Consider that if just 1 household switched to certified coffee for a year, it would help protect 9,200 square feet of rain forest. Savoring your coffee at home, rather than buying a latte to go, is also more eco-chic; did you know it takes 200 liters of water to bring you that Java to go?
9) Say Goodbye to the Bottle. Bottled water is 2,000 times more energy intense than tap water. And experts estimate the annual petroleum used to make plastic bottles for thirsty U.S. consumers could fuel 100,000 cars annually. And then there’s the fact that it takes more than 2x the water that’s actually in the bottle just to make the bottle itself. Tap your tap instead – invest in a good filter at home like those from Brita.
10) Compost Your Food Waste. Here’s a great way to green your diet without changing your shopping habits- try to minimize food waste by serving smaller portions, reusing leftovers, or even giving some to Fido if he can handle it. Food scraps are about 12% of a family’s household waste, and emit powerful warming gasses when they break down in landfills. But in your backyard, it’s a whole different story--regenerate them into nutrient-rich soil instead! Visit www.CleanAirGardening.com to get a chic compost pail for your countertop.
11) Grill up a Grass-fed Bison or Portobello Burger. Instead of a beef burger, opt for a grass-fed bison or mushroom burger. Grass-fed bison provide a healthy dose of omega-3 fats, has significantly less saturated fat per bite, and on average packs about half as many calories as a hamburger. Plus they emit much fewer green house gases than animals corn fed on a feedlot-and can be a powerful win/win for those who want to have their beef and eat it too. And portabellas? Super low in calories, rich in selenium, and super eco-friendly on all fronts. Marinate for 30 minutes prior to grilling for a succulent, juicy burger that will get raves from the carnivores and vegetarians alike.
12) Pick a Peck of Organic Potatoes. Ok, so I don’t know how much a peck actually is, so let’s just say buy organic potatoes. Why? Bang for the buck in every way-lean, green, and clean. Roughly one-third of America’s veggie intake is potatoes- and it is by far the top vegetable consumed by our children. Whether as french fries, mashed or baked, potatoes are an American diet staple. With the average American consuming 142 pounds of potatoes a year. Plus, with RDs often encouraging the public to eat the potato peel as well (for all the fiber and nourishment it provides), given the science it’s especially critical to choose organic. America’s favorite vegetable and most popular tuber lands near the top of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List - it has one of the highest pesticide levels of the 43 fruits and vegetables tested. Unfortunately, even a good scrubbing isn’t likely to completely remove the chemical residues; a 2006 USDA study found that 81% of potatoes still contained pesticides even after being washed and peeled (potatoes are the ONLY peeled vegetable on the Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen list). Not only can root vegetables like potatoes absorb like herbicides, fungicides and pesticides from the surrounding soil while they are growing, but potatoes are often sprayed with fungicides again after harvesting to prevent them from sprouting. Given that it’s a daily staple on America’s plates, in particular our children’s diets, switching to organic can have significant reduction of pesticides and fungicides. The good news is that potatoes are one of the most cost-effective veggies to swap to organic-with organic spuds only slightly more (.60-$1.50 more per pound) than conventional potatoes- about the equivalent of just one iPod download.
13) Say G’Day to Barramundi. Have you heard of this lean and green superfood? Originally from Australia, this sustainable seabass packs a rich, buttery taste and Omega-3 fats but is free of pcb and mercury concerns-earning a “Top Choice” on all leading sustainable seafood guides. Barramundi is a perfect new food to add to your plate in April! Order it at your next dinner out, or check out www.thebetterfish.com for where to find it in a store near you (full disclosure, I am a paid spokesperson for Australis barramundi because I LOVE their fish!!)
14) Join a CSA. Community supported agriculture is one of the pillars of healthier and more sustainable eating. Already done this? Then give yourself a green star- if not, supporting local produce is an easy way to start greening your diet and boosting your health (it encourages you to eat seasonally, which boosts your exposure to a wide variety of foods picked at the peak of perfection-which means at their most nutrient packed!) Check out www.localharvest.org to join and to start putting a face to your food-the farmer who grows it.