Eating for a Healthier Planet and You

By Victoria Shanta Retelny, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

While eating mindfully, the practice of slowing down while you eat, chewing your food, and choosing foods that are nourishing to your body is the ideal way to encourage a healthy lifestyle and diet. But mindful eating can help keep the environment healthy, too. Research has shown that choosing foods that are grown, processed, and packaged with the environment in mind can greatly reduce your carbon footprint (the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by your consumption patterns).

What you choose to eat plays a role in the health of the planet, too. Plant eaters have a lower carbon footprint than meat eaters. According to the Scientific Report of the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the current U.S. diet has a large environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use compared to more plant-based diets (such as Mediterranean and vegetarian diets). So, what does this mean? Be mindful to eat greener, for a greener planet.

To eat a green diet, follow these tips:

  • Choose more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds and less high-calorie, animal-based foods.

  • Purchase local and seasonal foods from farmer’s markets and farm cooperatives, if you can. For local farmers markets in your area, go to LocalHarvest.

  • Consume less highly processed and packaged foods or buy in bulk to help cut back on the waste in landfills.

  • Compost organic food waste and recycle paper, plastic, and glass by-products. Bring your own bags to the grocery store — reusing brown paper bags can lessen the impact of the billions of petroleum-based plastic bags used each year in the United States, which wind up littering landfills and polluting our fresh waters.

  • Start your own garden. Or join in the chicken-raising movement.

What about organic versus conventionally grown produce? From a nutrition standpoint, organic fruits and vegetables are no better for your health than conventionally grown ones. So, if you don’t have access to organic produce or it’s too expensive, be sure to eat fruits and vegetables, but take extra care to scrub, rinse, and drain it.