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Eating Locally: A Healthier Option for You and the Planet

We know it’s best to feed our families foods that are both nutritious and good for the planet. But which is better – local, organic – or does it matter? Should we stop eating fish since contamination seems pervasive? What about beef? Should we embrace plant-based diets in the wake of the pink slime scandal?

The good news is that by making a few simple choices you can move toward a healthier diet and planet.

Researchers believe the food that is best for us is also best for the planet. Whole, plant-based foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains are rich in variety, unprocessed and high in nutrients – and they’re also healthiest for the earth when produced using sustainable practices.

Eating well and sustainably is also a seasonal activity. Choosing fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in the Pacific Northwest can improve your diet and support sustainable farming practices. Summertime brings a bounty of foods to our dinner tables, and makes leaning toward a more healthful local diet an easy choice.

Follow these tips to increase the nutritional profile of your diet and soften your footprint on the planet:

Vary proteins – Shifting your daily intake away from the "least-efficient" proteins – beef and other animal products – to the "more-efficient" plant-based ones (grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) is healthful and reduces environmental pressure on land and water resources. Gradually change your eating patterns to include more plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and reduce your consumption of beef, chicken and fish. To get started, try a “meatless Monday” one day a week.

Eating local improves food quality – Local foods are fresher, more flavorful and can be more nutritious than foods shipped from distant locations. Eating locally encourages eating seasonally, which is becoming an important aspect of quality for those seeking to make a closer link between food consumption and the environment. Begin by visiting local farmers markets, which are abundant this time of year. A great resource is the Washington State Farmers Market Association website: www.wafarmersmarkets.com.

Eat organic produce where it counts the most – According to the National Academy of Sciences, more than 80 percent of the most commonly used pesticides have been classified as potentially carcinogenic, and many have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects and human reproductive problems. However, organic food is simply not always available or affordable. Start by buying organic when the conventional variety is known to contain high levels of pesticides. A great resource is the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” website at www.ewg.org/foodnews, which lists produce contamination levels and can help you decide where it counts most to choose organic [according to the website, the top “worst” foods that contain the most pesticides are apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale/collard greens – they recommend buying this produce as certified organic].

Eat whole foods – Choices include: fresh vegetables and fruits; whole grains such as millet, brown rice, oats, rye, whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, cornmeal; beans and legumes including lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans; nuts and seeds. According to researchers, whole grains provide more protection from chronic diseases than any of their component nutrients used as supplements. Another major benefit of eating whole grains is slowing down the digestive process to allow better absorption of the nutrients. Whole foods are rich in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of starches into glucose. Whole foods can also make favorable changes in the intestines, allowing healthful bacteria to keep disease-producing bacteria in check. Additionally, the strong antioxidant properties of fresh fruits and vegetables help protect the body and support proper functioning of the digestive and immune systems. click for more.

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