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Four Easy Food Substitutions - Healthy for You and the Earth
As Kermit the Frog would say, It ain't easy being green, especially when it comes to food and eating. Making the most environmentally responsible choice isn't always the cheapest one, the most readily available, or the most convenient. The same holds true for if you're trying to eat more healthfully—after all, McDonald's locations blanket the country but it's not always easy to find a quick-service restaurant that serves healthy, eco-friendly options.
But for me, maintaining a healthy, green lifestyle involves taking one small step at a time, and incorporating these steps until they become second nature. Even the smallest action over time can have a huge impact on our world, if enough people commit to it. And the same holds true for eating healthier—even just something small, like learning to drink coffee and tea without sugar, or getting used to toast without butter, can incrementally help you maintain your health and weight.
If you're looking for a few easy ways to make changes to your own grocery shopping and eating habits for your health as well as the planet's, her are four places to start:
- Choose dried beans instead of canned. From an environmental standpoint, a bag of dried beans is a much better choice than canned. Dried beans require less energy and other resources to produce, and because the packages are lighter (and don't include excess water), dried beans require less fuel to transport. True, they are not as easy to prepare as canned beans, but they can easily be made in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. And many people argue that cooked dried beans are more flavorful and have a better texture. My sister-in-law is a big fan of dried beans (she orders heirloom varieties from Rancho Gordo) and she will make up a big pot of them and freeze them in individual portions.
- Buy frozen vegetables instead of canned. Of course, ripe, in-season veggies (preferably local and organic) are the best, but as we head into winter and they're no longer available, your best bet is to opt for frozen vegetables. These are typically picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately, so they retain a lot of their nutrients. In some cases, frozen veggies can even be MORE nutritious than fresh ones, which slowly lose their nutrients the longer they sit. Meanwhile, canned vegetables are heat-processed, which robs them of as much as one-third of their nutrients. Plus, many canned vegetables are loaded with sodium, so if you do buy canned veggies, look for the "no salt added" versions. Unfortunately, the decision isn't quite as clear from an environmental perspective. While frozen vegetables require less energy and resources to process than canned, they do require more energy with transportation and storage, since they need to be kept frozen.
- Buy bread that contains more fiber and whole grains. If you automatically gravitate to loaves of white bread in the bakery aisle, switch to a more nutritious bread that contains whole grains and at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber in it. Even if you think you prefer white bread, you might be surprised at how quickly you get used to the heartier flavor of a whole wheat bread, and with every sandwich or piece of toast, you'll be automatically getting some of your daily recommended intake of fiber. For less of an adjustment, look for breads made with white whole wheat or oatmeal, which are the most similar to the white bread that you're used to. Better still, find a good local bakery from which to buy your whole grain bread. You'll be supporting a local business, cutting down on the resources expenditure of transportation, your bread will be fresher and it will contain fewer, if any, preservatives.
- Buy cereal with less packaging. Do your Corn Flakes really need to come in a plastic bag AND a bulky cardboard box, most of which is just holding empty air thanks to the "settling" factor? No. I recently discovered Three Sisters Cereal which is packaged in a resealable plastic bag. Not only that, but the company uses wind power to produce its products, and has a strong recycling program. The all-natural cereals are a little better for you than other supermarket brands, too; many contain whole grains and are sweetened with honey. The only caveat—some contain animal-derived gelatin, so they're not all suitable for vegetarians. There are other brands of cereal that also have reduced packaging, such as Bear Naked, but the best option is to buy cereal in bulk.
What small changes have you made to how you eat to improve your health or the environment?