One of the habits that has the biggest impact on our health, our finances, and our environment is the way we eat. This is a subject on which a lot of research has been made in the last years, and the one thing that the researcher agree on is that nutrition should be tailored to the individual. So please consult your doctor or nutritionist for a solution that works especially for you before applying anything in this article. Here we will not go in detail about the macronutrients, carbs, protein and calories of the food we eat. Instead we will look at how it affects our energy levels and especially how food, as it is grown today, affects our environment.
We all heard that eating processed food, sugar or a lot of carbs might be not so good for us, but how often do we think about the impact that our overconsumption and our food system has on the planet?
Introducing Michael Pollan, author and activist for sustainable food, who was curious about where is his burger coming from. So he went to a cow farm where he thought he might find the answer. But of course cows are raised with plants so he had to go a step backwards and find out where the plants are coming from. And since plants use a lot of fertilizer and pesticides to grow bigger, he ended up searching for the answer in Middle East. And what he found out was pretty surprising: to produce one burger we use approximately 750 ml or 28 ounces of oil, for fertilizers, pesticides, transport and processing. If we scale this up to the total food produced we can see that the food system accounts for 20% of the fossil fuel use, 500 billion dollars in medical bills for food related diseases, and 1/3 of the total greenhouse gas emissions. It seems that from the saying: you can choose to pay your doctor or your farmer, we have chosen to pay the doctor.
The impact on the water consumption is even higher. It is estimated that around 50% of the water consumption is used for irrigation making the food industry the larger consumer of water on the planet. For instance, wheat requires 500 liters or 132 gallons of water per 0,45 kg or 1 pound. The same amount of cheese requires 2271 liters or 600 gallons of water. A glass of milk? 378 liters or 100 gallons of water, similar for a glass of wine or beer. It is just mind-boggling the amount of water and oil we use to produce our food. If you want to find out more you can go to http://www.gracelinks.org/ and find all the data regarding the impact of food on water, and other interesting information.
Unfortunately the bad news don’t stop there. Every person in the E.U. and U.S. wastes on average enough food to feed one more person. So not only are we over consuming and polluting the environment, but half of this is wasted in vain, it doesn’t bring us any satisfaction whatsoever. Looking at the numbers, an average person throws away 76 kg/167 pounds of food per year in Romania, 149 kg/328 pounds in Germany and 226 kg/ 498 pounds in UK and in the US even more.
This is all very alarming but there is also hope and we as individuals can change this system for the better. Let’s look at the problem true the 80/20 Pareto principle: What changes in our eating habits would bring the most value to us and the Planet? Looking at the data, the first change that we should make would have to be reducing the food waste. If we could reduce or even eliminate it, we could not only stop wasting money but also ofset the impact we have on the environment.
But how should we do it?
1. Being aware of the unconscious behaviors that might make us by more food
For instance if you are hungry when you go shopping you are far more likely to overbuy food. If you go shopping after a meal the chances to overstock on produce are reduced, so before heading to the grocery store have a small bite. After you come back from the shop, and got only what you needed, reward yourself with something you just bought. This will help you create a habit out of buying only what is necessary for you and your family, avoiding waste while saving money and the planet.
2. Eating a small variety of products during the week
Based on a diet plan I avoid stocking up the fridge with easily degradable products, instead I buy fresh food every day on my way from work. This will take around 5 min of your time, but if you have the possibilities, and have a shop nearby, you should give it a try.
One advantage of doing this is that we increase the quality of our food, since most of us do not store food properly and risk to spoil it. The second reason is you only buy what you need for one or 2 meals so you are far less likely to overestimate, and 3rd, if you have a sudden craving, you can decide on a day to day basis what to eat.
However if you do not have a food store nearby you can record your food consumption over one week, taking into account also how much food you waste, and use that as a bench mark for your weekly shopping. And if you are worried that you will run out of food, you could buy some canned products. Usually canned food has a long expiration date so it is far less likely to go to waste. But keep it only as a back-up solution because some research shows that large quantities of aluminum absorbed by food are related to a number of brain diseases like Alzheimer for example.
If you absolutely hate canned food and have to store foods for long periods of time, here are some
3. Basics for storing food:
Bacteria are everywhere, some of them are good for us like the ones in our gut, and some of them can cause infections. Although we can’t get rid of all the bacteria in our homes, we can control the number, by not creating an environment where they can easily develop – food, humidity, heat and time.
a. Cover your food.
Bacteria love raw fish, raw meet, dairy, and cooked food like soups, sauces rice, pasta or legumes. If you cover the food, the bacteria from the air can’t reach the food, that is why everything you buy from the butcher has to be rapt, and the cooked food has to be covered as soon as it is cold.
b. Keep the meat in the fridge.
Bacteria need a certain range to grow, so do not leave for long fish or meet at room temperature and try to store them as soon as possible in the fridge. Bacteria usually prefer a temperature range from 8° Celsius (46° F) to 75° Celsius (167° F), so you can keep your cooked food over 75° for a long period of time outside, but soon as it is cold it’s good to store it in the fridge.
c. Keep your fridge well organized.
In order to avoid possible contamination is good to store meat and fish on the bottom shelf, and the other products like salads or legumes on the top shelf. This way you avoid contamination from the raw food.
4. Support your local bio farmers.
Instead of encouraging big producers to continue the mass production.
We always complain that corporations are evil and they only want our money, but instead of complaining we can use this to our advantage, by not giving them our hard earned cash for products that are not bringing benefits to us or the environment we can directly influence their behavior. A great sales guy told me when I was starting in my career: ‘Florin don’t forget that in business your money (salary) is in the customer pocket, he decides what he gets, without him you have no money and no power.’ This made me realize that our spending habits have much more impact on companies then we realize.
5. Read the labels
Not only for the expiration date, but also look for clues about how to store it, where the food is coming from or how much sugar and fat it contains. You will be surprised how much sugar there is in products that are presented as low fat or healthy, for instance I was shocked to find out that my low fat yogurt contains half the quantity of sugar as a Coca-Cola. So be vigilant, you only need to do this once per product until you find the ones that are best for you, but this little check can make the difference between eating something healthy or buying something that is only advertised as being so. Also, like this you can choose to buy the products that are produced near your region, instead of being shipped across the globe.
To find out more about the importance of reading the labels, you can follow the story of two identical twins, Alexander and Chris, both doctors, who tested out two of the most popular and debated diets while observing the results.
In a one month unique experiment for BBC’s Horizon one of them went on a low-carb diet, and the other had a low-fat diet. What they found out was pretty amazing. Both diets had their ups and downs, the low-fat one performed better at brain tests, while the low-carb diet won the weight loss competition, but also broke down muscle tissue in the process. So after a month of testing in similar conditions, it was really hard to say which of the two diets is best, and that lead Alexander and Chris to ask a different question. Which foods make us eat more and gain weight, and why?
They realized that it’s not sugar or fat making us eat more and consequently gaining weight, but is the combination between the two. By themselves, neither sugar nor fat are very addictive. However when they are put together, like in ice-cream, the effect on the brain is similar to having cocaine, according to some scientists. The food industry knows this and that is why you’re rarely sold the two separately. That is why it is crucial you read the labels, and keep an eye on what you are putting in your body. It might be one of the most important things you can do for yourself and the planet.
Let us know which of this tips worked best for you in the comment box bellow.