What is high in protein, protective of your heart, and beneficial for your brain - including mood, memory, cognitive skills, and healthy aging? Seafood! Seafood, which includes fish and shellfish, can also be high in calcium, vitamin D, selenium, and of course, fish oils, or omega-3 fatty acids.
Which seafood is best for your health? Fatty fish contain the most omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D; these include salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and anchovies, among others. Swordfish is also high in omega-3s but controversial - High in mercury? Read more here. Sustainable? Find the right kinds of swordfish here.
Other healthful options: salmon and sardines have the highest calcium content when you eat the bones; tuna and halibut have the most selenium; cod and shrimp are highest in iodine. There are many options, and eating a variety is going to help you get a diversity of nutrients. Note that eating fish is better than taking fish oils; that will have to be a future blog. Health organizations and experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week, with a 3 ½ ounce serving size. If you think fish is not affordable, consider your portion size, as you may be able to split your portion into two dinners.
Which seafood is best for the environment? There are good and bad options with both wild and farm raised fish. It’s clear that some waterways and marine life are overfished, and some fish farms are using antibiotics and pesticides. You really need to be informed! My go-to resource for sustainable seafood information is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch® program. With a robust website and easy to use app, this program helps you choose the best seafood for the environment; provides recipes so you can enjoy a variety of flavors (arctic char, rockfish, crab, clams and squid anyone?); and directs you to restaurants that offer sustainable options. If you still aren’t convinced that your seafood choices matter, check out the science-backed, research-based recommendations here.
Just One Thing to do: Eat fish at least twice a week for your health, and choose sustainable seafood for the health of our oceans.
Do you know where your food comes from?
It is estimated that food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. That means you can get a variety of foods any place, any time, but sometimes at a cost to the environment: transportation requires fossil fuel and emits greenhouse gasses.
A common term in the study of sustainable nutrition is “food miles” - meaning how far your food travels before you buy it - and is one reason to eat locally produced foods, with fewer food miles equating to a shorter route from farm to table. You can even calculate them yourself here.
Buy locally when possible. First, ask questions at the grocery store – which vegetables are grown in state? Which chicken or pork is raised locally? Information is also readily available online about farmers’ markets, farm stands, and local egg, meat or poultry shares. There are probably also gardening opportunities in your area, even if you don’t have room in your own yard. If you do not find the information you need online, call a local extension agent for advice on how to grow or find your favorite foods.
While I advocate for and support eating locally, I also know that some foods are shipped from afar when they are not available locally, and that makes sense when it would take more resources to grow locally (e.g. water, soil amendments) than it currently takes to ship that produce in. If you really want to make an impact, you may choose to avoid any foods that cannot be grown or raised locally; how much do you love those avocados and pineapples? The choice is yours.
Just One Thing to do: Look for locally grown and raised food in your grocery store, farmers’ market and farm stands.
Just One More Thing to do: Consider buying a share of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)! Find great information and resources here.
Now that you have decreased your intake of beef and dairy (April 8 blog), you may be wondering what other proteins you can add to your daily intake to complement the fruits and vegetables you are no longer wasting (April 1 blog). My recommendation: PULSES!
Pulses are a subgroup of the legume family, and specifically include dried beans, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, and lentils, among others listed here. These remarkable crops are associated with sustainable agriculture by improving soil fertility, increasing nutrient availability, helping the ecosystem suppress diseases, reducing dependency on fertilizers, and using fewer resources than many other crops. AND they can adapt to climate change thanks to their genetic diversity.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to eat more pulses, they are also nutrient dense: high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals while low in fat, with no cholesterol or gluten. They are inexpensive and easy to cook, too, with a variety of flavors that lend themselves well to a wide array of spices and cuisines.
Just One Thing to do: Substitute pulses for meat 3 to 4 times per week. If that seems overwhelming for dinner options, commit to making all your lunches meat-free and dairy-free, based on these plant foods instead.
P.S. Need help with preparation and cooking? Try this great resource: Pulses
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock has a significant impact on the environment, evidenced by extensive research and data collection. First, just raising cattle requires vast natural resources, including land and water, which are becoming increasingly degraded and scarce around the world. Second, cattle contribute to pollution through animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides, and sediments from eroded pastures. Third, their burps and gas contain methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In fact, cattle, along with other grazing animals such as lamb and dairy cows, contribute 40% of the environment’s methane.
Producing one serving of beef releases more CO2 and methane, and uses more land and water, than poultry, eggs, beans, and nuts, other high-quality protein sources.
A recent EPA inventory reported that beef cattle account for 71% of methane emissions while dairy cattle account for another 24%.
Just One Thing to do: Reduce your beef intake to one (3 ounce) serving a week. Replace with plant-based proteins such as beans, peas, lentils and nuts, as well as lower impact animal products like chicken, turkey and eggs.
Sustainability is a bit of a buzz word right now, but it isn’t always clear what it means. I support eating a more sustainable diet – that is, a pattern of eating that has a low environmental impact. It’s no secret that our planet is suffering from air and water pollution, along with depleted nutrient levels in soil and overfished oceans. But what will it take to convince you that it matters to you?
Let’s start with air pollution. Increased allergies, upper respiratory tract infections, eye irritation and headaches. Heart disease and lung cancer (top causes of death in the U.S.). Extreme weather patterns that effect you if you like to play, hunt, fish, camp, or exercise outside.
A first step in confronting air pollution is something we can each easily address: less food waste. Here in the U.S., we waste 30-40% of our food. Some of that waste occurs along the production chain and in food service, but it’s estimated that household food waste is a striking 30%! When food is disposed in landfills, it rots and becomes a huge source of methane, a greenhouse gas with over 20 times the damaging effects of CO2. Food waste is a higher polluter than road transportation. Yikes. Find good tips on reducing food waste here.
Just One Thing to do: Only buy food you know you will eat. Buy less at the market and use up everything.
P.S. April is Earth Month, so follow along all month as I present more ways you can eat a more sustainable diet! Weekly updates will appear on this blog and on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JustOneThingNutritionMelissaWdowik/