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Eco Eats: Know that Food

Focused on Health - July 2010

by Laura Nathan-Garner

grocery listFor most people, grocery shopping is a pain. It can be expensive and time-consuming — especially when you’re trying to minimize your carbon “food” print.

But it doesn’t have to be. Use this cheat sheet to green your grocery list, save money, and stock up on vitamins and nutrients that may prevent cancer.

1. Plan meals for the week.

Each year, more than 25% of food in the United States goes to waste, along with the freshwater and fossil fuels involved in its production and shipping. Usually, this wasted food winds up in landfills, where it generates methane and carbon dioxide.

Go green by planning your meals for the week. Focusing your grocery list on ingredients you really need will prevent repeat trips to the store, keep you from wasting produce and allow you to pick recipes that share ingredients. Plus, you’ll be less likely to eat out and more likely to eat nutritious foods that help cut your cancer risk.

To really reduce your carbon “food” print:oats with scoop

  • Remember the leftovers. Avoid wasting leftovers by including them in your weekly meal plan. Integrate them into another meal or eat them for lunch the following day.

  • Shop the bulk bin aisle. By scooping out grains, nuts, flour, beans, oats and spices on your grocery’s bulk bin aisle, you can buy only as much as you need — and cut down on extra packaging. Keep the items fresh by storing them in reusable airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

2. Focus on whole foods.

What are the biggest wasted packaging offenders? Heavily processed foods loaded with extra sugars, salt and fat.

Do your body and the environment a favor. Stock your grocery list with fresh, nutrient-rich whole foods, including produce, fresh meats and fish, beans, milk and eggs. Bonus: Whole foods require less energy for production and packaging than processed foods.

To really reduce your carbon “food” print:girl eating pear

  • Choose snacks with natural wrappers. Pre-packaged snacks waste packaging and use loads of energy for processing and packaging. Plus, their added sodium ups your risk of stomach cancer and high blood pressure. Choose fruit over 100-calorie packs for a fiber-rich snack that keeps you full longer and comes with a built-in wrapper.

  • Eat local. Many food products travel an average of 1,300 miles to reach consumers. That means produce is often picked before it’s ripe, sacrificing nutrition and taste — and using more fuel for delivery. Read the signs to find out where produce is grown, and buy those from nearby, when possible.

  • Know your organics. You can eat some conventionally grown produce and still curb your exposure to harmful pesticides and fertilizers that may cause birth defects, nerve damage and cancer. Keep this updated list of the so-called Dirty Dozen in your wallet or on your mobile device, so you know which organics are a must and which conventional fruits and veggies are safe.

3. Vary your protein sources.

Conventional meat production uses far more energy and emits more greenhouse gases than plant-based foods. So, try trading in meat for nuts or beans a few times a week. You’ll lower your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and cut your risk of several cancers.

To really reduce your carbon “food” print:

  • Skip processed meats like sausage, hot dogs, bologna and pepperoni. Their added salt and smoke expose you to potential cancer-causing agents and increase your risk of colorectal and stomach cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. And, the processing uses extra fossil fuel.

  • Before frying, grilling or broiling meat, cook it partially in the microwave using a ceramic or glass dish. The ceramic or glass container will reduce exposure to harmful chemicals that may sneak into your food during heating. And, the microwave reduces heterocyclic acids (HCAs) that form while grilling and which may increase cancer risk. Microwaving first also may prevent charring, which also ups your cancer risk.

4. Hydrate smart.

Forget bottled water. Many plastic bottles contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which may seep into your water and has been linked to tumor development in animal studies. Your safest bet, says the National Institutes of Health, is to drink filtered tap water.water glass under faucetThis will reduce your exposure to suspected cancer-causing agents. Plus, drinking plenty of water may decrease your risk of bladder cancer.

To really reduce your carbon “food” print:

  • Store water in stainless steel or glass containers. You’ll reduce the need for plastic bottles, which release toxic by-products during manufacturing.

  • Skip sodas. Like water bottles, soda bottles and cans emit toxins during production. Plus, sodas tend to be loaded with sugar, causing weight gain and upping your cancer risk, says the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Who said it’s not easy being green? Next time you moan and groan about going green, remember: You’re not just helping the environment. You’re also doing your body — and your wallet — a favor.

Related Links:
Easy Ideas to Makeover Lunch (MD Anderson)
Five Colorful Foods, One Magical Rainbow (MD Anderson)
Re-Do Your Family Barbeque (MD Anderson)
Where’s the Beef? (MD Anderson)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center