Sustainable Living | Jan 1, 2019 7:38:00 AM

Eating Healthier and Better for an Eco-Friendly Life

Happy New Year, everyone! It's finally January, which means we have survived the Christmas feast, all the sweets and alcohol, and the dinner and champagne on New Year's Eve as well. Many people feel they need a break after this. They swear off sweets and alcohol for the year and vow to live healthier and more eco-friendly from now on. However, a lot of these New Year's Eve resolutions get dropped very quickly. The demands are too high, so we fall back into our old patterns after a few difficult weeks of trying very hard to resist all temptation.

But the idea behind the resolution is a great one: we want to live a healthier life, better for us and for our environment. Because there is no sense in taking care of our own health if we are killing our beautiful planet at the same time! So instead of restricting ourselves to only celery stalks and carrots, which we can surely not do for long, our goal should be to eat better in order to live more eco-friendly and healthy lives. This way, we can live better and longer, help the environment and actually benefit financially, physically and mentally as well!

Do it right!

In order to make sure the demands are not too much on ourselves, we have to do it right. Because living more environmentally-friendly and healthier has to be a long-term commitment, if it should be fruitful. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything, all at once. Quite the opposite: if you want to change your behaviour for the better and want to make it stick, you have to do it incrementally. One big change will be too challenging, and we will drop the endeavour after a short time. It’s true that four bad habits, smoking and drinking alcohol, not exercising and not eating fruit and vegetable, can cost up to 12 years of your life, but don't swear off all bad habits at once!

Instead, we have to be more careful about it. We should go in small, simple and realistic steps, so that slowly but surely we will adopt a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle. We have a whole list of little changes for a healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle which can be made quite easily, and which can be added up as you go along. Every step that we take towards environmentally friendly living will help the world. Every step towards living better and healthier will help your body, mind and soul. And living more eco-friendly doesn't have to be more expensive either: it's about simplifying our actions, cutting out the middlemen and being more hands-on. The decision to change is the first and the hardest step in a long chain. Now we have to keep adding more and more healthier and more eco-friendly practices to our daily lives. It's a journey, not a destination.

And whatever you choose to do, whichever little steps you decide to include in your life: don't forget that it’s okay to sin sometimes. It's okay to eat that burger and fries occasionally if most of the time you adhere to a healthier and better diet. It's okay to not exercise during your vacation. Don't take it too hard, or your endeavour to lead a healthier, more environmentally friendly life will fail. Be happy with every step you take, and forgiving with every stone you skip. You are on the right track, and that's all that matters!

Go to the right source

When trying to eat healthier and more eco-sustainably, it all starts with sourcing the food right. Whenever possible, try to buy local. When you buy food locally, it will be fresher and better quality as well as contain more nutrients. Also, you support your local community and economy, so it's better for all. In addition to that, you should buy your fruit and vegetables according to the season. This way, you avoid tasteless and nutrient-lacking produce, and will also save money!

If possible, buy organic food. Organic food is produced using methods that comply with the standards of organic farming. Those incorporate resource cycling, conserving biodiversity and avoiding chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other toxins which could harm us and the environment. This applies to fruit and vegetable as well as meats and fish.

Whether organic or not, fruit is best from your trusted farmer's markets, or if possible, directly from the producer. Many orchards offer their apples as well as apple juice or cider for sale, and there are huge fields of blueberries where you could go and pick them yourself! Free-range chicken meat and eggs, grass-fed beef, grass-finished lamb, mutton and pork, farmed or caught fish - always make sure your meat and fish is as free of antibiotics, as "happy" and as sustainable as possible. This will ensure that it tastes better, is better for your health, and better for our planet as well!

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Grow your own food

If you have a garden or balcony, you could even grow your own fruit and/or vegetable. For example, apple, pear and plum trees and blueberry bushes are just some plants that you could grow in your garden. They are very low-maintenance, can withstand cold temperatures in the winter without any problems, and will give you delicious fruits in the summer and autumn. Strawberries grow wonderfully in pots outside, as do cherry tomatoes, so they could live on your balcony or patio for the spring and summer. Mediterranean or Asian herbs like basil, rosemary, mint and many others can even be grown inside the house when standing at a South-facing window, even in winter.

And if you and your home are simply not ready for plants, you could always join a community garden. You will get a patch of earth where you can cultivate your own fruit, vegetables and flowers, and you can learn from more experienced gardeners there. It’s very healthy exercise for you, great fun for the whole family, and you can get delicious produce out of it as well!

When growing your own fruit and vegetable in your garden, try to grow plants as locally native as possible. Native plants have evolved according to the climate and conditions, so they won't need greenhouses, fertilizers or pesticides to keep them healthy. Also, there are so many great locally native plants everywhere in the world, so ask a trusted garden centre or a more experienced gardener for advice.

Make sure you also plant some native flowers, to attract bees for pollination. Bees are a very important part of our ecosystem, so support them any way possible. You should offer them a great variety of local flowers, nesting opportunities (bundles of hollow reeds/bamboo stems or logs of old wood) and, most importantly, a safe space without pesticides and fly swatters! Solitary bees only ever sting when threatened, so you and your family will be perfectly safe while the bees will do great pollination work around your garden. Also, the local ecosystem and the environment will thank you for it.

Buy only what you need

When buying your food, you should make sure to only buy what you need in order to avoid food waste. A meal plan might help you plan your family's meals and get the right amount of ingredients. This way, you won’t have to throw away any food when it goes bad. That would be a waste of your money, and of valuable resources.

When planning your meals, have at least one veggie day per week. Studies have shown that eating too much meat is not good for your body, and producing meat is consuming a lot of valuable resources, so going meatless at least once a week can have a great impact on your health and the environment.

Try to work as many servings of fruit and vegetable into your meal plan as possible. The recommendation is five servings of fruit and vegetable per day per person. Make sure to have a variety - eating all colours of the rainbow is strongly recommended, because this way you will be able to take in as many different micronutrients as possible. Fiber, vitamins of all different kinds, antioxidants - every fruit and every vegetable has a different mix and can therefore be very useful in your diet!

But fruit and vegetables are not all you need for a healthy diet. Make sure you consider all your foods. For example, don’t forget about your fats! There are many different fats, and that is important to consider: buy and use healthy fats instead of unhealthy ones. Olive oil, peanut oil, avocados and their oil, nuts, sunflower seeds and their oils, fish, flaxseed, rapeseed and soybean oil all count as healthy fats. They contain many unsaturated fatty acids, which our bodies need and can’t produce on our own. Once again, make sure they are sourced sustainably: too much valuable rain forest has already been lost for growing and manufacturing cheap palm or coconut oil. Try to get organic, if possible even local oils.

Also, stock up your kitchen with healthy food which will not go bad. Lentils, wholegrain pasta and brown rice are healthy and will help you make quick and delicious meals. Herbs (whether fresh or dried) are great to add some taste to your meals. That way, you can reduce your salt and sugar intake, which is a great way to live healthier as well. Also invest in some healthy snacks, for when the hunger pangs strike you hard. Nuts are great for this, as are unsweetened dried fruits. Nibbling away at fresh vegetables like carrot sticks or celery is great for snacking as well, giving you lots of vitamins and filling up your stomach in a healthy way. If you have a sweet tooth, cocoa nibbles or dark chocolate might be more your thing. Either way, make sure you have some healthy alternatives on hand for when the cravings kick in.

Use what you have

Try to throw away as little food as possible, as that is just a waste of money and valuable resources. Instead, keep an eye on the food in your fridge and pantry, and use or freeze items before they goes bad.

When there are leftovers after a meal, don't throw them away. You can bring them to the office as lunch the next day, or eat them for supper. You could also use the scraps to make new meals, such as using leftover rotisserie chicken with some fresh vegetable for making chicken soup. Leftover turkey breast is great on sandwiches with green apple and sweet mustard. If you have several slices of your Sunday roast and no other use for them, freeze them together with the gravy and keep it for one of those lazy days when you just can't be bothered to cook. You can get creative!

Understanding the Best By date

On this topic you should also learn to better understand the Best By date: fresh fish and meat have a compulsory date, and using them after this date might result in food poisoning. Therefore, use them beforehand, smell the meat if it looks a bit off, and if in doubt, don’t use it anymore. If you know you won't be using the meat before its Best By date, you can always freeze it. In order to use it, take it out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw slowly in the fridge. However, make sure you never freeze meat or fish more than once, as they could grow dangerous germs like salmonella, and always make sure your thawed meat is cooked thoroughly.

Fruit and vegetables will still be good several days after the Best By date. They might not look as appetizing anymore, but they are still very much edible. If you don’t want to eat mushy peppers or overly ripe bananas - use them in other ways! Ripe bananas are great for banana bread, pancakes or smoothies. Wrinkly apples are fantastic for homemade applesauce or apple pie. All kinds of berries can be frozen in order to be thawed and eaten at a later date. Peppers and tomatoes can be cleaned and frozen, and used for sauces, gravies and soups. Green beans, broccoli and cauliflower should be parboiled before freezing, then they can be added to your meals quickly in the future.

Dairy can also be used past the Best By date. Milk, cream, yogurt and cream cheese will generally keep longer than the Best By date by several days as long as you always keep them in the fridge. Once again, use your nose or taste a sip if in doubt; bad milk will smell and taste sour. If you see mould in your milk, cream or cream cheese, pour it away. Hard cheese will generally keep longer than soft cheese. If a hard cheese develops a small patch of mould, you can even cut the mold off generously and still eat the rest of the cheese! Eggs are easy: if in doubt, put them in a glass of water. Good eggs will sink to the ground, while bad eggs float.

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Get cooking!

Being creative also applies to what you do in the kitchen, because here is the next tip: cook from scratch. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't take the time to cook anymore. Instead, they pick up fast food, pre-made food from the supermarket, or ready-to-eat meals for themselves and their family. However, most heavily processed foods like burgers, ready-made meals or sauces contain too much sugar, salt and fat. Many of them have been “enhanced” with artificial colours, flavours and preservatives as well. They are generally unhealthy and not as tasty as a home-cooked meal either.

So get cooking! If you are not confident in the kitchen, then that's even more of a reason to try. There are so many simple yet delicious recipes in cookbooks, and many websites and apps for beginners and advanced cooking fanatics as well. If you feel very unsure about cooking, you can also watch step-by-step videos. They will help you prepare the meals from the beginning until the end, and you can improve your skills slowly but surely. Your family will love the home-made meals! And don't worry about the mess - cleaning the kitchen is fast and easy if you do it right

Whether cooking yourself or eating takeout, try to avoid deep-fried foods. They are unnecessarily greasy, usually fried in unhealthy oil, and can upset your stomach. Also stay away from overly sweet food and drinks, such as coke and other sodas. The refined sugar used in those will make your blood sugar spike just before causing it to crash, making you crave even more food. Therefore, it's healthier to drink water with lemon, ginger or a sip if juice, or slightly sweetened tea.

Enjoy your meals

Last but not least: enjoy. Savour your meals properly: taste the ingredients and spices, feel the textures, enjoy your food. You should eat slowly, because your stomach will tell you when you no longer need any more food. You should stop eating before you are completely full, so eating slowly will give your body time to realize and let you know that you are no longer hungry. Drink enough water during your meal and throughout the day: experts say you should take in between 2 and 3 litres (8 to 10 glasses) of water per day.

And since we are talking about enjoying: drinking in moderation is perfectly okay. True, too much alcohol at once can cause alcohol poisoning, and over an extended period can seriously harm your liver. However, drinking in moderation is actually recommended. Studies have found that a small serving of red wine once a day will actually improve your cardiac health and reduce the risk of a heart attack! So… enjoy!

In fact, "in moderation" applies to everything when it comes to food and drinks. Too much of one thing can actually be bad for you, while you can eat everything in moderation. Yes, even those delicious curly fries! All that matters is that you keep a varied diet with a healthy balance which makes you feel good, happy and healthy. Because you can be sure that your body will feel so much better once you give it exactly what it needs. So enjoy the start of the new year by starting to live a healthier and more eco-friendly life!

We wish you all the best for the new year, and a lot of fun and enjoyment from trying one or some of our tips on how to eat better for a healthier and more eco-friendly life. And be sure to join us for our next blog on how you can avoid wasting resources and produce less garbage!

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