It seems like we hear about it all the time these days. But "green" has always been in style. Especially when it comes to our health. After all, healthy people are living proof that green can also be very good for you.
What do we mean when we say "green?" For this story, "green" means that lifestyle choices that are good for the environment are often good for your health, too. What we eat, how much exercise we get, which products we use every day –"thinking green" in all these areas can lead to better health. And a healthier planet.
Let's start with nutrition. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers lots of helpful tips in its "Green Nutrition" Consumer Corner. Here are a few, along with some tips from other sources:
Locally grown food isn't just green. In many ways, it's bright green. For one thing, local food is much fresher. Fresh food often has more nutrients, and more flavor. For another, food that comes from your area doesn't have to travel far to get from the farm to your table.
This is not necessarily the story with food you buy at the grocery store. Grocery food can come from hundreds, even thousands, of miles away. And it gets to your store by boat, by airplane, or by truck. All of these use gas, create pollution, and are hard on the environment. This can, in turn, be hard on our health.
Buy in bulk.
Buying bigger amounts of food (but not more than you can use) from the bins in your store's bulk-food section means less wasted packaging. It can also save you money.
Just say "no" to bottled water.
Bottled water is expensive, and it's behind ever-growing amounts of container waste. Even with stronger recycling efforts, landfills are piled high with plastic bottles. Bottled water is also behind a lot of what are called "food miles" – that is, the distance food has to travel to get from its source to your store. And food miles add up to both financial and environmental costs in terms of gas, truck fumes, and what have you. So why not choose a reusable water bottle – go for aluminum instead of plastic – and fill it from your tap? If you like the taste of filtered water, buy a filter for your home faucet.
Get to know organic food.
Chances are, you've heard a lot about organic food. Organic food is any kind of food that's produced truly "naturally." This means that fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are grown without chemical fertilizers, insect killer, weed killer, or other chemicals. Organic meat comes from animals raised on organic pasture or feeds. It also means these animals aren't given certain chemicals or drugs to help them grow faster. There are different rules for different kinds of organic foods. For help reading organic food labels, here's a helpful article.
Many people believe that organic foods are healthier than foods that aren't. Common sense says the fewer things that are added to our food, the better. And now science is showing that this could be true.
There are different degrees of organic, so it's good to check food labels and do a little research.
Consider local organic food over long-distance organic food. If your organic food travels thousands of "food miles" to get to the store, some of its higher price tag is due to its higher travel costs. But a more affordable organic option could be closer than you think. All you have to do is visit your local farmers market. Farmers markets are just what they sound like: places where local farmers come to sell the foods they produce. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, honey, beef, chicken, flowers, and herbs – they're all at the farmers market. And their prices are often very affordable. A trip to the farmers market can be fun, too.
The USDA reports that there were more than 7,000 registered farmers markets in America by the middle of 2010. You can also find farmers markets in your area by calling your local farm agent or extension office. Another way is to check the bulletin boards at local coffee shops and health-food stores.
Meet your farmer.
This is easy to do when you visit a farmers market regularly. Better yet, many farmers are happy to sell you food directly and even take orders for special items. And best of all, by supporting local farmers you're supporting your local economy. You're also supporting a healthier environment because your food doesn't have to travel so far to get to your plate. You've reduced the amount of fuel used or pollution caused by such a journey, too.
Eat low on the food chain.
Meat production has a huge impact on the environment. Animals consume huge amounts of resources. They also produce huge amounts of waste. In fact, it takes 10 times the amount of fossil fuel (gas, coal, etc.) to produce one calorie of animal-based food as it does to produce plant-based food. So if you eat fewer animal-based foods, you help reduce the impact.
Try one meatless meal a week.
If meat costs more money than vegetables and is more costly to the environment – consider trying a meatless diet. Just be sure to find your protein and iron in other food sources. You can find many delicious meatless appetizers, entrees, and desserts from the nutrition experts at the Mayo Clinic on their "Meatless Recipes" web page.
Grow local – plant a little garden.
Food doesn't get much closer to home than food grown at home. And these days you don't even have to have a yard to grow your own food. You can start and harvest vegetables, herbs, and even small fruit trees in pots, jars, window boxes, on a porch, or even in a sunny window or room corner. If you prefer a "patch of dirt," there's a good chance your community has garden plots (spaces) available for either a low cost or rent.
You can keep it simple, or you can go to great lengths – no matter how you get into gardening, you'll be joining millions of Americans who've discovered the joy of growing their own food. The University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural Resources has a wonderful website about starting and growing your own garden. For fresh air, exercise, and growing food that's as fresh as fresh can get, your own garden is the best place to be. For helping the earth, it's a great place to be, too.
Green exercise: the natural way to get fit.
Speaking of fresh air and activity, living green and living healthy go together here, too. And you can start reducing your carbon footprint one step at a time – just by walking somewhere. You can even start just by parking your car at the back of the parking lot and walking a little farther to the store. If you live fairly close to work, try walking or riding your bike there and back one day a week. It will help you save money on gas or parking. It will help improve your heart health and lower your risk of obesity (being overweight).
And there really is a kind of exercise called "green exercise." It's good for your body, and good for your mind, too. Science Daily says that just five minutes of exercise in a park, working in your garden, or walking on a nature trail or in another natural environment can reduce stress and raise self-esteem.
Learn to clean green.
"The Daily Green" is a website about green living from the people at Good Housekeeping.com. After all, who knows more about keeping our homes clean than Good Housekeeping?
There are thousands of products out there to clean, strip, sanitize, starch, bleach, soften, polish, brighten, and smooth every corner and surface of a home. The bad news is a lot of these products contain chemicals that could be dangerous to both people and the environment. In some cases, they might cause allergic reactions, burns, or chronic breathing problems. They can even be poisonous. And even though their labels and ads might promise "a better clean," more often than not, they don't deliver.
Find out more about clean and green housekeeping options on the Daily Green website. There's even a section on simple recipes for making your own green and clean cleaners. It's a way to save money and keep chemicals out of your home.
Chances are your local store carries green beauty products. Those shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics are made with a better environment in mind. Again, check the labels to see which products rate best. And as a general rule of thumb, products with fewer ingredients are more environmentally friendly. Keeping it simple really does apply here.
Here are a few more "do's and don'ts" for a healthier planet.
The Worldwatch Institute, a global group that's dedicated to helping people save the planet, suggests the following.
Don't wear chemicals. Wear clothes that don't need to be dry cleaned. This saves money and cuts down on toxic chemical use.
Do wear out other things. Buy high-quality, long-lasting products and use them as long as you can. You might pay more now, but you'll be happy when you don't have to replace items as often (and this means less garbage in the landfill).
Don't throw your electronics into the trash. "E-waste" or electronic waste is full of mercury and other toxic things. It's also a growing environmental problem. That's why it's a good idea to use your cell phones, computers, and other electronics as long as possible. Then, when it's time to replace them, donate or recycle them responsibly. Look for electronics recycling and hazardous waste collection events in your community, or ask your local government to set up one.
Hungry for more?
Here are a few tips from The Daily Green that may not affect your health directly, but they can affect the health of our Earth. And after all, healthy starts at home.