Trying to be healthy in an unhealthy environment is like brushing your teeth while you are eating oreos. It just doesn’t quite work.
At Resilience Naturopathic, we take this to heart. Call us hippie tree-huggers, but we think it is important that we consider not only how your health is affected by the environment, but how your choices in lifestyle, diet and health care affect the environment.
While there are many aspects of your diet, lifestyle and medical care that impact the environment (and we will talk about all of them in due time), we thought we would start off talking about the one thing you could do that would make the biggest direct impact on both – your diet.
Highly processed foods cause inflammation
We have talked a lot about your diet and how it impacts your mood and your overall health (check out our articles here). The reader’s digest version – highly processed foods cause inflammation and rob your body of nutrients. And an inflamed, under nourished body is highly susceptible to mood instability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, rage… you name it. On the opposite side, natural whole foods are high in nutrients and actually reduce inflammation, setting you up to be more resilient in the face of stress, illness, and anything else life wants to throw at you.
Sounds good, right?
So how do we implement the diet that is both healthiest for us and for the environment? There are a few simple things to consider. We call it the LOVES diet, because it loves you, the environment, and hopefully you love it too!
LOVES is an acronym. It stands for local, organic, veggies, eats, and seasonal. Let’s talk about what we mean with each of these things.
By local, we mean to eat foods that were grown as close to you as possible. For your health, this means that you will be getting more produce, usually from a smaller farm that has good crop rotation practices because they grow lots of different fruits and veggies. Plants get their nutrients from the soil they are grown in. Some plants need more of certain nutrients than other plants do. If a farmer grows only one type of crop in a field over and over again, the soil gets depleted of the nutrients that plant needs the most. When farmers rotate which plants are grown in fields, you have a greater chance that the plants will have more nutrients in them, which means you get more nutrients for your body to use.
Buying local is also really good for the environment. It reduces the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into transporting your food from one place to the next. It also reduces the carbon emissions that go into the atmosphere. And to come full circle, research has shown that high levels of carbon in the atmosphere make plants grow bigger and faster, but have lower nutrient density because of that rapid growth (check out an article about that phenomenon here).
A cheap way to buy local, and save yourself time going to the grocery store, is to join a CSA or shop at a farmers market. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. You essentially buy a share of the farm, and get a weekly box of produce as your share. This allows you to save money while paying the farmer more because you cut out several middle men from the produce buyers to the store you buy them in. To find a local CSA do a quick internet search or use this resource.
Like I said in my previous article about my top 3 dietary strategies for resilience (read it here) I don’t necessarily think organic foods are more nutritious (unless they are grown locally like I described above). Instead, buying organic foods decreases the amount of chemicals on our food (and therefore in our bodies) as well as in our soil, water and air.
Pesticides and herbicides are toxic to our nervous, immune and endocrine system. We need these systemd to be working optimally to be our happiest, healthiest and most resilient.
Some people (myself included) will say that if you need to save some money on your food bill, you can buy conventionally grown food that have a thick skin that you don’t eat (like citrus, bananas, and avocados). If we are thinking about the environment though, we should really buy all of our food organic so we prevent the chemicals from leaching into our water and soil, which then impacts even our organically grown food.
Proponents of the vegan diet (full disclosure: I am not one of them) will tell you that eating meat is the worst thing you can do for the environment. I agree. It takes 22 times more water to grow a pound of beef than a pound of apples. And while you don’t get the same number of calories or nutrients from apples versus beef, you can get the nutrients you need by eating a wide variety of plants. Some plants do take a lot more water than others to grow, so you can be smart about that as well. A little bit of research, or using this resource as starting point could make it easier.
This one is probably a bit confusing, but bear with me, it should make sense shortly. As I said above, I am not a proponent of a strictly vegan diet. Vegan diets are deficient in vital nutrients we need for our brain health including B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. You can supplement these nutrients, but turning to pills made in a factory from ingredients that have been shipped from other countries that turn around and get shipped all over the country isn’t very good for the environment. And we didn’t even talk about how unsustainable it is to us fish to make fish oil rather than just eating the fish and getting all the other good things from them. And finally, synthetic (AKA cheap) forms of nutrients do not work in our body the same way naturally occurring forms do, so we suffer even when we take a supplement to replace a deficiency.
So, what does eats actually mean?
Eats is about what your animal protein is fed and how it is raised. A diet that is kind to your body and to the environment is also kind to the animals that you consume. We see kindness to our livestock in 2 ways – how they are raised and how they get to your plate.
Let’s get the hardest part out of the way first. Small farmers generally use more humane slaughtering practices. You can make sure they do if you purchase your meats from a small local ranch. Many will let you come visit because they are proud of how they care for their animals throughout their lifespan. Ask the hard questions, and make sure you are comfortable with the answers.
Small ranches also generally have kinder practices while they are alive. A healthy animal that will then become healthy meat for you has been raised on a healthy diet in a pasture. When animals are pasture raised, grass-fed and grass finished, they have higher levels of nutrients in the meat, and less products that are inflammatory to us. When animals are fed high grain diets they have the same issues we do – gastrointestinal distress, microbiome imbalance and inflammation. And when they end up on our plates, they bring all of their issues with us. Cows were not meant to live off of corn. Period.
It takes a lot of work and energy to raise meat, and the environmental impact is quite high. This, coupled with the higher expense of eating “kind” meat leads us to recommend that people eat meat no more than 3 times per week. This will give you the maximal benefit with the least impact on the environment. Choose meat that is pasture-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished. For fish, make sure you are getting wild caught fish, usually from Alaska.
Eating food that is in season gives both you and the environment a boost. Plants thrive the best in the right season, which makes them higher in nutrient value and more flavorful because you aren’t trying to force them to grow when and where they don’t want to.
When you eat plants that are out of season for where you live, they have most likely come from a place where it is in season (i.e. literally the other side of the world). As we have said several times in this article, that creates a significant increase in carbon emissions that changes our climate and impacts the plants in ways that change their nutritional value.
Pro tip – if you eat local and shop at a farmers market or a CSA, you will essentially be eating seasonally. Some farmers market vendors do purchase produce from distributors, so check with them first to make sure you are buying something they actually grew. If they grew it, it means it was picked recently, which means it is able to grow at the time of year you bought it.
Following the LOVES approach
We tried to make it simple (and lovable) to keep a diet that will be good to your health and the health of the environment.
For a quick recap:
- Buy local, organic food that is in season.
- Eat mostly plants.
- Eat pasture raised, grass-fed and finished meat 3 times per week.
If you forget one of those, just remember the acronym LOVES.
Here’s to a healthier you, and a healthier environment!
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Dr. Jennifer Bahr
Founder of Resilience Naturopathic