Healthy eating. Eating well while respecting the environment.

Healthy eating is essential for our well-being and longevity. And let’s not forget the health and preservation of the planet.

Not a month goes by without shocking statistics showing us how serious the ongoing environmental disaster really is. It turns out that the food industry is a major culprit: it is the source of most carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (caused both by production processes and by the various stages of food distribution). On top of that, its water consumption is unsustainable, as is our massive food waste, which results in billions of tons of food thrown in landfills every year (releasing even more toxic gases into the air).

To live well and eat a healthy diet, we cannot just cut back on sugar, avoid processed foods, or cut down on salt or fat. A balanced lifestyle must come with an environmental conscience. And all of this can be done by adopting certain habits. Here are four examples.

Healthy diet: lots of vegetables, little meat.

Intensive animal farming is one of the main sectors responsible for the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as well as growing water scarcity. In Europe, meat consumption is four times higher than the amount needed for a healthy diet. Mankind can no longer continue to consume meat at its current rate — there is an urgent need for a more plant-based diet.

Try reducing your overall meat consumption, choosing poultry over cow meat and taking into account its origin and production method (intensive or not).

Local and seasonal: eat what the earth gives, when it gives.

The Portuguese Nutrition Association explains that local foods are foods produced nearby and which go through a short distribution network — this circular economy helps reduce our carbon footprint.

Seasonality is another essential factor. Try to take into consideration the cycles of the earth and eat what it offers us at each different time of the year. Nutritionally, these foods are generally richer and contain fewer chemicals and synthetic fertilizers.

Healthy eating requires certified organic products.

Of course, let’s not forget organic foods. When you go grocery shopping, make sure your products are certified organic. Certification guarantees that you are purchasing foods that are made eco-ethically — they are free of chemicals and have been grown with natural fertilizers. You can also opt for companies or associations (Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA) who put together weekly baskets and take into account the two main elements of reducing the ecological footprint: local production and seasonality.

Better yet: grow your vegetable garden at home.

This is not a universal solution, since it depends on the space and time available to tend to the vegetable garden. However, having a vegetable garden at home is a learning opportunity and a constant reminder to value environmental resources, avoid food waste and fall in love with natural processes on a daily basis. Health-wise, this is a very beneficial option: when you have your own vegetable garden, you adopt healthier eating habits (based on vegetables and fruits), you decide what type of fertilizer and of pesticides come into contact with your food, and your food obtains a greater nutritional value. Far from unrealistic, know that gardening is easy, possible and even educational, as Dr. Helen Delichatsios, an Internal Medicine Specialist at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, points out:

“Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate. When you grow your own food, you savor it more because of the effort it took to get to the table.”

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