Eating "clean” generally means consuming food in its natural state – or as close to it as possible. This means avoiding foods with loads of preservatives and added sugars, or foods stripped of their nutritional value. Eating clean offers many health benefits – and it's good for the environment, too.
As time and energy permits, try incorporating one of these simple ways to eat clean into your daily routine before Earth Day on April 22nd.
1. Boost your vegetable intake
One of the easiest ways to eat clean is to bump up your vegetable intake. Vegetables are full of vitamins, antioxidants and heart-healthy fiber. They are also low in calories, which will help keep your waistline in check. While it is recommended that most adults consume 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day, most people don’t meet that goal.
To benefit the Earth, choose local and organic produce when possible. Local produce is fresher and often tastes better. Additionally, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by choosing lettuce picked yesterday -- not lettuce picked last week, packed in plastic and flown to the grocery store.
2. Cut added sugars
To clean up your diet, cut down on added sugars by limiting your consumption of sweetened cereals, candy, yogurt, beverages and baked goods. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than about 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for men. As a comparison, the typical can of soda has about 9 teaspoons of sugar.
Read the labels. Look for foods without sugar as an ingredient, or make sure it’s listed towards the bottom, which means less of it is used in the food. Reducing sugar intake is also good for the Earth. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the cultivation and processing of sugar often results in intensive use of water, heavy use of agro-chemicals and air pollution. When your sweet tooth hits, try eating more fruit and fewer sweets. For example, have a bowl of blueberries with a spoonful of ice cream instead of a bowl of ice cream with a few blueberries.
3. Make Mondays meatless
Going vegetarian just one day a week can improve your health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vital nutrients and a wide array of vitamins that promote optimal health. The fiber in these foods also improves digestion and can help prevent diseases including heart disease and cancer. Going meatless one day a week can also benefit the Earth. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, raising livestock emits more greenhouse gases than transportation does and can also be a source of severe water and land degradation.
4. Caffeinate with coffee and tea instead of soda
Coffee and tea consumers are taking in powerful antioxidants that prevent cell damage with every sip. A recent study showed that drinking at least three cups of coffee or tea a day may lower a person's risk of type 2 diabetes. In honor of Earth month, drink your brew at home from your favorite mug instead of from a disposable cup. If you prefer to grab-and-go, bring a reusable thermos to your coffee shop. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the overall plastics recycling rate was just 9 percent in in 2012. Landfills – and oceans – are overflowing with plastic waste. Your barista will happily fill your cup – and your coffee or tea will stay warm longer, too.
5. Double your recipes
Next time you’re cooking a recipe full of clean foods, double it. Having a clean meal stored in your refrigerator or freezer will prevent you from settling for an unhealthy take-out option after an exhausting workday. Preparing a double batch of food is also good for the Earth; it decreases the overall amount of energy used in food preparation.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Visit her website at http://www.patriciabannan.com/.