The kitchen is the heart of the home, and going greener has many benefits for you and your family.
by Dan Shapley
1. Do: Use Your Kitchen
The first step toward a healthier and more Earth-friendly diet is to cook. It's that simple. Eat in, make your own food and start using fresh ingredients.
2. Do: Make Room for Vegetables
A good rule of thumb is to stock bulk grains and legumes, and flavor with fresh seasonal vegetables. Whether you're following the new government recommendation to fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal, or author Michael Pollan's mantra to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" you'll need to make room for fruits and vegetables in your kitchen. In your fridge, that means using your crisper drawers properly to maximize the longevity of your produce (vegetables require higher humidity conditions while fruits require lower humidity conditions) and in the freezer, it means maintaining space enough to freeze excess fresh seasonal produce when it's at its tastiest and most nutritious.
3. Don't: Buy the Dirty Dozen
Not all vegetables are created equal. More specifically: Not all are grown to the same safe standards. Modern agriculture uses lots of toxic pesticides, and the residue from those chemicals remains on many foods even after you've washed them at home. Buy organic foods as often as possible to avoid residue of pesticides - which some studies have linked to a range of health problems, from the reproductive to the neurological to the developmental. If you're on a budget and can't afford the premium price for organic food, focus your food dollar on buying organic celery, tree fruits (like peaches and apples), berries, sweet peppers, leafy greens and other foods that make the dirty dozen list. For more specifics, consult WhatsOnMyFood.org, which makes government pesticide residue testing data publicly available.
We hear it often, and it's true: Tap water in the United States is about as safe as it gets, by world standards. But even if U.S. cities are blessed with well-treated water free of bacteria, chlorination produces byproducts (chloramines and trihalomethanes) that may be unhealthy. And pharmaceuticals and some other contaminants may not be filtered out, even by modern water treatment plants. Finally, 15 million Americans rely on private well water that isn't tested for contamination. To find a water filter that's right for your needs, use the Environmental Working Group's handy water filter buying guide. Options range from the effective and relatively affordable Culligan RC-EZ-Change 4 for under $80) to the comprehensive but expensive.
5. Don't: Be Fooled by Marketing
When shopping, look for third-party certifications you can trust, like USDA Organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance. Don't be fooled by marketing masquerades. For instance, fact-check phrases like "made with whole grains" and "made with real fruit" against the ingredient lists, and you'll often find whole grains behind refined white flour on the list, and that "fruit" really means "fruit juice concentrate" - a euphemism for plain-old sugar. And you may be surprised to learn that the boast of "cage-free eggs" can mean that chickens were given as little five minutes a day of of access to a concrete pen outdoors.
Related: 9 Food Label Lies: Don't be Fooled!
6. Don't: Use Nonstick Cookware
While super-convenient and easy to clean, most nonstick cookware is made with chemicals that can degrade at high temperatures; after entering the air in the kitchen, they've been known to build up to levels high enough to kill pet birds. Scratched-up pans are also more likely to leach chemicals into your food. Aluminum, too, can be problematic, if you cook acidic foods like lemon- or tomato-based sauces; the aluminum can leach into your food. Better options include stainless steel, cast iron (unseasoned), anodized aluminum, glass, porcelain or "clad" pans that bury aluminum beneath a layer of stainless steel.
A rule of thumb for green eating is to eat low on the food chain: more fruits, vegetables, grains and beans than chickens, cows and hogs. Surprisingly, raising livestock, both in practice and because around the world it involves clear-cutting forests for pasture, is one of the world's largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond that, generally the smaller the animal, the less environmentally intensive it is to raise for food; a chicken requires less feed and water than a cow to produce a pound of meat. Delving deeper, choosing humanely raised, organic meats ensures that artificial hormones, antibiotics, toxic pesticides or inhumane conditions aren't a part of your diet. For fish, choosing wisely is difficult: Many popular species, like tuna and swordfish tend to be contaminated with mercury, PCBs and other toxic chemicals; some farm-raised species (tilapia) tend to be raised sustainably, while others (salmon) tend not to be. Meanwhile, some wild-caught fish are harvested sustainably, but a great many are not, and overfishing is one of today's most pressing environmental issues. Download Environmental Defense Fund's handy pocket Seafood Selector and keep it in your wallet so you can easily choose the best option at the fish counter.
Related: 8 Safe Pregnancy Fish
8. Do: Compost
Now that you're eating more vegetables, you're probably creating more veggie scraps. Don't throw them in the garbage, where they'll just sit and stink: Compost them instead. Composting is a natural process that transforms organic wastes like vegetable scraps, coffee grinds, eggshells and yard waste like grass clippings and leaves into rich, nutrient-dense earth - perfect for potting plants, gardening or fertilizing the lawn. Of course, this is easier done if you have the luxury of a yard, but there have been great innovations in odorless composting indoors, if you can tolerate the thought of a worm bin. You may even be fortunate enough to live in a city that accepts compostable scraps along with household waste and recyclables at the curb. Whatever your method, try to compost as much as possible, because you'll both cut down on your waste and produce gardener's gold: Free fertilized soil.
9. Don't: Pollute Your Indoor Air
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air can be as much as five-times more polluted than the air outdoors. Several potential sources of indoor air pollution originate in the kitchen, so be mindful and you can prevent asthma attacks or other more serious lung illnesses. Some common sources of indoor air pollution in the kitchen include:
- gas ranges (make sure they're properly vented)
- cleansers (choose nontoxic, green options, or make your own)
- newly installed cabinetry (steer clear of particle board containing formaldehyde glues if you're remodeling)
- paints (choose low- or no-VOC paints, and be wary of lead-based paint lingering in older homes)
- pesticides (use nontoxic alternatives and integrated pest management)
10. Do: Buy Energy Star Appliances, and Use them Wisely
Refrigerators, dishwashers and ovens can be among the biggest energy hogs in the house, costing you every time they're in use. When the time comes to replace older appliances, choose Energy Star-labeled options so you know that you're buying a product that uses relatively little energy - and costs you relatively little to run. (When facing a big purchase, we tend to be good at comparing sticker prices, but bad at considering the long-term costs of ownership.) When using kitchen appliances, use them wisely:
- Use the smallest cooking device for the job: A microwave is the most energy-efficient cooking option, for instance, and a toaster oven is more efficient than an oven.
- Don't run your dishwasher unless it's full, and choose the economy setting to reduce its water and energy use.
- Particularly if it's the height of summer, run appliances at night when demand for electricity is lower and power plants have excess capacity.
More Smart Tips from TheDailyGreen.com
> 18 Simple Ways to Declutter Your Home
> The Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic
> 9 Food Label Lies: Don't Be Fooled!
> The Secrets of 6 Scandalous Foods
> 7 Super-Simple Ways to Improve Your Diet
Photos by Istock. Published with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.