National Nutrition Month

It is once again National Nutrition Month, the annual campaign that began in 1973. This year, we are celebrating 50 years of healthy eating. The theme is “Fuel for the Future”; eating with sustainability in mind is a delicious way to nourish ourselves during every phase of life and to protect the environment. Good nutrition is essential for our health, but there is no one-size-fits-all diet and no single food group provides us with all of our nutrients.

With the rise of healthy eating and sustainability, more people are searching for ways to make their diets and lifestyles more eco-friendly. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends incorporating more plant-based meals and snacks into our diets. Plant-based dishes are not only scrumptious, but also reduce the environmental impact of our diets.

Plant-based eating has increased in popularity, but there is no hard-and-fast definition. Plant-based does not have to mean vegan or vegetarian; it simply means increasing the amount of plant-based foods consumed. To get started, add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your meals. Most recipes can be made meatless by simply omitting the meat, or reducing it by using half of what the recipe calls for. Plant-based proteins are an excellent way to reduce fat intake and increase fiber. All plant foods are fat-free and high in fiber, making them a beneficial addition to any diet.

The most understood way that plant-based eating reduces the environmental impact of our diets is the amount of land and water needed to produce food, as the majority of plant-based foods require fewer resources to produce than animal-based foods. To further reduce the environmental impact of our diets, it is advised to purchase plant-based foods that are in season and locally grown.

Buying foods in season and shopping locally, when possible, is a great way to reduce transportation-related emissions, support local farmers, and get the freshest produce possible. Shopping at farmer’s markets and joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program are excellent ways to do this. Not only does this benefit the planet, but it can also help you save money. With rising food costs, buying seasonal produce and eating more meatless meals are both excellent strategies to keep your food expenses down.

Just because an item is plant-based and locally grown doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s important to check the food label to see if the item is right for you. Additionally, consider how much waste is involved in the food you buy; purchasing food with minimal packaging helps reduce plastic waste. Make sure to buy only what you need, too; it’s estimated that Americans throw away billions of pounds of food each year. For more information on food waste, check out my next article.

Why not try growing food at home instead of shopping for it? Gardening is a fun and rewarding activity that can provide you with delicious, fresh produce while also helping to reduce your carbon footprint. Even if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, there are plenty of container gardening options that can be done indoors or on a patio.

Making responsible changes to our diets and lifestyles is an important step in creating a better world for future generations.

Monica Nagele is the County Extension Director and educator of health and human science for the Montgomery County Purdue Extension.