Earth Day & Nutrition: Making The Connection Between Environment and Our Bodies

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD

Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

Earth Day is approaching, and once again I begin considering the impact my eating habits have on the earth. As a health professional, I find myself getting lost in my own world of recipes, nutrition recommendations and guidelines—often placing the importance of my food choices ahead of the state of the environment. This year I’ve vowed to begin making a lasting change toward sustainability that will benefit my body and the planet, and it involves simple adjustments and alterations that can lead to big, green results.

Buying in Bulk

This reduces the amount of processing and packaging that commonly accompanies convenience foods such as canned and boxed products and reduces landfill waste and potential energy that would be used to recycle the packaging.


Eat and Purchase Locally

Here in St. Louis, there are plenty of opportunities to buy local foods and produce, especially now that farmers’ market season is quickly approaching. Seasonal produce available this month includes asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, a variety of greens, and mushrooms. Not only does buying locally increase the likelihood that your produce will be at the peak of freshness, but it stimulates the local economy and cuts down on food transportation costs. Two farmers markets in the area that open shop in April are the Kirkwood and Maplewood farmers’ markets.

Be Creative with Leftovers

So much of our food ends up getting tossed out needlessly without being eaten. Why not add leftover grains or veggies to stews, soups, and stir-fries, or scrambled into your morning eggs or potatoes? Roasting a whole chicken or turkey and storing the extras for use on cold salads, sandwiches or wraps saves on packaging, processing, and energy. Make a plan to cook more than you intend to eat and freeze the rest for another meal. This “cook once, eat twice” method saves time and money and limits long-term use of energy by large appliances.

Eat Less Meat

Eating an abundance of meat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Concerning the environment, the production and distribution of meat creates harmful sewage and greenhouse gases. The American Dietetic Association recommends adults aim for consuming only six ounces of protein foods each day-that’s approximately the size of two decks of cards. To reduce meat consumption, try treating meat as a condiment—using a smaller portion to add flavor but not to be center of the meal. Include more plant-based protein foods daily like beans, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and grains. These plant-based foods provide a healthy dose of fiber and plant chemicals that play a role in reducing cholesterol levels and improving heart health not found in meat.

Earth Day (April 22nd) provides a unique opportunity to highlight the connection between nutrition and the health of our planet. Considering that the best diet for your body is the best for the environment, why not try making a change?