Natural, fresh foods are an essential part of a healthy diet. It sounds simple enough, but throw in picky eaters, busy schedules, chemical pesticide residues and the price of organic foods, and green-eating becomes much more challenging.
Experts say the benefits, however, are worth it. All-natural and organic foods have less exposure to potential toxins, less environmental impact and more antioxidants, which may protect the body from some harmful molecules.
Here are nine easy ways to make your family’s diet cleaner and greener without breaking the bank.
1. Buy organic for the Dirty Dozen
Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies produce with the highest pesticide loads and dubs them the “Dirty Dozen.” Apples top the list with 99 percent of the group’s apple samples testing positive for at least one pesticide residue. Also on the “Dirty Dozen” list are peaches, grapes, strawberries, celery, cucumbers, spinach and potatoes.
“Many families simply can’t afford to buy everything organic,” says Lise Sanchez, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie. “Knowing which produce foods have the most and least pesticide residue can help families prioritize spending for organic products.”
Studies show pesticide exposure early in life can be associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavior problems. The small amounts found on fruits and vegetables decrease after crops are harvested, transported, washed and cooked, the Environmental Protection Agency website says. Still, if you want to make the switch to organic, experts say the Dirty Dozen is a good place to start.
2. Choose the Clean 15
The EWG also creates “The Clean 15,” an annual list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. The 2015 list includes avocados, sweet corn, onions, cantaloupes, mangoes and eggplants.
Buying non-organic “Clean 15” items can save families a few dollars while lowering their exposure to pesticides, says Roni Neff, program director for food sustainability at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
3. Choose frozen fruits and vegetables
While fresh organic produce is best, don’t be afraid to buy frozen fruits and veggies, says Sharon McRae, a Columbia mom and plant-based certified health coach. Produce that is frozen just after harvesting isn’t treated as heavily with pesticides as its fresh counterpart, she says.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are often cheaper — especially if you buy them in bulk, McRae says. Check out wholesale clubs like BJs and Costco for deals.
4. Reduce meat consumption
Red meat has a huge environmental impact, Neff says. It takes 15,500 liters of water (almost 4,100 gallons) to produce 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of beef, and livestock is responsible for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gases, Neff says. A recent World Health Organization study also classified processed meat like hot dogs and bacon as a carcinogen (something that causes cancer) and red meat as a possible carcinogen.
In addition, many animals are given antibiotics in low doses to promote growth. This practice is contributing to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant infections, Neff says. Reducing the amount of meat consumed helps both the environment and your family’s health, she says. If you are buying meat, look for companies that pledged to raise animals without antibiotics.
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