Part 5/10: Saving the Planet by Eating Better

This is Part 5 of a 10 part series of blogs in support of the 10:10 campaign initiated by Director, Franny Armstrong’s team to complement the documentary on global warming, “The Age of Stupid”. It is to enable each one of us to take action and reduce our carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. Download the 10 point family checklist from the campaign here.


Update on 12th Feb 2010: Before I start with the article, I’d like to share Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize Wish in the speech: Teach every child about food emphasising how important it is to pass on a proper food culture to our children.  

Jamie says ” I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity”  



What we put on our plates three times a day, has a profound impact on the environment. Eating our way to good health, will also ensure the health of the planet. Both are two sides of the same coin. Here are the many ways we can Eat Better to ensure a healthier generation, and a healthier environment for future generations :


1. Reduce meat consumption.  Livestock is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions(GHG) in the world, according to a 2006 FAO report. According to a recent World Watch Institute analysis, called “Livestock and Climate Change” this may well be over 51% of GHG emissions

Going vegetarian even once a week can make a huge impact on the environment. See this article in the Huffington Post.

Industrial meat means that the animals are confined to small spaces in unhygenic conditions and injected with antibiotics and growth hormones, that are harmful for human health. A meat based diet is also linked to cancer according to research studies such as The China Study by Prof. Colin Campbell.


 fruits2.  Go organic.  Set aside a part of your food budget on organic food that have no harmful pesticide residues, and are grown in a way that is sustainable for the soils.  Learn about which fruits and veggies have the highest pesticide rankings, which will help you go organic on at least the top ten to 15 ones such as apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, peppers, celery and potatoes.

3. Avoid products with genetically modified or engineered content. It’s not always easy to tell, but go for products which explicitly state and are certified to be GM free. Here’s a guide called Non-GMO Shopping Guide at “The Institute for Responsible Technology” website.


3. Eat local. Being a “locavore” is a buzzword now! The more local your food  source, the more nutritious it is likely to be as it doesn’t have to travel far, and you are more likely to get what is in season.

Find out more about food miles, i.e., how far food has to travel to reach your plate, and the energy used to transport food all over the world.

A kilo of Californian grapes would account for its own weight in CO2 emissions, by the time it reaches Asia.  Buy as much locally produced food as possible. Check this link for food miles calculator.

Watch this interesting video on Food Miles and eating “less oil”



4. Eat less processed food which are foods that are brought to us in a refined, packaged form such as crisps, canned food, biscuits, breads, or precooked meals.

They come at an enormous cost to the environment in terms of energy use for processing, packaging and transport. Invariably, chemical additives are used to enhance the flavour and shelf life of the product. Cook fresh food at home, eat more fresh veggies and fruits. If you have to buy processed foods, try to buy those with fewer ingredients, preferably organic. 


5. Give children healthy food and encourage them to avoid junk food. Mainstream media has a lot of ads promoting processed food which are unhealthy, fatty, sugary or salty. Excessive sugars are linked to hyperactivity and obesity in children. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancers.

The organisation called Cerealfacts.org gives excellent information on the nutritive values of cereals as well as  discusses issues behind cereal marketing  to children, such as hidden sugars. See their informative report here.

Here’s a link which gives more guidance on healthy eating for children.   Check out this useful website which gives a good and detailed database on healthy foods and the health benefits of various fruits, veggies and spices.


6. Avoid carbonated drinks as they are filled with additives and laden with sugar. There are 8 teaspoonfuls of sugar per 300ml of carbonated drinks. Even the sugar free versions tend to use carcinogenic additives like aspartame. Carbonated drinks have phosphoric acid which can be very corrosive to the stomach if consumed regularly.

Further, the manufacture of carbonated drinks, as in the case of  bottled water often requires the use of underground water by factories. The use of an increasingly scarce commodity such as water is often controversial. An example is the Coke factory in Plachimada in Kerala which had to be shut down as it deprived local communities and farmers of water for drinking and agriculture. In an increasingly water starved world, we need to think of the best uses of water for society. 


7. Be wary of irradiated foods. Irradiating fruits, vegetables and meat is a way of preserving food, by bombarding them with gamma rays (like X-rays) to extend their shelf life by killing bacteria and other micro-organisms.  The doses can range from 100,000 to 3 million rads (or X-rays)!  Irradiation is controversial. Though it destroys some harmful bacteria and germs, repeated doses causes resistant strains of bacteria to be formed. Irradiation does not remove toxins like aflatoxin formed by fungi, even though the fungi are killed. Most vitamins like Vitamins A, C, E and thiamine are also destroyed in the process.  For more information, check out the Food and Water Watch report on Food Irradiation.

Unfortunately there’s no way to tell if food has been irradiated. In some cases like potatoes, you can tell if small sprouts are appearing. If they appear, there are most likely not irradiated (however, sprouted potatoes produce toxins too that should be avoided). Beans or lentils can be tested to see if they sprout.  If they don’t sprout, there are good chances that they are irradiated. 

Also locally available food is less likely to be irradiated, as the shelf life and transport time are short.

8. Encourage children to read food labels on the products and encourage discussion on  what each item on the label means, the origin of the ingredients, what they are meant for (e.g., To increase shelf life, or soften the product, or prevent it from drying out). Encourage them to choose better products, or avoid them if they have too many additives.

Also check there is a proper expiry date on products, and there is a proper contact address for the manufacturer, and there are no misleading claims. Don’t be mislead by words such as “pure,” “natural,” “green.”

Check if the product is indeed free of all three categories of additives namely, colourings, flavourings and preservatives. For example, a brand may claim to have “no artificial colours or flavours” which means you will have to check the label for preservatives.

For example, a juice packet may say “100% pure fresh apple juice”  but careful scrutiny of the label could reveal that it contains preservatives.


9. Choose products without palm oil content, or with made with sustainable palm oil. The cultivation of palm is increasingly leading to rainforest destruction.

Palm oil is often hidden in many products such as cake mixes, hydrogenated fats, margarines, ice cream, and non food manufacturing including soaps, greases for industrial machinery, etc.

Learn more about how to find Hidden Palm Oil in Supermarkets

10. Choose unrefined grains, flours, lentils and condiments over refined ones to get more nutritional benefits. Unrefined foodstuff, in addition, require less energy for processing. So for example, choose brown rice over white rice, raw brown sugar over white sugar, wholemeal flour or bread over refined white bread or flour and lentils with their skin on.


11. We eat food with fresh, as opposed to processed ingredients, made with caring and attention, which we can share together as a family, with relatives or friends. 

This is all part of the “food culture” that Jamie talks about. Children need to grow up seeing their families cook at home at least a few times a week,  with healthy ingredients.  They are then more likely to grow up with good food habits and a healthier life.

This may also be termed Slow Food, as opposed to “Fast food” which is highly processed, eaten in a rush on the go, often alone.  Check out this link to know more about “Slow Food

  • Eat without wasting. Serve yourself only what you’re going to finish. Take fresh helpings if you need more.
  • Eat smaller portions without overeating, at regular intervals without skipping meals or leaving large gaps between meals. This prevents acidity develop in the stomach.

Better Eating also means Mindful Eating. We are grateful for the food that comes on our plate. In many cultures, this may take the form of a little prayer. Or it could be by just saying in our minds  a little “Thank you” before we start eating as we think about the many hungry mouths in this world and our good luck to have three comfortable meals a day.



These are some of the ideas you’ll find in the free ebook on this website, “A Quicklist of 1001 Steps to Save the Planet” which is now available for download.

Other posts you may interested in:

Part 4/10: Saving the Planet by Driving Less

Part 3/10: Saving the Planet by Using Less Energy

Part 2b/10 Saving the Planet by Cooling Less

Part 2a/10: Saving the Planet by Heating Less

Part 1/10: Saving the Planet by Flying Less

The 10:10 Campaign to reduce carbon emissions


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Posted by on Nov 4 2009. Filed under Food, Food/Diet/Meat Reduction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Part 5/10: Saving the Planet by Eating Better”

  1. I found this article useful in a paper I am writing at university. Hopefully, I get an A+ now!


    Bernice Franklin

    UGG Boots

  2. Glad to hear that, Bernice :)

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