How to eat more sustainably

We all know that eating less meat is good for our health and good for the planet. Last year, the largest scientific analysis to date found that avoiding meat and dairy is the biggest single way you can reduce your negative impact on the environment. Perhaps you’ve decided to swap some of the meat out of your diet, or gone vegetarian or vegan, as many people have, in an effort to eat in a way that’s more sustainable. It’s commendable, but unfortunately, the truth isn’t always as black and white as it seems to be.

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The idea that a certain way of eating could be more sustainable and eco-friendly is certainly appealing, especially in the wake of the reports and news coverage about the catastrophic destruction we are doing to the planet. Veganism is often touted as the most effective answer for reducing CO2 emissions, however, it seems this brings a host of other problems in itself.

The fact is, just because something is vegan doesn’t mean there’s not a big impact on the environment. Take almond milk, for example. A fridge staple for many vegans, it can be used as a dairy milk substitute in everything from porridge to tea, and the growing shelf space given to it in supermarkets is testament to its popularity. But what people don’t realise is the damage being done by plantations in California, where more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds come from. It takes nearly 7000 litres of water to produce one litre of almond milk, and California has been in severe drought for the best part of the last decade.

THE TROUBLE WITH TOFU

Some tofu, a popular plant-based protein, is also far from innocent. Soy farming in Brazil is causing mass deforestation and destroying the country’s grasslands. Most of this farming is to produce feed for cattle, but still, it’s better to choose European tofu, which has a much smaller carbon footprint – some soy products from South America can have twice the carbon footprint of a chicken.

Avocados, whose rise to fame is credited to their Instagram-friendly appearance, have been in such demand that Kenya earlier this year banned their exportation and Mexico, which supplies almost half of the planet’s avocados, last year was considering importing a supply to feed its own citizens, creating a crazy carbon loop! The country makes so much from exporting the fruit that illegal deforestation to make way for avocado plantations is now commonplace.

The danger in simply saying certain ways of eating are better for the planet can lead to a very false sense of a box being ticked, a much more valuable approach is to think about everything more holistically.

There is no blanket rule for sustainable food. Common sense says that a free-range, slow-grown chicken from the farm down the road would have less of a carbon footprint than fruit or vegetables flown half way across the world.

It’s true that vegan foods that contain ingredients such as palm oil, which is devastating to forests, local communities and animals, are wreaking more havoc on the planet than locally-sourced eggs, for example.

So is locally-sourced a good signifier for planet-friendly purchases? It seems it is, in most cases, although there are exceptions. It sounds strange, but it’s backed up by a DEFRA report, which found New Zealand lamb has a lower carbon footprint than British lamb because it is grown at such a low intensity, even when shipping to the UK is factored in. Kiwi lamb aside, choosing fruit and veg that’s in season means avoiding produce which has been air freighted or grown in heated greenhouses. An easy way to do this is to use a vegetable box service like Riverford, which sources in-season food from a network of farms. The company extends the vegetable growing season as far as it can using polytunnels but never uses artificial light or heat. Some commercially-produced vegetables are grown in glass hothouses which burn gas or oil, and for every kilo of tomatoes produced this way, two to three kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. When the weather no longer allows them to be grown in this country, Riverford trucks the fruits over from Spain, which uses just a tenth of the carbon compared with growing them in the UK using heat.

ORGANIC SOLUTION

Another way to ensure better sustainability is to shop for organic food, which has a lesser carbon footprint, Organic farming means working with nature. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides and no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers. It’s a more environmentally sustainable way to manage the land and natural environment, which means more wildlife and healthier soils.

One final word of warning: next time you set off for the shops with your bags for life, confident you’re doing enough to offset your carbon footprint, remember this. You need to reuse a bag for life eight times before its footprint becomes lower than a normal carrier bag, and if you think your cotton tote lets you off the hook, make sure you use it 149 times! Some experts have said reusable, thicker plastic bags might be making the problem worse as there are now more in circulation than ever – so whatever you use, make sure you reuse it.

PLENTY OF FISH?

We know about the health benefits but, when it comes to seafood, sustainability isn’t entirely clear cut, as it isn’t just the individual species of fish that determines whether it is a good choice, but how and where it lived and where it was caught. Helpfully, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) produces the Good Fish Guide, which it updates yearly. You can read in detail about any individual fish and its environmental impact by visiting mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search but, in the meantime, here’s a quick guide of which to focus on:

5 most sustainable

  • Pollock (Alaska/walleye)
  • Native oysters (sail and oar)
  • European hake (gill or fixed)
  • Herring/sild (MCS-certified)
  • Coley/saithe (MCS-certified)
  • Haddock (from Rockall or MCS-certified)

5 to avoid

  • Seabass (caught at sea)
  • Dover Sole (from the Irish sea and pulse trawled)
  • Plaice (from southwest Ireland and caught using pulse trawls)
  • Sturgeon (wild-caught)
  • Squid (common or European squid caught in the English Channel with fishing gear other than jigs)

Rachel x 

 

Please Note: I was not paid or sponsored by Riverford in any way, I am just a big fan of what they do!

A Lack Of Sleep Can Make You An Angrier Person

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If I miss out on even the littlest bit of rest, I am the world’s grumpiest person. In my defense, it makes sense: Sleep is essentially the most important part of wellness. And according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, lack of sleep has the ability to intensify feelings of anger, which explains my unshakably grumpy disposition when I lack sleep.

Now, it might seem like it goes without saying that you’re mildly agitated when you don’t get enough sleep—who wouldn’t be? But according to the researchers at Iowa State University, there’s always been speculation about whether the actual sleep loss was to blame for exacerbated feelings of anger or if preexisting anger was responsible for disrupting the sleep cycle. So, they decided to recruit a group of participants in order to get to the bottom of sleep’s unique relationship with anger.

The scientists split the subjects into two groups: One group continued with their normal sleep schedule, and the second group was instructed to restrict their sleep by two to four hours a night for two nights. The first group turned out to sleep an average of seven hours a night while the second ended up getting around four and a half hours. And though the latter may seem extreme, Zlatan Krizan, Ph.D., an Iowa State psychology professor and one of the study authors, explained that this exemplifies the sleep loss we typically experience on any given day.

In order to measure anger and see if that sleep loss provoked it, the researchers had these participants then come into a lab after the sleep manipulation and rate a variety of products, once while listening to brown noise (which sounded like spraying water) and then while listening to harsher white nose (which sounded like a static signal). These uncomfortable audio-induced conditions were used in order to provoke anger, Dr. Krizan explained in the news release.

“In general, anger was substantially higher for those who were sleep-restricted,” he said. “We manipulated how annoying the noise was during the task, and as expected, people reported more anger when the noise was more unpleasant. When sleep was restricted, people reported even more anger, regardless of the noise.”

Clearly, proper sleep is of utmost importance in order to avoid unnecessary hostility.

So if you’re feeling angrier than usual, you might want to catch up on sleep. If you’re having trouble getting a high-quality snooze, don’t be afraid to get strategic about your sleep schedule—if not for its abundance of well-known health benefits, then at the very least to dispel some of your rage.

Rachel x

Sitting For Too Long Could Be Hurting Your Brain

By now, it’s common knowledge that getting your body moving regularly throughout the day is about more than just staying fit. Sitting for too long can lead to a slew of adverse health effects over time: Past research has shown that sedentary behavior can increase your risk for cardiovascular damage, obesitycertain types of cancer, and even early death. Yikes. And now, a study conducted at Liverpool John Moores University in explains how your brain could also be feeling the effects of extended physical inactivity. Fortunately, the researchers were also able to identify a strategy to offset the effects.

The scientists used ultrasound probes to study the brains of 15 healthy adults as they worked through three seated four-hour sessions. In the first session, the participants sat for the entire four hours uninterrupted. In the second session, they stopped two hours in to take a leisurely eight-minute walk on a treadmill before returning to their desks for another two hours. In the third session, they stood up every 30 minutes to walk on the treadmill for a quick two minutes.

The results came in squarely against long, consecutive work sessions: Those who didn’t get up at all in the four hours saw a dip in blood flow to their brains. The people who got up once midway through their sitting time did have increased blood flow while they were up and moving, but after they returned to their seats and kept working for two more hours, they ended up with even lower blood flow than when they’d started. But those with the frequent walking breaks in between? Their brains actually had more blood flowing by the end of the session than when they’d begun.

As common wisdom about “getting the blood flowing” suggests, the human brain needs a constant supply of blood to function properly. Blood is packed with oxygen and other healthy nutrients; even short-term dips in cerebral blood flow can slow a person’s thinking and memory. That means sitting at your desk for long stretches of time is not only bad for your health—it’s also eating into your productivity.

Moving your legs periodically (aka fidgeting) may help counteract a sedentary lifestyle. You can, of course, also make a point to stand up from your desk regularly or get a standing desk. If there’s no standing desk in your future, there are plenty of other ways to get the blood moving throughout the day: Try changing your sitting position often, give your eyes a break – every 30 minutes of screen time try to take a few minutes to look away from your computer, go outside and try to take the stairs whenever possible.

At the very least, have a bowl of brain-boosting blueberries handy—or within a two-minute walking distance.

Rachel x