Preston Maring, M.D., former associate physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente's Oakland, California, hospital, believes in emphasizing whatever produce is in season because it's the freshest, tastiest, and likely packed with more nutrients than those winter veggies that traveled thousands of miles to get to your local supermarket. Plus, it's often the most budget-friendly.
Maring is famous for starting a farmers' market at his medical center for patients, staff and the entire community to enjoy. The success of his market led 50 other Kaiser Permanente hospitals to institute them across six states, giving more people access to healthy food and nutrition education.
A high consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for our nation's most rampant chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, inflammation and obesity. By opting for seasonal, local produce, you are not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting your local economy, but you are also ensuring that you're purchasing the most nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables out there.
You can't get more local than your own backyard. Yes, growing your own produce reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is good for the local environment (like bees, which need plants to pollinate and survive). But it's also good for yourself. Gardening is a sneaky calorie burner—up to 350 calories an hour—and spending time outdoors is associated with improved mental health. Plus, you'll be a lot more inclined to eat those veggies when you've worked hard to make them grow. Check out our Plant Your Plate section to get started.
Related: 13 Easy-to-Grow Vegetables and Herbs
Pictured Recipe: Zucchini Noodle "Pasta" Salad
Some health experts say giving up beef will reduce our carbon footprint even more than giving up our cars! But you don't have to go full-on vegan or vegetarian to do your part to help Mother Earth. You can have a big impact on your health and the environment by simply choosing to eat fewer foods with a high carbon footprint—like lamb, beef, cheese and pork—and replacing these foods with more sustainable protein sources like lentils, beans and tofu.
A 2012 Harvard study of 120,000 men and women discovered that the more red and processed meats people eat, the more likely they are to die of any health-related cause—including cancer and heart disease. Opting for plant proteins instead of meat even just once or twice a week boosts your fiber intake—which aids in gut health, digestion and weight loss.
Related: Healthy Vegetarian Dinners
Reducing single-use plastic products like water bottles and straws makes a major impact on the environment. While most single-use plastic water bottles are recyclable, so many are being used that efforts to recycle them and prevent them from polluting our oceans are failing to keep up. Investing in a reusable water bottle—preferably stainless steel or glass—is not only a great way to do your part to be more sustainable, but it also makes it that much easier to stay hydrated when you always have a bottle nearby.
Related: How Water and Health Are Connected
Besides seeking out in-season, local produce, there are many other ways to be more sustainable in the grocery store. Choosing local dairy products reduces our country's carbon footprint, and they are also more likely to be organic and made from grass-fed cows. Opting for organic, pasture-raised eggs and chickens, grass-fed beef, wild salmon and antibiotic-free meats is generally better for the planet and for your overall health.
Visiting your local farmers' market and talking to the farmers themselves will help give you a better sense of their practices. Also, reusing those plastic produce bags has proven to be a bigger game-changer than even bringing your reusable tote bags to the market!
Investing in glass, reusable containers will make a huge impact on reducing plastic waste in your home. Not only that, but avoiding plastic in general—even if it's labeled BPA-free—will give you peace of mind that your food isn't absorbing any harmful chemicals that could potentially be risk factors for obesity, cancer and other chronic diseases, and could disrupt your hormones.