MAR
28

Tossed Treasures - How to Curb Food Waste

The foods we eat have an impact on our planet. Getting food from farm to fork spends 10% of the total U.S. energy budget1, uses 50% of our land2, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States3. Yet, 40% of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten4.

Food waste

Food is too good to waste. When we throw away food, we also waste the energy, land, and water that was needed to produce, package, and transport it. Wasted food is the single largest component of municipal solid waste in the U.S.5 What’s more, when wasted food sits in a landfill, it produces methane—a greenhouse gas about 30 times more potent that carbon dioxide6. Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if no one eats it.

If you’re interested in doing something good for the planet this Earth Month, curbing your food waste is an excellent place to start. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll save money. The average American household tosses 25% of the food they buy. For a family of four, this amounts to about $2,275 each year7.

Below are some simple ways to waste less food. Commit to two or three (or more!) of these strategies this Earth Month. Even small changes make a big difference over time. 

Shop Wisely

  • Make a list (and remember to bring it with you!). Stick to your list to avoid impulse buys, which often go unused.
  • Buy only what you need. Opt for by-the-pound pricing in the produce, seafood, and deli departments. If a perishable item is packaged in a larger container than you need (for example, you’d prefer to buy only a few basil leaves rather than a whole container), one of our employees would be happy to break it down for you.
  • Make smaller, more frequent shopping trips. You’ll have access to more fresh foods and you’ll trim waste. 
  • Purchase a combination of delicate produce items (like berries, greens, tomatoes, and avocadoes) and more durable items (like broccoli, oranges, cabbage, and potatoes). Eat the delicate items first—they’ll spoil faster.
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Everything looks appetizing when you’re hungry, and you’ll probably buy too much food. Keep a snack in your bag and tear into it if needed.
  • Head home after your shopping trip. Try to make food shopping your last errand of the day. If it’s a long ride home or you must make a stop after shopping, keep a cooler in your trunk. 

Store Properly

  • Conquer clutter. Out of sight is out of mind (and usually, wasted), so avoid overstuffing your fridge and freezer.
  • Practice FIFO—or “first in, first out”. When you buy fresh groceries, move older items to the front and place the newer items near the back.
  • Designate an “eat me soon” area of your fridge, and place items there are nearing expiration.
  • Move fruits and vegetables out of the crisper drawer—it’s too easy to forget they’re in there. Keep them in the center of your fridge instead.
  • Choose transparent storage containers. Knowing what’s inside a container will help you remember to eat it.
  • Avoid washing your fruits and vegetables until you’re ready to eat them. Too much moisture will cause these items to rot faster.
  • Treat fresh herbs like fresh flowers. Store them in a jar or small vase with an inch or two of water at the bottom. Cover the top with a plastic produce bag. They’ll stay fresh for weeks this way.
  • Remove milk from the refrigerator door. The door is the warmest area of the fridge, so keep more perishable items in the interior. And remember, the lower the shelf, the cooler the temperature.
  • Store uncut avocadoes, bananas, cantaloupe, garlic, kiwi, onions, pineapple, potatoes, and tomatoes at room temperature. Citrus fruits can be stored at either room temperature or in the fridge, but never in a plastic bag. 

Know Your Dates

  • “Use by” and “best by” dates are manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. Because manufacturers aim to preserve their brand’s reputation, these dates are often overly conservative.
  • Label dates do not indicate food safety. Eggs or yogurt, for example, are often safe to consume for weeks past the “best by” date. Use your senses to determine if something is safe enough to eat.
  • Label dates are not regulated (except in the case of infant formula). 

Use It Up

  • Love your leftovers. Have a leftover night, or box them up and eat them for lunch the next day.
  • Make a “clean the fridge” stew. Throw in whatever you’ve got on hand, like vegetables, fresh herbs, last night’s stir-fry, potatoes or onions that are beginning to sprout, and half-used containers of broth.
  • Can’t finish your greens before they get slimy? Opt for baby kale or baby spinach. These greens are tender enough to make fresh salads, yet hearty enough to stand up to some heat. Sauté them or add them to stew when they begin to wilt.
  • Can’t finish a loaf of bread before it turns moldy? Store it in the fridge or freezer instead of on the counter top. Frozen slices of bread can go right from the freezer into the toaster.
  • Repurpose stale bread or bagels into breadcrumbs, bread pudding, croutons, or crostini. 

Serve Smart

  • Use smaller plates and bowls. Opt for no larger than 9-inch dinner plates and 12-ounce cereal bowls. In addition to curbing waste, research suggests that we eat fewer calories when we use smaller dinnerware—and we don’t even notice! Good for the environment and your waistline.
  • Enable seconds rather than over-portioning firsts. Make it easy for family and guests to help themselves to more food by serving family-style.
  • If children are prone to over-serve themselves, portion their meals for them.
  • When dining out, ask your server about portion sizes before ordering. Inquire if half sizes are available, or have your leftovers boxed up (it’s not faux-pas!) if you’re unable to finish a whole portion. 

Look out for more sustainable-eating strategies throughout Earth Month! 

 

 

References

  1. M. Webber, "How to Make the Food System More Energy Efficient," Scientific American, Decemeber 29, 2011. 
  2. USDA Economic Research Service, “Major Uses of Land in the United States,” Pub. 2002/eIB-14, 2002, http://www.ers.usda.gov/ publications/eIB14/eib14a.pdf.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), economic Research Service, economic Bulletin No. (eIB-16), “Agricultural Resources and environmental Indicators,” Chapter 2.1, July 2006, http://www.ers. usda.gov/publications/arei/eib16/.
  4. K.D. Hall, J. Guo, M. Dore, C.C. Chow, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its environmental Impact,” PLoS ONe 4(11):e7940, 2009. 
  5. Gunders, D. (2012). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council.
  6. Understanding Global Warming Potentials. (2017, February 14). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
  7. Bloom, J. (2010). Home Is Where the Waste Is. In American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) (p. 187). Philadelphia, PA: First Da Capo Press.

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MAR
21

Sweet Nothings: Facts on Added Sugar

The Nutrition Facts label is getting a face-lift. Among other changes, such as updated servings sizes and more prominent calorie and percent daily values, a major change to the label involves added sugars. On the new label, added sugars will be listed separately from natural sugars. 


original and new nutrition facts label

Manufacturers have until July of 2018 to adopt the new label and declare added sugars. However, you may notice that some food labels are already beginning to adopt the new label.

What are added sugars? Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods and beverages when they are processed or prepared. This includes sugars that are added by manufacturers, as well as sugars you may add at home. Added sugars are linked with a rise in chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. 

Added sugars are found in processed foods. The largest sources of added sugars in Americans’ diet include: 

  • Soda, soft drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  • Candy
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pies and cobblers
  • Pastries, sweet rolls, and donuts
  • Fruit drinks, such as fruitades and fruit punch 
  • Dairy desserts, such as ice cream

Added sugar goes by many names on ingredient lists. Pseudonyms for added sugar include: 

  • Agave nectar
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Cane juice
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Crystal dextrose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated corn sweetener 
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar 
  • Lactose
  • Liquid fructose
  • Malt syrup 
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Nectar (e.g. peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • Pancake syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose 
  • Sugar cane juice
  • White granulated sugar


Some of these different forms of sugar may seem more wholesome than others, but our bodies generally do not differentiate between them. 

How are added sugars different from natural sugars? Natural sugars occur naturally in fruits and dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Natural sugars are found in smaller amounts in vegetables, beans, and some grains. 

Our bodies process all sugars, no matter the source, in very similar ways. However, there are big differences in the nutritional value of the foods in which those sugars are found. Foods with natural sugars are healthy foods that contain important nutrients. Besides sugars, fruits contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Dairy products contain calcium, vitamin D, and protein. 

So gram for gram, the sugar content of a candy bar may be similar to that of a couple oranges. However, the sugars in the candy bar are “empty calories” (i.e. calories that don’t offer any benefit besides energy), whereas the oranges provide vitamin C, fiber, and other health-promoting pytonutrients. It’s also important to note that the fiber in fruits and the protein in dairy products slow the digestion of sugars, leading to a healthier blood sugar response. 

natural versus added sugar

Why bother to declare added sugars? According to the FDA, the decision to declare added sugars “reflects our greater understanding of nutritional science…including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.” A key recommendation of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to reduce intake from solid fats, sodium, and added sugars because all have been linked to chronic disease. Solid fats and sodium are indicated on the nutrition label, whereas added sugars are not. The FDA recognizes that consumers are better able to make informed choices about added sugars when they know how much they normally eat. 

The FDA also notes that mandatory declaration of added sugars may also prompt reformulation of foods high in added sugars. A similar situation occurred with trans fats; once the labeling trans fats became required, manufacturers voluntarily began removing them from their products. 

How much is too much added sugar?
American Heart Association recommends no more than:

  • 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, of added sugars for women
  • 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, of added sugars for men

To put that in perspective, one 12-ounce can of soda contains about 38 grams of added sugars. Most Americans far exceed added sugar recommendations.

How can you reduce your added sugar intake? 
In light of National Nutrition Month, try replacing a source of added sugar with a natural sugar. For example:

  • For snacking on the go, swap out a granola bar for a banana or a handful of dried fruit
  • Sweeten plain yogurt with berries in lieu of pre-sweetened yogurt. 
  • Beverages account for almost half of all added sugars consumed by Americans. Switch to a non-caloric beverage, like water, unsweetened tea, black coffee, or carbonated water. 
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