Think before you eat, and help save the environment!

It’s 5 June, which means it’s World Environment Day again. Last year the theme was “Green Economy: Does it include you?”, and I wrote about it here. This year, the focus moves from money to food, with the theme for 2013 being “Think.Eat.Save”.

The Think.Eat.Save campaign is an anti-waste and anti food-loss campaign. The message is that we should all take responsibility to reduce our ‘foodprint’ – the amount of food we unnecessarily waste in our daily lives. The latest stats from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that no less than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year. According to the UNEP website, the quantity of food wasted worldwide is equivalent to the total amount of food produced annually in sub-Saharan Africa. That is scary, and given the number of people in developing countries suffering from undernourishment and malnutrition (more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger), the figure becomes truly horrendous.

Grow your own food - it tastes better, it's lighter on your pocket, and it's better for the environment! (© All Rights Reserved)
Grow your own food – it tastes better, it’s lighter on your pocket, and it’s better for the environment!
(© All Rights Reserved)
…and if you happen to grow too much to eat, think about ways of using your surplus stock effectively - preserving, for example, allows you to enjoy your homegrown veges long after they were taken out of the ground. (© All Rights Reserved)
…and if you happen to grow too much to eat, think about ways of using your surplus stock effectively – preserving, for example, allows you to enjoy your homegrown veges long after they were taken out of the ground.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The Think.Eat.Save campaign “encourages you to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices you make and empowers you to make informed decisions”. While it’s easy to point the finger to big companies who waste loads of food catering for corporate events etc, escaping the blame is not that easy – reducing the global food wastage begins with each of us, at home. By putting a little thought into your food regime – thinking about what you eat, thinking about how you use the left-overs, etc, you can save loads and eat much more efficiently.

As an example, eating processed food involves much more wastage than eating freshly produced local fare.

According to UNEP, “the global food production occupies 25% of all habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption, 80% of deforestation, and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is the largest single driver of biodiversity loss and land-use change.”

By thinking before you eat, and making informed decisions about food usage (selecting foods with less environmental impact, buying locally, growing your own food, effectively using left-overs) you can do your bit to save your environment.

Reduce food-loss – one bite at a time!

It’s ‘More Herbs, Less Salt’ Day – time to give your heart a breather

Today, according to those in the know, is ‘More Herbs, Less Salt’ Day. Another of those days that has been thought up to try and nudge us towards a slightly healthier lifestyle (much like ‘Independence from Meat’ Day, that I blogged about earlier).

Indeed, leaning towards herbs, rather than heaps of salt, to season your food is not a bad idea at all. I’m sure anyone who has opened a general lifestyle magazine in the last 10 years will know that salt isn’t all that great for our overly stressed 21st century bodies – our poor hearts already have enough to deal with. Giving the heart a further knock by subjecting it to a high salt diet really isn’t a winning idea.

Using more herbs and less salt not only makes your food healthier, but tastier and prettier too.
(© All Rights Reserved)

There’s a significant body of research linking high sodium diets to high blood pressure, which in turn is linked to heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and other nasties. Proving that a decrease in salt actually reduces the risk of heart disease has been more difficult, but a long-term research project conducted a few years ago, aimed to do exactly that. In an article entitled “Long term effects of dietary sodium reduction on cardiovascular disease outcomes: observational follow-up of the trials of hypertension prevention (TOHP)”, the research team from Harvard Medical School presents their results from a long-term follow-up assessment related to a sodium-reduction, hypertension prevention study done 15 years earlier. In the original intervention, a group of adults followed a sodium reduced diet for between 18 and 48 months. From the long-term follow-up research it was found that, compared to the general population, “Risk of a cardiovascular event was 25% lower among those in the intervention group (relative risk 0.75, 95% confidence interval 0.57 to 0.99, P=0.04), adjusted for trial, clinic, age, race, and sex, and 30% lower after further adjustment for baseline sodium excretion and weight (0.70, 0.53 to 0.94), with similar results in each trial.”

This led them to the conclusion that “Sodium reduction, previously shown to lower blood pressure, may also reduce long term risk of cardiovascular events.”

To really put you off a high salt diet, a visit to World Action on Salt and Health, a website dedicated to “improve the health of populations throughout the world by achieving a gradual reduction in salt intake”, should do the trick. Just note, however, that this day (and most scientific research) calls for ‘less salt’, not ‘no salt’. As one of the primary electrolytes in the body, salt is essential for the body to function – just not at the levels that we’re consuming it.

Herbs on the other hand don’t just taste good – they’re like a veritable medicine cabinet in your garden (or pantry, if you don’t grow your own). Besides often being rich in vitamins and trace elements the body needs, specific herbs have long been known for their medicinal effects.

Herbs like chamomile and lavender is known to have a calming effect, parsley, oregano and echinacea can boost the immune system, garlic contains selenium, which can help reduce blood pressure (now there’s a good one to fight the effects of a high sodium diet!), mint and feverfew have been reported to reduce headaches, basil and bergemot fights colds and flu, lemon balm and rosemary is good for concentration and memory… The list goes on.

Of course, as with everything in life, the key is moderation – ‘more herbs’ should not be seen as a license to go overboard on every herb you can lay your hands on. Reckless and injudicious use of herbal supplements can be very detrimental to your health, to say the least. Colodaro State University hosts a nice site, Herbals for Health?, which is worth a read – it gives a balanced overview of the pro’s and cons of a few popular herbal supplements.

Despite the cautionary notes above, culinary herbs, especially freshly home-grown, generally speaking should not cause health risks when used in moderation as an alternative to salt in daily cooking, and that, after all, is what this day is all about. Using herbs in cooking can be a very exciting way to improve your health and well-being, so have fun experimenting with all those new tastes and flavours!