How “green” is your food?
Choosing what to eat is one of the main ways you can help to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. For example, a 2018 study from the University of Oxford found that becoming a vegan was the “single biggest way” to reduce your individual carbon footprint.
However, a WWF report found that the soybean industry – that produces tofu and soy milk – can cause problems such as “widespread deforestation and displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe”.
Then there is the issue of food miles. Globalisation means it’s now possible to get your fruit and veg all year round. But what’s the climate impact of strawberries from Morocco or apples from South Africa?
So, surely eating well means choosing more fruit and vegetables, and picking produce that is grown locally?
Well, not necessarily. Just because something is grown in Britain, doesn’t make it low carbon either.
In his book Climate-Smart Food, Dave Reay, from the University of Edinburgh, found that growing lettuce near London in the wrong season was worse in terms of carbon contributions than flying it in from Europe. This is because of the intensity required to “beat” the wrong climate we have most of the year in Britain.
So, to help the planet you should not only eat more locally grown fruit and veg, but also eat seasonally. Here are ten British fruits and vegetables that are good for you, and when in the calendar you should buy them for minimum climate impact.
British apples are typically in season from October to February and come in a wide choice of varieties.
Apples contain pectin, a natural fibre found in plants. Research by the European Journal of Nutrition has found that eating whole apples had a cholesterol-lowering effect in healthy volunteers, compared to apple juice.
Apples also have an excellent fibre content which may help to improve insulin sensitivity, which is important both for weight management and preventing diabetes. They are also rich in polyphenols, one of which is a flavonoid called quercetin.
A study by the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition found that individuals with higher quercetin levels (mainly through eating apples) had a lower risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease.
When to eat them: October to February
Swedes are a great and healthy alternative to potatoes, either mashed or roasted or used in casseroles or stews.
They contain a wide range of useful nutrients including potassium, calcium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamin C, E, K, and members of the B family. A single serving of swede provides you with more than half the daily recommended amount of vitamin C.
Swedes are also high in fibre, providing more than 12% of the daily requirement in each serving.
When to eat them: October to February
Kale is often highlighted as a “superfood” thanks to its nutritional benefits. It contains four times the vitamin C content and twice the selenium content of spinach, as well as being a good source of plant-based calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth.
It is also a good source of vitamin K which studies suggest works with vitamin D to support healthy bone metabolism. Kale supports hearth health and contains potassium which helps you to maintain a healthy blood pressure. It also contains nutrients which bind to cholesterol and can help you manage these levels.
When to eat it: September to February
The most popular berry fruit in the world, it’s now possible to buy strawberries all year round in the UK. However, to ensure you’re helping reduce the carbon effect of flying in fruit from overseas, you’re best to eat British strawberries between May and September.
Strawberries protect your heart, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and can help guard against cancer.
They are among the top 20 fruits in terms of antioxidants and just one serving – about eight strawberries – provides more vitamin C than an orange.
When to eat them: May to September
The beetroot is a versatile vegetable that is grown all year round in the UK. Perfect steamed, roasted, or pickled, beetroots have been associated with a wide range of health benefits, including lower blood pressure, and increased exercise performance.
As beetroot is rich in nitrates, it helps to relax and dilate blood vessels, resulting in better circulation and a possible drop in blood pressure. These nitrates can also boost your physical endurance kick.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that male cyclists were able to pedal 15% longer in a timed trial to exhaustion after drinking beetroot juice.
This added oxygen flow in your blood doesn’t just go to your muscles, it also goes to your brain and can help your cognitive function.
When to eat them: All year round
Eating fruits with a high water percentage helps you increase your fluid intake. As fresh cranberries are 87% water, they are a great choice if you’re trying to increase your hydration.
Cranberries are also low in calories, and contain calcium and vitamins A, E, and C. Calcium contributes to formation of normal blood clots while vitamin C helps protect cells from oxidative damage, making this tangy red fruit good for your skin’s health and appearance.
When to eat them: November and December
Whether you’re using it in a summer crumble or serving it with custard, rhubarb is low in calories and a great source of nutrients.
It’s full of fibre which is great for your digestive health and can help lower blood cholesterol levels. It’s also packed with vitamin K, and you’ll get around a third of your recommended daily intake in just one 3.5 ounce serving.
When to eat it: March to September
Not only are blackberries a great health food, but they are also cheap and plentiful as you can often find them growing in local hedgerows.
Blackberries contain a wide array of important nutrients including potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as vitamins A, C, and E. They are also a terrific source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that give blackberries their deep purple colour.
A serving of around 10 blackberries counts as one of your five-a-day.
When to eat them: August to October
Watercress is another “superfood”. It contains more than 50 vital vitamins and minerals and, gram for gram, it contains more calcium than milk, more folate than bananas, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more Vitamin E than broccoli.
Health benefits of watercress include:
- It contains nitrates that help create elasticity in the blood vessels which lowers blood pressure.
- It contains levels of iron, necessary to convert energy in your food to be active and essential for growth and development.
- 100g of watercress contains more than half your recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, needed to maintain a strong immune system.
When to eat it: March to December
If you add 100g of sweetcorn to a meal you’ll get 2.4g of fibre, essential to aid digestion, and reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer.
It is also rich in folate (vitamin B9) and thiamine (vitamin B1). Folate contributes to the creation of healthy red blood cells while thiamine is responsible for breaking down your food and turning it into energy.
When to eat it: August to October
Life insurance for diabetes and other medical conditions
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