Perryman Nutrition Column: Color Your Plate Green

Note to Editors: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension Specialist and registered dietitian in Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences.

As a child growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, our family like other families lived on seasonal produce grown locally. My job was to keep from getting pecked by the hens while collecting the eggs. The cows were milked by hand while sitting on a three-legged stool and the fat was skimmed to make butter which we slathered on freshly baked bread. What we didn’t eat in season from the garden was preserved and stored in the cellar to feed us until the growing season came around the next year.  

Times have changed and our lives are busier. Now many of us depend on large companies to produce our food which is trucked to mammoth grocery stores. With the struggling economy we’re drawn to make decisions at the grocery store more by our wallets than the health of our bodies or our environment.

The old clich?, "You are what you eat," should be taken literally if our personal health and our planet are to be preserved. Read through the list below to see how eco-responsible you are and then resolve to do more to color your plate greener.

Recognize that making more green choices is the goal, but it needn’t be an all or none process.  In addition to supporting the concept of a greener environment, it comes down to time and money. If all you currently do is tote your own re-useable shopping bags to the grocery store, that’s a step. Little changes over time can add up to a healthier diet and a cleaner environment.  Making green choices can get complicated for the conventional eater but every green step you take is worthwhile for both you and your environment.  

How many suggestions in the list below already apply to you and how many are you willing to try?

–     Eat low on the food chain. Choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains (including soy foods) more often to minimize the use of fossil fuels. There’s an additional bonus too. Eating more of these greener foods may also help you get leaner!

–     Choose when to go organic. Spend the extra dollars on those foods where your dollars will mean the most. Go to to see the list of fruits and vegetables with the highest chemical load. Note that the dozen foods on the list typically are eaten with the skin intact as in grapes or the outer layer is typically not removed as in lettuce. To save money, purchase conventional fruits and vegetables with a thick skin or rind as you would find in melons and squashes. If you can’t afford to buy organic, rinse and peel fresh produce do help minimize the pesticide load and eat a variety to minimize exposure to pesticides and chemicals.

–     Eat less meat. Valuable cropland is used to grow food for animals that we eat, not to mention the irrigation required for the crops and sewage treatment plants that process the animal waste.  Changing food habits is difficult even when good arguments support a change. Eat less beef, veal, pork and lamb. If beef is a mainstay in your diet choose greener beef-organic, grass fed beef-more often. Eating poultry is three times as efficient as eating beef. However, processed and packaged chicken products, such as chicken nuggets, are not a greener choice. Log on to to look for farms raising pasture-fed meat, milk and eggs.  

–     Choose fish wisely. Fish are a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. The confusion surrounds the abundance of choices and determining which are the best when environmentally-friendly farming practices are followed. Go to to determine the best choices and learn which ones should be avoided. Download recommendations on your iPhone to have instant answers at the grocery store or a restaurant.   

–     Eat less processed food. Minimize your intake of salt, sugar and partially hydrogenated fat to benefit your health and that of the local landfills. You’ll know you’re eating greener when your garbage can is no longer overflowing with excess packaging.

–     Grow your own herbs. If growing a garden seems overwhelming or you’re an apartment dweller, find a sunny window and grow several favorite herbs rather than buying pre-packaged herbs at the grocery store.

–     Support the farmer’s market. Locovores help the environment by diminishing the miles food travels as a step toward diminishing global warming. To help determine which foods are in season in your area go to . Click on to locate a farmers’ market near you. That site will also identify locations in your area for Community Supported Agriculture or CSA’s which allow you to buy seasonal food directly from a farmer.  

–     Know your sustainable labels. Check out to understand how reading labels can help you make the best choices. Learn what COOL labeling – or Country of Origin Labeling – natural and organic labeling really means.