How to Be a More Sustainable Grocery Shopper

Tips for making more environmentally-friendly choices when grocery shopping.
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Earth Day is April 22, a time to think about ways (big and small) we can all have a positive impact on the planet. Think one person can't make much difference? What we toss into our carts at the grocery store every single week actually has a direct influence on the health of the environment—and the well-being of everything and everyone who lives here. After all, with every purchase we make, we're casting a vote for the kind of food we want farmers to grow, manufacturers to make, and stores to stock.

For a few tips on how we can also be more sustainable shoppers, I reached out to the folks at HowGood, an independent research organization that created an in-store ratings system of more than 137,000 products (the ratings are placed on the shelves next to the price). They single out the top choices in different categories based on a wide variety of factors including farming techniques, the amount of energy used to produce it, labor conditions, and the safety record of the ingredients. HowGood is currently in about 100 stores in 28 states and hoping to expand (they also have an app).

Here are their top tips for every day shopping:

Meat and Dairy: Buying meat and dairy products from pastured sources is ideal. That means the animals spend more time eating food from the farmland and less time indoors eating feed that was brought in. Ask the butcher (or farmer at the farmer's market) if the animals were pasture-raised.

Fish: Look for fish certified by a major organization like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council). Need more help? Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for choices that are fished or farmed in ways that have less environmental impact.

Produce: Eating seasonal (and regional) produce is best—but simply buying more fruits and vegetables (whether that's locally-grown cucumbers or pineapple from South America) and fewer packaged foods is healthier for the planet (and for you!).

Packaged Foods: High fructose corn syrup and palm oil are two ingredients to avoid because of their environmental impact. But overall, buying less packaged food—and more single-ingredient items and cooking more from scratch—is the most sustainable way to shop.

(And of course, don't forget your reusable shopping bags!)

Just as important: Only buy as much as you can use. In the U.S., we throw away the equivalent of 20 pounds of food per person each month! That food waste takes a huge toll on the environment. Food is the second most common item in U.S. landfills, and that contributes to greenhouse gas production. So buy only what you need—and be smart about saving what you can't use right away by freezing or repurposing it. 

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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