Why You Should Use More Spices and Less Plastic

Why You Should Use More Spices and Less Plastic

Freshen up your diet and the environment with these expert tips.

Q: I am trying to take off a few pounds gradually, but in truth it’s so slow it’s adding up to nothing! I’ve been eating a wide variety of foods like the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines says to, so what’s wrong? —Abigail L., Springfield, IL

A: Losing weight gradually is the right way to shed it and keep it off. That said, we wonder about what you mean by variety. A milkshake and a carrot stick is not what’s meant by variety—but it’s what many folks seem to think they can get away with.

In fact, it’s gotten to be enough of a problem that the American Heart Association recently issued a position paper saying, “greater dietary diversity is associated with suboptimal eating patterns, that is, higher intakes of processed foods, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages.”

So what is the variety that you should be aiming for? A variety of colors and types of veggies and fruits is a good place to start. You want to enjoy some legumes, some leafy greens, some cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, and some citrus and some fleshy fruits and berries daily. You can add lean proteins like skinless chicken and fish.

But if that variety doesn’t spice up your interest in healthy eating, just remember, while variety may be the spice of life, spices are the life of variety. Here are three of our favorites.

Turmeric: A main component of curry powder, turmeric delivers powerful flavor, and preliminary studies show it can reduce the number of heart attacks bypass patients have post-surgery and control knee pain from osteoarthritis as well as ibuprofen. And people from India, who use it frequently, have much lower rates of dementia. Animal studies confirm its brain benefits.

Cinnamon: Use this to flavor your coffee, zip up stews and make black beans sing with flavor. It also has anti-fungal properties and helps control glucose levels.

Pepper: Black pepper can combat cancer-causing properties of grilled foods—just coat lean chicken or veggies with ground pepper (after marinating in just about anything) before cooking over a flame.

Q: I’ve tried to reduce the amount of plastics, their waste and hormone disruptors in my life, but it’s difficult. Do you have any tips or helpful guidelines for me and my family to follow? —Candice B., San Diego, CA

A: With all the recent media attention focused on plastic waste in our oceans and the trend away from BPAs in plastics, there are steps you can take, and some things you cannot, or do not, have to change. And there’s a new generation of entrepreneurial plastic recyclers—more are emerging every day—that are making recycling a much more effective way to manage the huge quantities that we discard daily.

So, here are a few things you can do in your everyday life to reduce your plastic footprint—and do recycle every chance you get.

The Rethink Plastics pilot study wanted to see if some pretty simple behavior changes could reduce exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals in plastics and printed register receipts—and it did! Along the way, it also succeeded in reducing plastic use and waste. The study participants were asked to take the following steps:

  • Use glass or stainless steel water bottles.
  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers.
  • Skip canned foods and beverages.
  • Reduce take-out food.
  • Do not handle receipts with bare hands. (If you do, wash with soap and water as soon as possible. Hand sanitizer won’t wash BPAs off your hands, so wash them before you touch your food).

And we have a few more tips for you as well.

  • Opt out of using plastic bags at the store and rely on reusable cloth bags to carry groceries and brown paper bags to hold produce. Use cloth bags for purchases in other stores as well.
  • Use non-plastic containers to pack your lunch, and carry along reusable utensils—and no plastic straws.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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