Jan 9, 2009

Lifestyle - How to green your breakfast

Russell McLendon

The Worst Breakfast Foods

You may have heard that you are what you eat, but you're also not what you don't eat. No need to avoid these breakfast foods like the plague; maybe just avoid them like obesity, heart disease, wastewater runoff and global warming.

Fast food: Why would you trust the food from any restaurant so rushed it fuses words together (Frescuit, Croissan'wich) or can't be bothered to spell out conjunctions (Big N' Tasty, Biscuit 'N' Gravy)? While it's true fast-food companies are scrambling to revamp their images in the post-Super Size Me era, and some have made nutritional improvements, the industry's environmental impacts haven't gotten as much attention. Fast-food chains have huge carbon footprints, support factory farming and produce a massive amount of packaging waste every year.

Cinnamon rolls, doughnuts and pastries: Depending where you get your pastries, you might be better off eating a piece of birthday cake for breakfast. A lot depends on the source and how it's made, though, so try for healthier or more sustainable alternatives. Get a whole-wheat doughnut instead of Boston cream, or a low-fat cinnamon roll instead of a Honey Bun. And if you do eat a cinnamon roll, for your own sake, don't do this.

Pork: Getting early-morning protein from bacon, ham and sausage can actually ward off hunger later in the day. Unfortunately, most pork comes from industrial hog farms that produce mountains of manure and emit greenhouse gases, ammonia and foul smells that encroach on neighbors. Look for fresh, organic pork that doesn't contain preservatives (PDF) and wasn't fed antibiotics, or buy low-sodium and low-fat products. Center-cut bacon often has at least 20 percent less fat than traditional cuts, and turkey bacon has about a third less. If you're feeling eco-conscious and adventurous, try soy-based veggie bacon, which has less saturated fat and cholesterol than any meat variety.

Whole eggs: Eggs are the champions of breakfast, the foundation on which the traditional American morning is built. A whole fried egg has about double the protein of a slice of bacon, and is high in essential nutrients such as selenium and choline. But eggs' downside is their yolks, which are high in cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fat. Eating egg whites instead essentially eliminates those problems, but both whole eggs and egg whites still have a bit much sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Pancakes, waffles, and French toast with butter and syrup: Actually, the main problem with these is just the butter and syrup, so no need to throw out your waffle iron. If you can skip both condiments in favor of real fruit preserves or raw honey, or at least opt for low-fat versions, you'll be doing yourself a favor. If you're making French toast yourself, use egg whites and skim milk to cut down on cholesterol and fat.

The Best breakfast foods

Cap'n Crunch, Count Chocula and Frankenberry may be single-minded pitchmen, but they all learned long ago the importance of fitting into the larger "complete breakfast." We think it's time to take that concept to the next level; below is a list of prenoon eats that are good for both you and the planet you live on. Keep in mind that the best breakfast is a combination of these foods — but that doesn't mean there's not room for a little Cap'n in you, too.

Fruits and vegetables: Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber, and "superfoods" like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries offer cancer-fighting antioxidants. Adding kidney, pinto or red beans to an egg-white omelet or breakfast salad will throw in some protein as well as more antioxidants than any other food besides wild blueberries. Buy these organic and locally grown when you can, which will lessen their environmental impact. If the added cost is too much, try growing beans or berries in your back yard, or a citrus tree indoors if you live in a cold climate.

Cereals and grains: Fiber is your digestive tract's hall monitor. It keeps things moving and turns one of the body's less pleasant processes into a breeze. Some types, such as soluble fiber from oats or barley, can even reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. That's why we especially recommend oatmeal (see "Saving green on a green breakfast" for more). Try to limit sugars if you eat breakfast cereals — namely high-fructose corn syrup, which is heavily processed and contributes to substantial environmental damage — and aim for ones that are organic and fortified with nutrients. That's not to say cereals with mascots can't be part of a complete breakfast, but Toucan Sam will adjust to sharing you with Kashi, Total and Special K.

Dairy: Low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt have plenty of protein and less sodium, cholesterol and preservatives than most breakfast meats. Dairy is also the highest natural source of calcium, which is especially important for children and young women. Look for organic labels on dairy products to avoid various factory-farming collateral such as antibiotics and waste pollution. Even if you're vegan, lactose-intolerant or just dairy-wary, calcium isn't hard to come by. Try soy milk, fortified cereals and salmon; spinach, kale and turnip greens are also solid calcium sources that can be added to an omelet or eaten as a side.

Lean meats or egg whites: As we mentioned earlier, protein is important in the morning, and although you can get it from things like nuts and beans, animal sources are still at the top of the heap. If you do eat meat, there are lots of healthy options. Fish, poultry, dairy and egg whites are the best bets. If you eat pork or beef, try to find it fresh and organic when possible, and look for low-fat and reduced-sodium versions.

Whole-wheat bagels, toast and English muffins: These are simple, cheap and, if you choose them wisely, nutritious. Make sure they're whole-wheat, and avoid brands sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. English muffins often have fewer calories than bagels (and their nook-to-cranny ratio is much higher). Mainly, though, the healthiness depends on the spread. Don't use butter or margarine with trans fats or high amounts of saturated fat. Look for low-fat cream cheese, or better yet, use real fruit preserves or raw honey.

Top 5 ways to a greener breakfast

It's easy to make breakfast more than a saccharine muffin wolfed down between rush-hour brake stomps. If you're smart about it, you'll not only save money and be more energetic, satiated and mentally sharp throughout the day — you'll also reduce your contribution to ongoing environmental damage.

1) Don't get fast food. It's bad for you (fat, sodium and cholesterol) and the planet (large carbon footprint, factory farming and packaging waste). The only ones who win when you stop for a Croissan'wich or Frescuit are Burger King and Wendy's.

2) Get local food. Fresh pork products can be preservative-free, and if they come from organic local farms they're less destructive to the environment than meat from industrial farms. If you can't buy fresh from a local butcher or farmer's market, try to at least minimize the distance the food is shipped, driven and flown — burning fossil fuels along the way — from the farm to your table.

3) Eat organic meat and eggs. Industrial hog and poultry farms are some of the most notorious agricultural polluters in the United States, and it's no secret the animals aren't always treated well. Organic farms produce less chemical and biological pollution than conventional industrial farms, and also don't use synthetic pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones.

4) Better yet, eat less meat. Plant farming is less energy-intensive, and thus more environmentally friendly, than animal farming. A 2006 University of Chicago study (PDF) even found that the greenhouse-gas emissions from meat- and plant-based diets can differ as much as the emissions from driving a regular sedan and a gas-electric hybrid. Meat is also generally more expensive than plant-based breakfasts, and you can get more vitamins, fiber and antioxidants and less fat, sodium and cholesterol. If you're worried about missing your morning protein, try incorporating more dairy, nuts or beans into your breakfast, or just eat a small amount of meat, like an egg white or a couple slices of turkey bacon.

5) Recycle. If you do get a to-go breakfast, save your trash in a bag and recycle the waste when you get to work or back home. Better yet, bring your own reusable plate, cup or silverware. If you make your own breakfast, whether it's granola and a grapefruit or bacon and eggs, you'll have some kind of waste left — a cereal box, fruit rind, bacon wrapper, egg carton. Try to buy products with recyclable packaging, and consider composting what you can in your back yard.

1 comment:

scotq said...

Thanks for your excellent and informative piece on greening your breakfast. I buy cereal in bulk to cut out on the packaging. Once I open the bulk bag I pour it into large re-used glass jars in order to maintain freshness.

Also, to learn more about the evils of fast food packaging, check out the excellent website: nofreerefills.org