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You Can Eat Healthy and Avoid Food Waste—Here’s How

A 2020 study from the journal Current Developments in Nutrition found that healthier diets also often equal more food waste.

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Yep, you read that right. If you’re not paying attention to your habits, healthy eating can sometimes also be bad for the environment. “We want people to be making healthy choices at the same time that they’re making environmentally friendly and affordable choices,” says Zach Conrad, assistant professor at William & Mary in Virginia and a nutritionist who studies food waste. He is also a co-author on that study that looked at the association between diet quality and environmental sustainability.

Food waste is problematic on a few levels. “It’s a problem because it wastes all of the resources that were used to make that food: the water, energy, labor,” says Jerusha Klemperer, director of FoodPrint, a public awareness campaign that provides resources for eating sustainably. “But it’s also a problem because as it sits in the landfill, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.”

Though the studies show that healthier eating often equals more wasted food, they don’t reveal why. One hypothesis is that healthy people are more prone to buying fresh produce and other things that just go bad quickly. And Conrad isn’t arguing that anyone stop doing that, only that we do a better job of eating the food that we buy. “It’s one thing to purchase those foods, it’s another thing to actually prepare them. It’s still another thing to actually eat them,” he says.

And taking his advice will probably save you a good deal of money. It turns out that the average individual wastes more than $1,300 of food per year. “That comes out to more per year than the average person is spending on things like gasoline and clothing and household utilities, property tax, things like that,” says Conrad.

Here are three guidelines to follow if you want to reduce your foodprint and keep up your healthy runner’s diet.

Pay Attention to What You Throw Out

Think about it: Are you a food waster? “About three-quarters of people will think that they waste less than the average person,” says Conrad. If you’re trying to do that math in your head, we’ll stop you there. It doesn’t add up. “What that tells us is there are a lot of people who are underestimating the amount of food that they waste,” he says.

Start by paying attention to how you’re preparing and eating meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables, which topped the list of the most wasted foods. Once you understand how much you’re throwing away, it’ll be easier to shop and eat more mindfully.

Make a Plan For Your Food

Tips recommended by Klemperer: “Start by planning ahead before you shop. Then make a list and follow it. Try to come up with cooking plans that rely on the same ingredients.”

At the grocery store, following your shopping list is key. “That is helpful for avoiding these big purchases, bulk purchases, because of perceived discounts. When you go to the grocery store, it’s all designed to get you to buy as much food as possible,” says Conrad.

If you need some help keeping track of all the food in your house, the USDA FoodKeeper lets you see the shelf life of different food items based on how they are stored. It can also link to your phone’s calendar to remind you if you have a food that is about to spoil and needs to be eaten and alert you to any food recalls in your area.

Klemperer also recommends designating one shelf in your refrigerator as the “eat first” shelf. And doing a fridge inventory every few days can go a long way in helping you remember what’s in there and edible.

RELATED: 16 Tips to Make Meal Prepping Easier

Get Creative with Mealtime

Learn to love leftovers—consuming last night’s pasta as today’s lunch is an easy way to save money and food, and often, it doesn’t take much to make leftovers interesting. Unsure how to make that second-day meal as good as day one? Try a cookbook just for that.

Another way to get creative and reduce food waste is to buy the ugly produce. “When you see bruises and abrasions and misshapen produce, don’t just assume that they’re spoiled. For some, you can easily cut them off. For some you don’t even need to and you can just throw them into a smoothie or stews,” says Conrad. However, if you are concerned something might be spoiled, always err on the side of caution and throw it out.

Lastly, you don’t have to rely on fresh produce all the time. You can get the same nutrition you need from frozen and canned without worrying about eating it right away. “Nowadays it’s great because there’s options that have low sodium, low added sugar or sometimes none,” says Conrad.

RELATED: Why Runners Should Eat Local, Seasonal Produce