How to Get More Out of Your Kitchen Stash and Minimize Your Trash
By Molly M. Ginty
Chances are, you and your family don't always agree on whether to toss a carton of eggs or a box of crackers based on the date stamped on the packaging.
Last year, a poll from the Food Policy Action Network found that 60 percent of people have debated the meaning of food labels within their households. But confusing label terms—"Sell by," "Best before," "Expires on," "Enjoy by"—don't just cause arguments; they also cause food waste.
A 2013 industry-conducted survey from Eastern Research Group, cited in a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Harvard Law School, revealed that more than 90 percent of consumers have prematurely thrown away food because they misinterpret these labels as indicators of food safety.
In fact, manufacturers typically use these labels to indicate when a food is at its peak quality, even though it may be safe to eat long beyond the date on its package. Federal regulations do not require product dating for anything except infant formula. And while some states do require certain date labels on certain types of food, their requirements differ, leading to separate and sometimes conflicting state-based labeling systems.
This year, consumers will start to see a simplified date labeling system aimed at cutting the confusion. It's a small but important step in combating our massive food waste habit, which causes an estimated 40 percent of food to go uneaten in America. The new approach to labeling (described below), which many food-processing companies are adopting on a voluntary basis, will help prevent retailers from pruning their shelves at the current rate: According to one industry expert, the average grocery store discards $2,300 worth of "out of date" goods each day. It'll save consumers cash, too: The typical American family of four spends $1,800 each year on food they don't eat.
Until the simplified labels catch on, trust your gut (and your nose) when deciding what to toss and what to keep. These food-saving and food-storage tips will help.
Treat Food Date Labels More as Suggestions than Commands.
Under our current system, it's hard to know what the date stamped on a food container is intended to mean. In some cases, the dates aren't even meant to communicate with consumers. "Sell by" dates, for instance, are intended for grocers to use in managing their inventory. True, some foods have short shelf lives, but many others have surprising staying power.
"Condiments stored properly in the pantry or fridge can be good for years," said Ted Labuza, PhD, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. "Canned foods—though labeled safe for about three years—can potentially last for decades. Let your nose—and maybe a few nibbles—serve as your best guides," Labuza said. You'll want to get rid of anything sticky, smelly or slimy.
Use Your Senses and Then Get Creative.
Food is a living thing, and from the moment of harvest, it begins to decompose. But just because your bread is drying up or your bananas are going brown, it doesn't mean they're spoiled. (Mold, of course, is a different story.)
While some signs of food damage are red flags—such as an open scratch on a pear where bacteria could potentially grow—many flaws are harmless. Others just require a little bit of kitchen savvy to get past. Whip brown bananas into smoothies, for example, or turn stale bread into toast. Soak tired veggies in ice water. Sauté your wilting greens. Cook too-soft tomatoes into soup. There are plenty of ways to salvage foods slightly past their prime. And if all really is lost? Compost.
Maximize Your Food's Life Span with These Six Storage Tips.
1. Place produce in sealed packaging and refrigerate it. (There are some exceptions, like bananas, potatoes and onions, for example, which are best kept just below room temperature).
2. Keep your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Reserve the coldest part of your fridge (usually the bottom) for fish, poultry, prepared foods and other items that are highly perishable. Place items like drinks, snacks and condiments on an upper shelf or in a door compartment.
4. If cans are dented, bulging or misshapen, throw them out (bacteria inside can cause their contents to swell).
5. Store nonperishable pantry items in a cool, dry place—i.e., not in a cabinet above your stove or in direct sunlight.
6. Don't leave perishable foods out (placing milk on a countertop for one to two hours can rob it of a full three hours of refrigerator shelf life).
Look Out for New Labels.
In 2017, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association developed new voluntary guidelines for food date labeling for their members. The new system greatly simplifies the wording used on food date labels, trimming them down to these two terms:
- "Best if used by" describes product quality. The product may not taste or perform as expected after the date, but it is safe to use or consume.
- "Use by" applies to the much smaller number of products that are highly perishable or for which a food safety concern may arise over time. Such products should be consumed by the date shown on the package. After that, they should be discarded.
"While the 'use by' label ensures a perishable product is safe, the 'best if used by' label ensures a nonperishable one is of good quality," said Meghan Stasz, the senior director of sustainability for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Walmart, the largest U.S. retailer, helped catalyze the shift to simplified labels and is slashing the number of labels on its Great Value food products from a total of 47 down to just one, which will be the "best if used by" date.
"Though major industry players are following suit and quickly adopting the new labels, we still hope to codify this into federal law," said JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate at NRDC. "Federal legislation would avoid the confusing patchwork of state standards that now exists and would help educate consumers about what the labels do and don't mean."
During the phase-in period for the voluntary standards, shoppers may still encounter the old panoply of labels. But Stasz said industry leaders "expect to see broad adoption of these standards by the end of 2018," regardless of whether Congress takes action.
Molly M. Ginty is a freelance health writer and yoga instructor in New York City, She has written for Ms., Utne Reader, Marie Claire, Planned Parenthood, PBS.org and Women's eNews. An avid runner and sometime photographer, she lives in Harlem.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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