Jan. 18, 2013 -- intro: Hi there. You're looking good. Have you been working out? Drinking lots of water? You probably take care to eat a healthy, balanced diet packed full of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.
But while you take care of your body and your health, you might be having an adverse impact on the health of the planet and local economies. And it's not only because of the food you eat -- it's also due to the fuel we use, the feed we give our livestock, and the products we use to keep healthy and/or beautiful.
Here are five foods that might not be as healthy as you'd think.
quicklist: 1title: Quinoatext: The darling of foodies and health nuts alike, quinoa is a grain that is both low in fat and a good source of plant-based protein and amino acids. But, as The Guardian reported this week, the upsurge in demand for quinoa in places like the U.S. has pushed up prices for the grain to the point where poorer people in Peru and Bolivia -- form whom the grain was once a dietary staple -- can no longer afford it. "In Lima," the report notes, "quinoa now costs more than chicken."
What's more, the demand could have an unsavory environmental impact as well, with diverse crops giving way to a "quinoa monoculture" that risks upsetting the balance of soil nutrients.
quicklist: 2title: Soytext: Long synonymous with healthy eating, soy -- which can be eaten both as an unprocessed legume or enjoyed in the form of soy milk, tofu, and a variety of other meat and dairy substitutes -- also has comes with tis own set of risks and downsides.
As an article originally published in Terrain magazine explains, soy consumers in countries like the U.S. tend to eat a lot of processed soy products in contrast to consumers in countries like Japan, where many soy products are fermented and rich in probiotics. What's more, so MANY food products contain soy that we end up consuming a lot more of it in our diets than we're likely aware of. Soy is used in everything from supplements to soups to canned tuna to meat products and cereals -- it's even a common ingredient in pet food and beauty products, as well as a common ingredient in livestock feed.
That all adds up to a lot of one kind of highly processed food, and a high demand for one single crop.
quicklist: 3title: Corntext: Corn has also become an integral and ubiquitous part of our daily lives, even if we're not sitting down to eat corn on the cob every day. Besides being found in an abundance of food products in various forms, including corn syrup, corn is used in animal feed, packaging, beauty and health products, as well as in the production of ethanol. As Al Jazeera notes, the demand for biofuel like ethanol is growing rapidly, "fueled by a wide range of government incentives and mandates and by the rising price of petroleum." As such, ethanol production now uses up about 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop.
But corn is also a staple food in many countries -- not to mention one for farm animals that, in turn, provide us with meat, eggs, and dairy products. The U.S.'s rising demans for corn as fuel has resulted in a "demand shock" in international markets. As more corn is shipped abroad due to higher demand, countries like Guatemala and Uganda experience a spike in corn prices, putting this filling, versatile staple food item out of many's grasp.
quicklist: 4title: Asparagustext: Both nutritious and delicious, asparagus is a demanding crop to grow. A 2010 study by Progression, a development charity, found that asparagus production in Peru's Ica Valley is having a serious impact on water resources, drying out wells for area farmers and their communities. The study warned that, due to the vegetable's large "water footprint," the export of asparagus is currently "unsustainable."
quicklist: 5title: Salmontext: You might think that salmon -- a high-protein food rich in Omega-3 and vitamin D -- would be a healthy meal choice. And you'd be absolutely correct, in a sense. But then there's the envirionmental factor to consider. Farmed salmon -- an ostensibly healthy option for both consumers and the environment -- leave a carbon footprint of 11.9kg per kg of salmon, according to statistics released by the Environmental Working Group in 2011. The group's findings also indicate that the primary emissions in the production phase of farming salmon come from feed. In addition, "emissions for farmed salmon are also high because consumers throw away a lot of what they buy."
What'd your mom always tell you? There are kids in [current impoverished nation in the media spotlight] who aren't even lucky enough to have farmed salmon to waste.