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4 Healthy Foods with Surprisingly Wasteful Side Effects

Certain nutritious eats may do wonders for your body but, at the same time, pollute the environment. Find out which healthy foods are disadvantageous to nature.

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In a world of going green and eating clean, it’s easy to think that what’s good for your body is also good for Mother Nature. Unfortunately, some healthy staples in your diet may also be guilty of littering the planet, despite having high nutrition content.

“No matter what kind of manufacturing you do, there’s always a waste stream. Sometimes it’s hidden away, but if you pull back the curtain on the food industry, and start to look, there is an awful lot of waste,” says Dan Belliveau, a former Starbucks employee and founder of CoffeeFlour, a flavorful, gluten-free flour alternative made from often discarded coffee cherries (more on how below) in Hawaii, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, and Vietnam.

If only other food brands could take a cue from CoffeeFlour’s innovative and eco-friendly way to turn trash into treasure. They’re are still so many popular food items—probably a few in your kitchen right now—that are contributing to America’s major food waste problem. According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of our food supply (about 20 pounds per person a month) ends up in the landfill along with $165 billion dollars each year. Among the worst offenders in food waste are these four favorites that you might want to hold off consuming until strides in solutions are made.

1. Almond Milk

Visit any coffee shop in America and dairy-free milk is almost always an option. But the nut milk isn’t without its criticism: While it’s been well-reported that one almond could take 1.1 gallons of water to grow, many people don’t realize that the drink also leaves a heavier footprint than that. It all comes down to how the milk is made: After the soaked nuts are blended with water to make your drink du jour, a whole lot of (fairly flavorless) almond pulp finds itself in the trash.

“For every cup of almonds you use, you end up with almost a cup and a half of almond pulp,” says says Keith Kantor, Ph.D., an advocate of natural food and author of What Matters: Leadership Values that Just Might Save America. And until recently, restaurants, food companies, and at-home cooks alike have struggled to find a way to use this pulp.

One option: Make your own milk and convert the pulp to almond flour. “If you use the almond pulp for almond flour, you will only waste one-fourth a cup of almond pulp, cutting down the waste by 75 percent and leaving a healthy byproduct instead of waste,” Kantor says. Try these five recipes from TheKitchn.com for your leftover pulp.


Related: How to Make Fresh Almond Milk


 

2. Coffee

Your cup of joe has its own pile of waste. And that’s just the issue Belliveau and his team at CoffeeFlour aim to tackle with their new product, available at Marx Foods. To understand how CoffeeFlour solves a food waste issue, however, you must first know how the morning must-have is harvested. Ripe coffee cherries are collected from trees and brought to coffee mills for processing. There, the red fruit, which has a skin and a seed inside, is separated. The seeds end up being your beans that are exported and roasted to become coffee, and the edible, nutritious cherry pulp is leftover.

“Effectively what you have is a big, rotting pile of pulp,” says Belliveau. Up to 15 percent can be used as a low-grade fertilizer, he says, but for the most part, 85 to 90 percent is wasted. The other downside: Once the fruit starts to rot, it grows yeast, mold, and bacteria that turns toxic, seeping into ground water, becoming a major pollutant, he adds.

This is where the CoffeeFlour team comes in. They collect the cherries immediately after they’re discarded, making them into a fruit-like powder with a citrusy cherry taste. Belliveau recommends using CoffeeFlour as a semi-substitute (25 to 30 percent) in a flour recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of flour, replace a quarter or so with CoffeeFlour for an extra health boost. “CoffeeFlour is high in fiber, 10 to 12 percent protein, and a good source of vitamin A and antioxidants,” Belliveau says.

3. Greek Yogurt

It seems as though everyone has gone Greek: The probiotic-rich yogurt has grown to a $2 billion a year industry, according to a 2013 article in The New York Times. But most of us are blind to the fact that making the good-for-your-gut food also creates an ecological disaster. “To produce one ounce of Greek yogurt, three to four ounces of milk is used,” Kantor says. The byproduct, called acidic whey, is so acidic it’s considered toxic. Even more: It’s illegal to dump this stuff. “When this acidic liquid is released into the waterways, it decreases the oxygen level in the water killing fish and other wildlife.”

Isolating the good parts of acidic whey, like lactose (the main sugar in milk), may be one way around producing this lethal liquid, and thankfully, scientists are hot on the case. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently pioneered technology that will separate lactose for potential use in food products. A number of companies have already jumped on it, implementing the technology at their commercial plants.


4. Cashews

Fun fact: What we know as a ‘nut’ is actually the seed of an apple, says Belliveau. As promising as that sounds (who doesn’t love a good apple?), the bad news is the fruit is largely waste. It’s almost always left on the ground after the cashew itself is harvested. On the bright side, in 2014, Pepsi announced a plan to incorporate the unused fruit into drinks across India. They’re hoping the tangy, sweet beverage could be the next coconut water or açaí juice. One big issue they face, however, will be changing people’s mindsets on the topic of ‘waste’, Belliveau says. Since many byproducts, including fruit, can go bad within hours if not utilized correctly, there is a much-needed education process to all of this, he says: Convincing people that byproducts shouldn’t be considered garbage but rather potential food sources down the road.

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