With its clean slate and opportunities for fresh beginnings, the start of a new year is the perfect time to put in place the types of habits you’d like like to establish for the months ahead. Whether you’d like to exercise more, spend less time looking at screens or give up something you know isn’t serving you, change somehow feels more possible in these early days of the year.

So let’s take advantage of the abundant transformative energy in these quiet winter days by looking at a few simple things we can do this year to better nourish our bodies and support the health of our planet.

Embrace A Plant-Based Diet
While there can be a lot of conflicting information out there about the healthiest or most sustainable ways to eat, the one thing that almost everyone seems to agree on is that consuming more of your calories from plant-based foods is a good idea. Research shows that plant-based diets can improve longevity and reduce the risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. As well, a major report conducted by the UN shows that eating a plant-based diet is one of the most powerful individual contributions we can make in terms of combatting climate change. With Veganuary (https://veganuary.com/en-us/) happening throughout the month, there’s no better time than to take the plunge.

So what exactly is a plant-based diet? Unlike a vegan or vegetarian diet, plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to completely eschew animal products, unless that feels like the right choice for you. Instead, it’s about making sure that majority of your daily calories come from plant-based sources like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains. For many of us, this might just mean limiting our consumption of animal products to just once or twice a week, or making sure we devote majority of the space on our plates to plant-based foods. That’s why I love the term ‘plant based’; it allows for a certain degree of flexibility rather than creating rigid rules that can set people up to feel they’ve failed if they’re not always able to adhere to them or discouraging them from trying in the first place.

Think Local
Whether it’s starting a garden or buying more of your produce from local farms this year, eating food that was grown close to where you live is a win-win. Produce that only has to travel a short distance between the soil and your plate not only has a dramatically reduced carbon footprint, but also tends to be more flavorful and nutrient rich than its supermarket counterparts. This is because it gets to the consumer so quickly, ensuring that it’s fresh and allowing for harvest at the peak of its ripeness.

This year, I’ll be signing up for a C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription through a farm just down the road from where I live, supplying me with a generous box of vegetables each week and making it easy to get my five vegetables a day.

Most farms offer something like this — many with options for eggs and meat as well. While you can specify the staples you always want, the fun thing is that you tend to get things you might not normally choose — kohlrabi for instance, or celeriac. This helps to diversify your diet if you tend to rely on a few old standards — and might also mean you discover a few new favorites.

Ditch Plastic
As unpleasant as it is to think about it, research definitively shows that plastic is in our food, our drinking water, the air we breathe and inside our bodies. One study from 2019 calculated that the average American consumes more than 74,000 micro plastic particles every year — that’s thousands of particles per day. The problem is that many of these particles wreak havoc on our bodies —interfering with our endocrine systems, disrupting our immune systems and triggering the types of cellular changes that lead to inflammation and even cancer.

While it may feel like plastic is so insidious in our environments that it’s impossible to avoid it completely, there are steps we can take to dramatically decrease our exposure. The best method is to choose not to buy food packaged in plastic whenever you can avoid it — that includes plastic bags and containers, plastic bottles and cans or other packaging materials lined with B.P.A’s. The upside to this approach is that it automatically steers you away from the sorts of processed and refined foods that are bad for us anyway.

The other important thing is to make sure you aren’t storing your food in plastic containers. Invest in glass Tupperware for your leftovers, switch to silicone bags for stashing your snacks and buy as many of your pantry ingredients in bulk, storing them in glass jars or tins. It might seem an investment at first, but the long-term benefits for your health and that of the environment are more than worth it.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, more sustainable 2021!

Writer Danielle Charles Davies holds a Bsc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and completed the two-year clinical training program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, VT. Her writing has appeared in Taproot, The Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, and Kindred Magazine, among others. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, two dogs and eight ducks. She blogs at www.bluemoonkitchen.com.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.