At some point or another, most people attempt to “eat healthy.” That may mean very different things to different people. For some, that may be eating El Pollo Loco instead of McD’s, or maybe eating lentils and rice instead of meat and potatoes.
But really, who decides what’s healthy?
For the moment, I do. And before I do, let me explain that yes, it’s my blog, and although I’m as sure as I can be about most of this stuff, you should take it with a grain of salt if it doesn’t work for you. Unless if you’re on a low sodium diet. Then no salt for you.
As most of you probably suspect, eating healthy is a giant pain in the butt. I agree, but after the initial month, it gets easier and easier. Mostly because it takes about two weeks of eating something consistently for you to start to like it. And also about that to establish a new habit. But what about learning to unlike? Well, I guess that can be taught as well, although in some instances, the love for things that may not be wonderful for us will never go away.
I deal with the discrepancy between what I like to eat that’s good for me and those things that are not beneficial at all in several ways: moderation, tweaking, and sometimes, blacklisting.
So what are these evil foods that have to be barred? I’m not going to lecture anyone about whole grains or eating veggies, because, well, we’ve all heard that a million times. Instead, this is about the handful of things I avoid that make a big impact on what I buy, make and consume.
Let’s start with the things that are black listed. Soy, for one, is not to be found in my house, unless it’s in the form of soy ink. Why? Because it has isoflavones that mimic female hormones, tons of phytic acid, is often genetically modified, and the whole process of getting the various parts out of the bean are toxic themselves. If you want to learn more, try here and here. Basically, unless it’s soy sauce, I’m not touching it, because the risks outweigh the benefits.
Another ingredient that I make sure isn’t in what I eat is corn. Unless it’s corn chips or tortillas, obviously. Like soy, it’s part of big agri-business here, it’s also not even remotely good for you, and it’s full of sugar. Plus, they manage to stuff it in all sort of things because it’s cheap (our government subsidizes corn farmers) and they can process it to no end.
Between those two ingredients, there’s about 3/4 of the things at the market I don’t buy. I also stay away from vegetable oils (also made with corn, even though it’s not a vegetable), canola oil, any hydrogenated, fractionated, or whatever-ated oil or fat and any oil sold in a clear plastic container. Basically, they’re bad news either because they’re full of trans-fat, or because they become rancid in the bottle, or because they have corn.
Then there are the foods I modify. For instance, sugar is the devil. I’m not kidding. Pretty much everything you eat gets turned into sugar. Your body knows how to deal with it the easiest, so it always gets processed first, and that’s where your burst of energy comes from. But because actual sugar is converted so quickly, it doesn’t create a lasting effect, ie. empty calories. Besides the fact that you can find sugar in almost everything, it helps ruin your teeth, contributes to diabetes, high blood pressure, and a slew of other problems. Essentially, the more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body produces, and that’s where the troubles start. It might taste good, but it’s the devil. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not ever going to eat it.
For one, it’s everywhere. Also, it’s delicious. So my solution is to limit my intake of simple sugars – no juice, very little wine, and I only eat the sweets that I bake. The substitution I do includes using agave nectar instead of sugar because it’s lower on the glycemic index. I also cut the amount of sugar in recipes in half. It usually ends up being 1/4 cup agave nectar for every cup of flour. It still tastes good, but it’s so much better than shoving cupfuls of refined sugar into cookies and then into your body.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: organic products. Without elaborating on organic standards and the pros and cons of organic farming, my main goal is simply to not consume petrochemicals for lunch. I try to eat as organic diet as I can. That isn’t always budget friendly, and in restaurants, or even at the market, it’s often not possible. I pick my battles, meaning, when in doubt, I’m flexible unless these 12 produce items are in question. They are called, “The Dirty Dozen.” The top 12 veggies and fruits on that list have the highest pesticide loads. Of course, there are plenty of pesticides on the other items as well, but if you’re going to take a stand on reducing pesticides in your diet, those 12 would be a good place to start.
For those of you that eat it, there’s meat. Although we consume less than the average American, my sticking point is not how much, but what it was fed and how it lived. On my scale of importance is free-range living (not cage-free, which doesn’t mean much), no hormones or antibiotics (all pork is antibiotic and hormone free per regulations), and a natural diet such as grass. The diet of the animal gets pretty tricky as many are fed corn and soy, but you can find grass-fed beef in a lot of places.
One of the reasons I shy away from the whole grain bandwagon is that the nutritional value of grain is pretty hotly debated. With gluten-intolerance gaining exposure, more and more people are going gluten free and feeling fantastic. Some argue that we get almost no nutritional value out of grain – there’s that phytic acid again – and that grain can hurt us pretty badly. A recent Huffington Post article suggests all of these things, although it erroneously says that oats have gluten, when in fact they are simply often contaminated by gluten-laden products processed in the same factory. You can soak your grains, eat them sprouted, without gluten, or not eat them at all, but it’s a pretty safe bet that picking Quinoa over processed wheat will at least ensure a larger absorption of nutrients and give your body longer lasting energy. The rest is up to you and how far you want to go, or need to go, to attain your idea of good health.
One small caveat to all this: The things on my bad food list make my shopping much simpler. I usually only buy fresh produce, raw grains, and other raw, un-packaged, unprepared foods. If I have to wander into the aisles, the label reading commences for things such as bread, or sausage, or cereal. I take Michael Pollan’s approach to this – the fewer ingredients the better, and no funny, multi-syllable names that sound like they belong in a chemistry class diagram.
After a few weeks of this, I knew what products have what, and it became automatic again. So what are the good foods? That’s for part three.