I truly believe that the American dinner table is in crises. I also firmly believe that a lot of that is because of lack of education vs. innundation of advertising. In general, if it has to be advertised, it is likely not as good for you as something that isn’t advertised. I think that schools rarely teach people how to actually eat well (and the lunch programs in most schools definitely don’t reinforce healthy eating). So, I’m here to help! This is a basic guide to eating well. I suggest that no one overhaul their diet all at once. The best thing to do is take it a step at a time, and when one step becomes a habit, start on a new one. Also, don’t try to “give up” food so much as try to find something to eat instead of a not so good choice.
*Get rid of any ingredient that is artificial. This includes:
-artificial food dyes (if the ingredient label says blue, yellow, red, green, etc, generally followed by a number, it is an artificial dye)
-artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Nutra Sweet, Aspartame, etc)
This is a big step, but it seems easy. You will really need to look at the labels on everything you buy. Products as simple as cheese and butter will include artificial colorants. These artificial ingredients are not easy for your body to digest and they are even harder on children. While most medical professionals will not agree that these ingredients can be harmful, if you give them to a child who doesn’t usually get them, you can usually watch their behavior change from eating them.
*Get rid of hydrogenated oils and/or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These are just bad news. And they are in a LOT of things. You will really get good at reading labels here. This is where you will likely really start tweaking your diet. If you can’t find the foods that you generally eat with no hydrogenated oils or HFCS, you can learn to make good alternatives, or look for a different brand. Shopping at a better quality store may make things easier here. Stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Wild Oats generally either don’t have food with these ingredients or at least keep them to a minimum. You may want to break this step into 2 steps and get rid of one first, then the other.
I am always amazed when we are at “healthy” places (like hospitals and doctors’ offices) and there are snacks offered, but none or few without the list of ingredients so far.
*Get rid of “white” foods. If it is white, it has VERY likely been stripped of its true nutrients. White flour, white sugar, white rice, white salt, white bread – all essentially devoid of nutrients. My husband was awed a few years back when he read a newspaper article that called white bread “junk food”. I had been calling it that for years. Whole grains and whole grain breads, brown rice, and red salt all have more nutrients than their white counter parts. Organic cane juice, turbinado, succinat, honey and agave nectar are all good replacements for white sugar. Our bodies process them all a little better and the sugar substitutes do retain some of the molasses and such, which is a bit better for you. In my world, iceberg lettuce also qualifies as a white food. It is basically water and if that is all you are looking for, it is great. But there are so many more nutrients in romaine, red leaf, bib, etc.
*Begin adding more fresh food to your plate. Try to serve a vegetable and a fruit at each meal. Try to keep foods close to their original state quite often too. A raw apple, sliced and enjoyed is better for you than an apple fried up with sugar and cinnamon. Fried apples are a great treat sometimes, but we need to eat raw fruits and veggies very often as well. The same is true for veggies. Cooked veggies, in many cases, lose a lot of their value. Try having a salad at dinner every night. This is a great way to work in healthy veggies, fiber, and lots of antioxidents. It also helps you to feel more full without eating a lot of higher calorie food. If you already eat lots of fruits and veggies every day, then good for you! Otherwise, five plus servings a day is what you should be aiming for.
Now, just this far in, you may be saying, “What am I going to eat?” If you are used to eating a lot of processed or prepared foods, you may really be running short. It is fairly easy, however, to find recipes to make your own version of the processed food. In fact, most of what is processed can be made in a “make ahead” variety at home. A jar with all of the ingredients and spices in the pantry ready to be put in a pot with water and cooked is a good example of your own homemade “prepared” food. You can also easily make your own spice mixes – things like taco seasoning, chili seasoning, guacamole seasoning, etc. Just go to a recipe site like allrecipes.com and search for the type of mix you would like to create.
I’ll add more about eating well in future posts. This is a lot to start with if you aren’t used to eating well yet.