Continuing my “Research”

This is a long one, but I think it’s important to read, not only so you can understand fully why we are doing what we’re doing, but also so you can (hopefully) start making small changes as well.  I read this quote from Maya Angelou yesterday: “When you know better, you do better.” That perfectly sums up this whole transition for us.  We simply cannot eat the way we used to because we are becoming informed on where our food comes from and the ingredients that are used to create our food. I know better now and I cannot go back to our old habits.

I have to admit, I’m a little torn.  I want to eat 100% whole foods at home. If I buy one processed treat here and there (even if it’s only once a week), then why not buy two the next week?  And so on.  If this is something I want to do long term, and it really is, I need to take the time to figure this out and do it the “right way” so I know HOW to do it for the long haul.  As I’ve said before, when we’re out of the house, then we’ll eat what’s served (within reason).  I will try to plan ahead when traveling, etc…but at home, we need to give it our best shot!  It will be hard, I’m sure, but since I’m the one who shops and cooks for the entire family, I know it’s something I can stick to.  I plan to share our successes AND our struggles along this journey, because I know there will be many!  However, I’m not one to give up on a goal!

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that this is our last week of using up all the processed food in our house! After this week, we’ll be down to just a few random items and some condiments in the fridge.  (I’ll probably donate the remainder of the canned goods, but we’ll continue to use our regular peanut butter, mustard, etc until they’re gone.)  Now the real fun and the real work begins!  I can no longer rely on the recipes and staple snacks I’ve been using for years.  Now EVERY recipe I try will be brand new in some way or another.  I may still use some of my old dinner ideas, but each recipe will require tweaks to ingredients.  New snacks, new lunches, new dinners!  It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but I’m up for the challenge!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m using the website 100 Days of Real Food for inspiration and as a major resource of information.  She has a list of books, cookbooks, and documentaries to check out and I’m slowly making my way through many of them.  (Thank goodness for the library and Netflix!!)  I recently read/skimmed through the book Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food, by Christine Avanti.  Very interesting!  I also just finished reading Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan.  It’s a quick read with “food rules” to live by.  We’ve also watched a couple food documentaries.  The first was Food, Inc. and then a couple nights ago we watched Food Matters.  I think both are super important movies to watch and I would HIGHLY recommend them to everyone!  I’ve also looked through several cookbooks to find new, family-friendly recipes and bookmarked lots of other whole foods blogs to check in on occasionally.  I’m soaking it all up right now!

Because I have no new recipes to share yet, I want to expand on my first post and share the actual, specific reasons we are making this change. The biggest reason we’re doing this is because four of the top ten chronic diseases (cancer, stroke, diabetes, and coronary heart disease) “can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food,” according to author Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food).  This alone is reason enough not to feed my family processed foods on a regular basis.  I want my kids to lead long, healthy lives and we want to be around to see them live those lives!  I’ve heard this statistic before, but for the first time ever, this next generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than the generation before them.  I don’t want that for my family.

Another reason to make this change: when we eat foods made with white flour (which is highly processed), we are basically eating empty calories.  Whole wheat and whole grains fill us up, therefore we actually need less food to feel the same sense of satisfaction.  Makes sense to me!  In the introduction of Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food, Christine says that “the food industry is actually cooking up food in its labs that are engineered to make consumers overeat.”  The more we eat, the more money these companies make.  All of these highly processed foods are designed to contain so many refined carbs, added sugar, fat, and salt and so few fiber and nutrients, that they actually make us crave more fatty, salty, sugary foods.  And I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve noticed that whenever I start eating junky foods, I cannot stop.  Whether it’s potato chips (my weakness) or M&Ms or whatever, I want to keep eating more and more and then I feel guilty and a little sick afterwards.  It’s not a good feeling!

As I said in my first post, I’m not switching to real food to lose weight.  (I’m actually down to what I weighed in high school–P90X is whipping me into shape!–but I’ll write more about that in a later post.)  For anyone looking to lose a few pounds, eating real food LEADS TO WEIGHT LOSS.  If you switch from a processed food diet to a real-food diet, you will lose weight.  When you eat only real foods, you are adding natural fibers and omega-3 fats and eliminating added sugar, refined carbs, refined salt and other additives and preservatives that cause so many Americans to gain weight.  Fiber by itself contains no calories, but it provides the bulk in our diet that keeps us satisfied.  Omega-3 can help “alleviate depression, increase energy, improve kidney function, stabilize blood sugar levels and suppress appetite–all vital to any weight loss program.”

Speaking of the health benefits, after switching over to a whole foods based diet, many people report having more energy, losing weight, improved regularity (how’s that for TMI?) and a general feeling of overall healthiness.  Even though eating whole foods and choosing some organic over the conventionally grown option is going to cost us a little more at the grocery store right NOW, we’re hoping that over our lifetime, we will pay LESS in healthcare costs because we will be a healthier family.  The processed foods that claim to be low-fat and low-carb, which most people think of as “healthier,” are actually the same things that are making many Americans unhealthy, sick and overweight.  Of course, I know many health issues are out of our control, but if we can control even some of our chances of staying out of the doctor’s office, that’s good enough for me.

The documentary “Food Matters” really focuses on how food (instead of drugs or surgery) can help heal so many of the health problems people face today.  Of course, I’m a little skeptical of the movie’s suggestion that we can cure some cancers with “high dose nutrient therapy” by way of an IV filled with massive (and I mean MASSIVE) amounts of Vitamin C.  However, it does kind of make sense (and they have many cases where this has proven successful).  The movie definitely has me questioning the way things are done nowadays.  When we go to the doctor, it’s very easy to get a prescription drug to take care of whatever problem we’re having, when the lack of nutrients and vitamins in our diets (and the addition of artificial ingredients) is probably playing a big factor in why we are seeing the doctor in the first place.  This topic isn’t something I completely understand, but it’s worth repeating that you should watch “Food Matters.” Parts of it were kind of slow, but it was an eye-opening documentary for us both.  Not only do I want to focus on eating whole foods and cutting out processed foods, I want to make sure we eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables, every. single. day!  I know some weeks this will be harder than others (especially in the winter), but I am going to try my hardest to include fruits and veggies in every meal. Hold me accountable! Best line from the documentary: “We need education, not medication.” Very true. I have a quality college education, but up until 2 months ago, I had no idea we were doing it all so wrong. If we change what (and how) we eat, it will force the food and farming industries to change as well.

Next, I like knowing what’s in my food and being able to pronounce all of the ingredients. Now when I grocery shop and look at the label, if I see a long list of ingredients with dyes and hydrogenated oils, it’s an immediate signal to put the item back and try another brand (or skip it all together)!  Here is a perfect example: I’ve been buying the Kroger brand cottage cheese for years and my kids all love to eat it, so I was bummed when I looked at the ingredient list. Thankfully, I found another brand right next to it with only THREE ingredients (compared to Kroger’s TWELVE). Yay for Daisy (plus it was on sale and I had a coupon)! They have our business now.

Kroger Brand Cottage Cheese
Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese
Because I’m learning as I go, I found out that a few additives that I just assumed weren’t good for me, are actually not as bad as I originally thought. I never would have guessed that some of these hard-to-pronounce additives are actually “acceptable” products of nature. Guar gum originates from the seeds of guar beans (yeah, never heard of those either), lechithin (something I mentioned earlier as an ingredient I didn’t want in my food) is found in animal and plant tissues such as egg yolk and soybeans, sorbic acid occurs naturally in many plants, and xantham gum is made by fermenting sugar with the bacteria, Xanthomonas Campestris. I even found a small bag of “Xantham Gum” on the grocery store shelf at Kroger! I was shocked to see that and then even more surprised to read about it being an acceptable additive the next day. I still don’t plan to buy food with these ingredients, but it’s nice to know that they are, indeed, from natural sources. This also helps to explain why I saw so many of these ingredients listed on many of the pre-packaged foods at Earth Fare a few weeks ago. I have learned so much in the past two months!
As far as the additives that should send you running: Acesulfame-K, any artificial coloring (dyes like Red 40, Yellow 5 & 6 and many more), BHA and BHT, caramel coloring (in pop/soda), MSG (sometimes labeled as “flavoring”), Olestra, Potassium Bromate, Propyl Gallate, Saccharin, Sodium Nitrate, and TBHQ. If any of the packaged foods or drinks that you consume regularly have any of the above ingredients listed, you may want to reconsider whether it’s worth buying still. Their safety hasn’t been proven and in many small-scale lab tests, many of them caused cancer or other negative side effects. It’s not worth it to me. If you want to see the specifics of where each additive comes from (namely, how it’s engineered) and what side effects it can cause, you should definitely read Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food.
Also in Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food, there is a side note about the dentist Dr. Weston Price who, in 1932, noticed his patients were coming in more frequently with tooth decay and other health problems. He heard that isolated societies that ate only local foods had perfect dental health, so he spent 10 years traveling to these places to study the people. In these communities, they had “beautiful, straight teeth, fine physiques and resistance to disease.” He discovered that when these communities began to eat Western food, physical degeneration followed. Their health problems showed up immediately and widespread obesity accompanied the transition. It was also noted that the next generation had structural defects in their mouth, specifically, narrow jaws and crooked teeth. Definitely interesting information that is hard to ignore.
The more I’m reading on the subject of food, the more I’m learning that we shouldn’t be afraid of the fat in foods. If a product claims it’s low-fat, then there has probably been a lot of sugar and salt added to make up for the difference in taste and there are usually twice the amount of ingredients required to make it. I mentioned using coconut oil in my “failed” waffle post on Monday. Coconut oil is a solid under 76 degrees, so I tried my recipe again later that day and figured out if I melt it all the way and then mix it in to slightly warmed-up milk, the batter doesn’t get lumpy. People used to think that coconut oil was a harmful fat, but that information is no longer accurate. Traditional cultures that use coconuts and its oil have some of the lowest rates of heart disease and they are some of the slimmest people in the world (according to Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food). The calories the body uses to oxidize the fatty acids in coconut oil is greater than the calories it provides! It also raises your body temp, therefore boosting your metabolism and energy level. Sounds like the ideal cooking oil to me!

I briefly mentioned what we’re going to eat as we move forward, but I wanted to expand on that a little bit to include a more specific list:

  1. Fruits and vegetables: I’m going to try to buy organic mainly when shopping for the dirty dozen: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes. If we ate our recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the 12 most contaminated fruits and veggies (that I just listed), it would cause us to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day (based on stats from the Environmental Working Group).
  2. Dairy products: Milk, yogurt (plain, unsweetened), eggs and cheese. Cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese are okay too, but not all brands are acceptable. I’m going to start buying our eggs from a local farm. The healthier the chicken, the healthier the egg. Makes sense. And again, it’s better to shred your own cheese than buy pre-shredded. One of my next purchases is a good quality box shredder.
  3. 100% Whole-wheat and whole grains: Pasta, rice, oats, flour, bread, popcorn, etc… whole wheat/whole grain is always better.
  4. Seafood: Luckily, I love salmon, tilapia, shrimp and tuna, so this will be easy to include in our meals once or twice a week. Wild caught is preferred over farm-raised.
  5. Meat: Locally raised is best. After watching “Food, Inc.,” I’m not sure I want to buy my chicken from the big brands anymore (think: Tyson and Perdue). If you want to know why, you should watch the movie. I’m also planning to limit how much meat we consume. This should also help us save a little money. When we do eat meat, good quality/properly fed beef, pork, turkey and chicken are all acceptable.
  6. Beans: There are many different varieties and they are very inexpensive.
  7. Beverages: WATER!!! Another good thing…I love water and it’s all I drink. I’ve never liked the idea of drinking my calories and I’ve never liked drinking milk by itself (even though my daughter prayed last night before dinner “for Mom to drink milk, not just water”…ha!).
  8. Snacks: Dried fruits, seeds, nuts, and natural peanut butter (and, of course, all of the above can be eaten as snacks, too).
  9. All natural sweeteners: Honey and 100% maple syrup are ok in moderation. I also use organic cane sugar on occasion.

The biggest things you can do to avoid processed food in general are:

  1. Read labels and try to avoid anything with more than 5 ingredients listed.
  2. Increase the amount of whole foods you eat, specifically vegetables and fruits.
  3. Either buy your bread from a local bakery (checking the ingredient list) or make your own.
  4. Choose the whole-grain option when available.
  5. Try to avoid food on the kids menu because it’s often only pre-made options. Instead, order sides and share your own meal.
  6. Visit your local farmers’ market to buy food that’s in season.
  7. Cook your own food. As author Michael Pollan says, “you can eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you have to take the time to cut up and fry potatoes every time you want french fries (or make a cake from scratch), you probably aren’t going to eat them as often.
  8. Avoid fast food restaurants.

That pretty much sums it all up! Hopefully, you found this post full of great information. I know it was long, but I am fascinated by everything I’m reading and watching right now and I’m so excited to share what I’m learning with my friends and family! Some things I’m learning for the first time and other things it was good to have a “refresher course.” Stay tuned…I’m hoping by late next week I’ll have some “family tested,” real food recipes to share. Happy eating, everyone!

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7 thoughts on “Continuing my “Research”

  1. This is so great LeAnn! I love that website 100daysofrealfood! My friend told me about it a couple months ago….I made the banana bread and it turned out really good! I didn't even melt the coconut oil, just mixed it in its semi liquid state! You are inspiring! You made me want to look into a bread maker 🙂 keep up the good work! Katie 🙂

  2. Great post, LeAnn! I appreciate that you're sharing your research and I'm sure typing this all up (with references even!) was no small feat. Reading your posts though certainly help inspire and educate me. I actually had no idea Triscuits had only 3 ingredients. Cheese and crackers is a staple snack food for me so its nice to know there's a cracker option out there.I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma book several years ago and really enjoyed it for details on where our food comes from. It made me appreciate how important it was to consider "organic" and "free-range" labels with a grain of salt. Definitely worth the read, in my opinion.Also, I really like farmer's markets. I think you'll have fun! Plus it might be a fun place to take the kids too. There's always lots to see and although usually a bit crowded (at least in Seattle), they are pretty easy to navigate. Good luck! 🙂

  3. Thanks Katie! I'm excited to start trying out new recipes–and her banana bread is on my short list! I'm definitely liking the Panasonic bread machine I bought…it seems to work well and I've yet to have any issues with it.

  4. In Peoria, we have 4 farmer's markets… One is open every day from May 1 to September 1. I shop there every Saturday and love it! Just make sure you have cash because most don't take checks. Everything at ours is pretty well labelled. I go to every stand first to look at the quality and then I make my selections from there… Good luck! Becky

  5. Hi Annie! Glad that I'm able to both inspire and educate you! That's why I'm doing this and sharing all that I find. It's completely fascinating to learn all of this NOW. I will put the other Michael Pollan book on my 'to read' list-thanks! And as far as farmers' markets…I'm pretty sure Fort Wayne's options will be nothing like those in Seattle, but I'm still exited to give them a try. And there's a berry farm just across the street from us, so I'm hoping to check that out too. I hope the prices are good!

  6. Thanks Becky! Yes, I've read to take cash with me (and I never use cash, so I will definitely have to remind myself of that one). That's a great tip to look around at everything first before buying! Thanks! 🙂

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