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Food Revelations & Basic Healthy Eating Tips

May 6, 2011

Visiting family this past week has been great (but not great for my blog posting – sorry!), but also slightly disappointing because I discovered several “junk” products that have somehow entered my parents’ household. My parents have always been careful of eating healthy in the general sense of the word – they avoid sugar, know that vegetables and fruits are the preferred sources of nutrition and vitamins, try to buy lean meat and wild-caught fish, try to include some legumes into their diet, etc. This is why when I went home and discovered General Mills cereal and some prepackaged turkey breast slices, I was … upset (to put it mildly). I told them about my thorough dislike of packaged foods, and my hate for corporations that falsely advertise nutritious facts and selectively tout a particular healthy ingredient that may or may not be in the food itself.

I found that while my parents may be familiar with the health industry and what foods are generally “healthy”, they too have been tricked by the massive advertising campaigns on television, online, on the fancy packaging of supposed “health food items”, and consumerist environment at any grocery store they frequent. They also don’t really read my blog much (yes, weird I know, haha) and naturally don’t go on Facebook that much to read the daily articles that I post on my Facebook page. I felt that it was my duty – as a daughter and sister who loves each of them dearly – to share with them the importance of reading labels and ingredients, and simply avoiding buying packaged foods with a suspicious list of ingredients. I took my mom to Whole Foods and showed her some of the cool new foods I’ve tried recently, including fennel, mustard greens, golden beets, and sauerkraut! We bought some interesting veggies and I even got my bro to like brussel sprouts (I consider that a massive achievement, haha) :)

Here are a few things that I told them to do to for a start:

1. Read all ingredient lists. Become militant about it. If you only buy based on packaging, word-of-mouth, TV ads, or – even worse – without thinking about it whatsoever and grabbing the cheapest/nearest/most colorful/”greenest-looking” product on the shelf, then you are saying a big YES to corporations that want to feed you the crappiest junk and happily take your money. If you don’t care about your health – and don’t mind paying a ton in healthcare and medications later on in life – then you can feel free to grab whatever crap off the shelf to satisfy your immediate hunger. Otherwise, you should read all the ingredients on every food you buy – and if there are more than 7-8 ingredients and/or you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients, just DON’T BUY THE PRODUCT. Simple as that ;)

2. Stop buying anything prepackaged that is not certified organic and/or has a long ingredient list. Why? Well, besides the ridiculous amounts of crappy ingredients in many of the prepackaged products, they are nutritionally far inferior to fresh food. When food is preserved, dried, processed, refined, and mixed with various other flavorings and preservatives, the food stops being “real food” and resembles more alien food that isn’t absorbed well by the body.

Some things to definitely avoid:

  • Deli meats (full of nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives and artificial colorings) Even the supposedly more “natural ones” often claim that they are free of nitrites, but then include an asterisk with a notation that these may be included as natural additives in the form of “natural flavors”. Deceitful. Just don’t buy these. Learn to use leftovers and other creative mixes if you pack your own lunch. 
  • Sodas – there is nothing remotely healthy about these, even the diet ones. They’re full of chemicals, BPA, artificial sweeteners, and colors. Here’s a good article about why you should avoid diet soda (because many people seem to think that “diet” means it’s okay – but it really is an article that challenges the consumption of any sodas whatsoever). 
  • Cereals – Just find another breakfast food that is more filling, more nutritious and more tasty. While certified organic cereals are better than their conventional, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden, artificially flavored and colored counterparts, most of them are not very nutrient-dense, and they end up spiking the blood sugar level – causing you to become hungry only a couple of hours after eating.
  • Baked goods– These should be called baked ‘bads’ because they often use margarine and other trans fats and are full of the deadly white poisons – white flour and white refined sugar (lots of it). If you bake at home or buy from a trusted bakery that is transparent about the ingredients used, you can enjoy a healthy cookie from time to time – knowing that you are not poisoning your body.
  • Prepared frozen dinners – Even if the dinners consisted of the highest quality ingredients (which they don’t because it’s not cheap enough to produce on a large scale), frozen foods that have already been cooked lose much of their nutrient content when they they packaged and frozen for long periods of time. Almost all packaged dinners contain the evil ingredient MSG, and many of them contain a very small portion of veggies, and hormone-and-antibiotic-infused frozen meat or chicken, and artificial ‘sauces’.

3. If you eat animal products, buy only meat and chicken that is certified organic (and preferably local). If you have seen Food, Inc, you will understand why I find this so important. It would take me too long to explain why this is necessary here, so I’ll save it for another post, but here is a short article to explain the importance of eating sustainably pastured animals and/or products derived from animals (milk, eggs, cheese, etc). If you don’t, you’d be contributing to this:

and this …

… which are not just bad for the animals, but horrible for your health! The addition of antibiotics and growth hormones, grain feed instead of grass (GMO crops like corn and soybean are not digested naturally by their bodies), and crowded living conditions have made your meats cheaper, but also very toxic for your body! Just say no to industrialized meat.

4. Make condiments and baked foods at home. “Low-fat” salad dressings can be really unhealthy, so why not make them at home?  It’s neither hard nor time consuming – you just need to make it once or twice before getting into the habit. Otherwise, save money and your health, by adding extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and/or vinegar to salads and roasted or sauteed vegetables. As for breads and cakes – as mentioned above – many conventional prepackaged brands include undesirable ingredients. Instead, you can start baking your own bread at home. I haven’t done it yet (so far I’ve been buying cerified organic wheat bread) – but am planning to make the switch soon. That way you can guarantee that you know what goes into your food, get creative with the flavors, and have a little fun in the kitchen with your friends or family too!

The above are the most basic healthy eating tips I could think of, and if you can manage to make the switch from buying prepackaged, nutrient-deficient foods to buying fresh produce and organic animal products, you’d be doing a lot of good to your body! I know that it isn’t always easy or intuitive in the beginning (I’ve been there myself), but over time, your body will sure thank you for it!

Thoughts about being a locavore

As I have been discovering over and over again, there are no shortcuts in this life when it comes to buying healthy foods and supporting sustainable agriculture. If I care about my body, my families’ bodies, and the earth, I need to buy locally sourced food from a farm that is close by. So far, I’ve bought into the consumerist culture (in a way) by shopping almost exclusively at Costco and Whole Foods. Fact: I almost buy everything “certified organic” but this doesn’t do much to help the environment if my foods are being shipped from thousands of miles away, thereby contributing to air pollution – and guaranteeing that my food isn’t as fresh as it should be. This is why I am making a public commitment to find a local farm and/or health food store that has local and organic products, and buy almost exclusively (or at least primarily) from there. Many people I’ve come across have shared that these foods bought locally are actually CHEAPER than their packaged counterparts shipped from all over the globe … simply because you wouldn’t be paying for packaging, advertising, or transportation. And you know what’s even cheaper (and most transparent)? Growing your own food at home. Yes, you guessed it – that’s my next reaching goal. ;)

How are you planning to cut down on packaged foods? Have you thought about buying locally grown foods?

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