Ever since taking a class in college I have had a passion for nutrition. At that time I found out about the pitfalls of hydrogenated oils and started the journey of educating myself about what I ate. I came back to my apartment sharing with my roommates what I had learned and we began to clean out our cabinets that night. Over the last ten years I have been developing my own food philosophy and trying to learn what I can about what we eat. When I began introducing my son to solids I became even more passionate about nutrition and feeding my family real food. I try to have a balanced perspective about food for myself and my family. However, when my family brings Oreos into my house they refer to it as contraband. I am far from an expert but wanted to share some things I have learned along the way. This post is not intended to make you feel guilty but to start the process of eating healthy. The journey to eating healthy is a process and it requires slowly making changes that you will continue over time. I want people to enjoy real food without feeling like they are depriving themselves.
1. Reading labels is a good practice to get into. We often are taught to look at the number of calories or the amount of fat in a serving but we really should be reading the ingredients. We need to know what is actually being put in our food. I think reading the ingredient list makes us accountable for what we are putting into our mouthes. On the labels for most prepackaged food half of the ingredients you can not even pronounce and others may sound like something created in a laboratory. Why does it take 30 ingredients to make a basic tomato sauce? Glancing at a label can be an eye opening experience and it can change the way we eat. Search for foods that you can read and know the ingredient list as well as those with only a handful of ingredients. This process of reading labels can be challenging and time consuming at first, but I promise you it will be informative.
2. Reduce your sugar consumption. Sugar is sneaky. In an effort to read more labels I have noticed how insidious sugar is in our food. I have always been a big fan of Trader Joe’s but on a recent trip I examined the labels more closely and was shocked by how much added sugar was in their food. Even their beets had added sugar! Obviously processed foods have sugar but you would be surprised it’s in other foods that you would not even expect.
For me, grocery shopping with two kids in tow is hard. I’m frazzled and rushed and mostly want to get what is on my list and leave. There is little time for reading labels and checking sugar content. Recently when I have gotten home and taken a look at some items I was very disappointed in what I found. Let’s take my applesauce incident for example. My son loves unsweetened applesauce. During a trip to the store I saw Mott’s applesauce with the words natural on it. I naively took it home thinking natural would assume it would be unsweetened. Why would applesauce need to be sweetened anyway? When I read the label I was shocked to find it contained high fructose corn syrup! Don’t be tricked by marketing and branding. The words natural mean absolutely nothing. It is important to find brands you can trust.
We are consuming well over the recommended 6 teaspoons, 24 grams, of added sugar (this does not include natural sugar) daily. The average person is consuming 23 teaspoons, approximately 90 grams, of added sugar daily. These added sugars have no nutritional value and add extra calories. Again you can look in the ingredient list to see if the sugars are added or if an item has naturally occurring sugars. There are a lot of names for sugar that you should look out for. Unfortunately, if a product has both naturally and added sugars the two are not separated but appear as one value.
Everyone knows sugar in excess is not good for you, but here is an article discussing some of the effects of eating too much sugar. Our taste buds have become deadened to the amount of sugar in our food. Start by slowly taking it away. Add one less tablespoon of sugar to your coffee at a time. Start looking at labels and trying foods that have less sugar in them or better yet start making your own. Here are some ways to cut sugar in your diet.
Also avoid foods that claim they have reduced sugar or are light. These food substitute sugar with fake sugar, often times sucralose. Don’t even get me started on how horrible fake sugar can be for you. They have not proven a link to it causing cancer, but it does not help with weight loss. It has also been linked to dementia. Here is a run down on artificial sweeteners.
3. Low fat-and fat free are NOT healthy. Rory Freedman says, “Whenever you see the words fat free or low-fat think of the words ‘chemical shit storm'”. Eating healthy means eating real unadulterated food. Food with fat is intended to be that way and to reduce the fat means more processing. Usually these reduced fat products have added sugar to improve the taste. Despite the fact that these versions are lower calories, many people eat these foods in excess. We should be drinking whole milk and eating whole dairy products, including yogurt and cheese. The process of removing this fat is pretty unsettling.
Research now shows that choosing full fat options are better for weight loss because they keep you more satieated. They also have good fats, which are needed to add the essential fat-soluble vitamins present in these foods. In the latest Real Simple magazine it states that the saturated fats present in dairy do not increase cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Dairy contains oleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid that can actually aide in weight loss. This article by NPR is a good read about why full-fat can reduce weight gain. Also, it is okay to eat butter.
By following the above guidelines the goal is for you to eat more real food and food that is less processed. A big part of eating less processed food is making your own. A Couple of Cooks has a great post with a link to several articles about why we should be eating real food. It can be time consuming, but it is better for you and your health. I promise that overall you will feel bettter. In an effect to help you start making your own food I promise to post some easy recipes of basic food you can make instead of buy. Follow along!