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When I was little I had a great appreciation for food, but never worried much about what I ate. Multiple reasons for this: Mom was a good cook and created colorful meals, “worrying” about food was for adults, and the doctor never, ever told me to lose weight (yes, the italics imply the opposite). But as I’ve increasingly selected and bought my own food, I realized there was more to consider about food than weight and diets, and that I could benefit from a little more research on how to create my own good and colorful meals.
As I’ve started on this real food journey I’ve discovered many recurring facts, and here are two:
1. There is a shocking amount of non-food contained in the food I eat, and
2. There are lots of good, real-food options out there.
In order to minimize the effects of the first fact and to maximize the latter, I’m learning how to better navigate the grocery store; how to survey my options; to get creative with what I eat, where I find it, and how I prepare it; to understand ingredient labels better; and to make small steps toward better health in general.
I’ve found the observations of Dr. Weston A. Price to be helpful for setting an overall approach to healthy eating. Dr. Price was a dentist who traveled the world in the 1920s and 30s to research remote people groups and their diets, in part to discover what made them healthy as opposed to North Americans, whose overall health seemed to be deteriorating into multiple diseases and (his specialty) tooth decay.
In contrast to the typical American diet, which consisted increasingly of foods processed by modern methods, Dr. Price found that the diets of the remote peoples were high in foods that were nutrient-dense, readily-available, and prepared according to traditional methods. That means that they didn’t have to rely on fortified flour, pomegranate juice, and Cooking Light to enjoy excellent health. Not to say that exotic, high-priced fruits, low-fat recipes, and the feeble attempts of the mass food industry have their place, but there’s a simpler and more beneficial way to eat.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think that my approach to food would change so radically. I guess I just didn’t realise how much refined and genetically modified food I was actually eating, or how easy it is to actually make wholesome food from scratch. And I’m not just talking about “recipes” like muffins and soup (I’ve always loved to make those!)–the basics can be made from scratch too, like yogurt and cream cheese and barbeque sauce.
To me, the concept of eating real, whole foods raw or prepared with nourishing ingredients is super simple and much more freeing than the strictures of any prescribed diet. On the flip, it also takes a lot of work. I’m spending time preparing more foods from scratch, doing price comparison, and researching labels and ingredients so I can be frugal, informed and a better cook.
In the style of Captain Barbossa, I try to follow a few guidelines when approaching food but stay away from overly-specific rules, which can easily be broken. Here they are:
- Eat foods that are as natural as possible
- Avoid chemical-laden and highly processed foods
- Incorporate variety from both plant and animal sources
- Be holistic about healthy eating, i.e. look to the entire lifestyle, not just the stomach
- Enjoy food immensely and don’t be a slave to it
I’ve also begun to develop a list of the foods that I think are some of the most important, and should be frequent flyers in my diet, as well as a list for the foods that I’ll most often avoid.
Foods to Avoid: canned goods (fruits, vegetables, soup, etc.), bottled dressings and sauces, the frozen food aisle, sweet drinks (juice cocktails, cokes, drink mixes), dry food mixes (baking mixes, pasta suppers, gravy, etc.), packaged cookies and snacks
My cookbook, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, is all about making real food from scratch! It includes 75+ recipes that are simple to make and use wholesome, familiar ingredients, and has 8 chapters on topics like food substitutions, kitchen tools, and freezer cooking. Pick up a copy HERE.
Further Reading: Check out these posts on real food substitutions for the pantry and for the fridge. You might also like these posts on 20 First Steps to a Real Food Diet and 25 Things I Don’t Buy in the Grocery Store.