So, where do you start? With the basics of course! Make this simple and choose to enjoy it!
1) Menu Plan. Do what works for you taking a good look at your week. On the busier nights, think crock-pot, on the calmer nights you've got some time to prepare. I recently went through all of my cookbooks and recipes and made a list of my family's favorites. I also noted a few recipes that looked good that I hadn't tried yet. I had enough meals to create a new meal each night for over three months. I use this list now as a very quick reference guide to plan out one or two weeks of meals (including lunches) and create my grocery list. When I try something new, I ask the family to weigh-in on whether or not it makes the list or gets the axe forever. Naturally it took some upfront time but it has been great to have on hand ever since. I go for simple, tasty and nutritious.
2) Become a Savvy Shopper. Stick the outside edge of the grocery store for the fresh produce, lean meats and dairy. Frozen produce is also a great way to go as most of the nutrients are preserved in the flash-freezing process. Now, as far as dairy goes - I continue to hear miracle stories from people that have gotten 'off-the-sauce.' I LOVE my cheese. Truly, from the depths of my heart, I have a terrible love affair with cheese. I have simply chosen to not give it up and I feel okay about that, however, I have it in moderation and have made a few simple switches to reduce my dairy. Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk is a favorite. I also look for raw, organic cheese where I can which is pricier but manageable if I don't include it on a daily basis. As for the packaged, processed scary stuff that lurks in the heart of your local grocery store, the key to this is becoming an expert label-reader.
Look first at the list of ingredients and if it makes the cut, then examine the calories, sugars, fat and protein. Sugar is the true culprit in what is making us as a society fat - not fat. In all honesty, I don't often look at the fat content in foods; if the ingredients are good, I'm good. Not to mention, our bodies NEED fats and complex carbohydrates to function. Keep sugars down, calories down (although I don't believe in calorie-counting - who has the time and energy for that garbage?), protein higher, fat moderate. If the ingredient list is ridiculously long, don't even bother scanning through it - it's an automatic no-no. I've also provided a substitutions list for many of your regular cooking staples. Yes, going real is more expensive but what you spend at the store, you will save in health care expenses.
High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup
Partially or Fully Hydrogenated Oils
MSG or monosodium glutamate (including Autolyzed Yeast)
Artificial Flavors (Anything using 'artificial' means it is a fake food)
Preservatives - sodium benzoate, TBHQ, BHT
Anything you can't pronounce on a food label
GMO's or Genetically Modified Organisms - Look for foods that are labeled GMO-free. Canola oil, corn oil and sugar are often genetically modified. When we eat these foods, the chemicals that have altered them, will alter us.
Basically work to avoid anything 'white.' I know - this seems extreme. Read up on it! All sorts of all-things-scary happen to our products that end up white. Most products in this category are genetically modified and our bodies don't know what to do with this. Look for non-GMO products always.
Umbrella statement to label-reading:
If you don't know what it is or what's in it, don't get it.
Now DON'T PANIC! There are tremendous substitutions for all of your favorite foods and recipes. In fact, my absolute favorite ranch dressing is vegan and so much tastier than that Hidden Valley Ranch stuff. No wonder it's hidden in a valley somewhere - they don't want you to know everything that goes into it!
3) Swap Out Old For New. Most of these swaps can be found at your regular grocery store and Costco. Sometimes you may have to search out a Whole Foods or Trader Joes; Amazon has almost anything you could possibly want except for raw organic nuts. I only trust those from a local spot.
*Granulated White Sugar
Swap this out for Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar, coconut palm sugar or raw, organic honey. Evaporated Cane Juice is a straight across swap 1:1. It is also available at Costco in large bags for a good price. Honey is actually a superfood and has trace minerals and other properties that are good for our bodies. The only caveat here is that it is still a sugar and calories can add up quickly here. Other sweeteners that are good are Grade B Maple Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Coconut Sugar, Raw Agave, dates and stevia. Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener that comes from the stevia leaf. Trickier to bake with but the drops are great for smoothies and other drinks, yogurt, etc. You want to look for sugar replacements that have a low-glycemic index factor.
Swap this out for Whole Wheat Flour or better yet, spelt, barley, or other whole grain flours. I just found some big bags of unenriched, unbleached flour consisting of whole wheat and barley. Friends, a minimally processed unbleached white flour is still pertinent to have on hand; I have not been successful in various recipes using nothing but whole grain flours. I simply try to go half and half when making desserts or breads. Experiment, do your best and moderate.
Swap this out for brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, farro
* Oils to include Canola, Corn, Vegetable Oils
Swap these out for Grapeseed, Teaseed, Olive, Coconut and Palm oils.
Grapeseed and Coconut oils are the only oils that are not heat-sensitive or have what is called a high 'smoke point.' All other oils, including olive oil, become trans-fats at high temperatures; the molecules actually 'flip' in the heating process and become the very harmful oils we are trying to avoid. Coconut oil is great to cook with but will have that slightly carribean flavor when using it to sauté foods. However, it is great in cookies, breads, cakes and other baked goods actually giving foods greater moisture. Don't be alarmed when you purchase it as it is a solid at 97 degrees. Grapeseed oil is great for canola oil replacements; I enjoy grapeseed oil in salad dressings as well (even more so than olive oil).
*White Table Salt
Swap this for Real Salt, Himalayan Sea Salt or an Arctic Sea Salt. Real salts have many of the trace minerals and iodine that are bodies actually require and are beneficial. Now, if the label claims that it is a sea salt and it is gorgeously white, avoid it as it has most likely been bleached. And as with everything, use moderation - it's still salt.
*Hersey's Cocoa Powder
Swap this for Raw Cacao Powder (A superfood and fabulous to the taste!)
Swap this for fruit or vegetable colors or just go without! Who ever said that peppermint frosting had to be green or pink?
Swap for Newman O's
Ha! Maybe not a staple but just wanted to let you know that you can find better alternatives for almost all of your favorite goodies. In this case though, start baking your own goodness!
And for the ambitious newby, here are a few other great pantry items:
Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar (amazing health benefits)
Nutritional Yeast (great substitute for cheese)
Unsweetened Shredded Coconut (staple ingredient that I must always be on hand)
Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp
Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat, Oats
All manner of nuts! Almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds
There you have it, the basics. On that note, here is my little disclaimer as you make your way back from the dark side of the force, you always have more to give; you just have to believe in your ability to achieve and rely on your intuitive knowledge of what is best for you. I believe that we have to know our bodies and know what we can handle. My body sends me strong messages when I've tried too hard to be superwoman. The point is, you have to find what works for you and your family and be good with it. I've been on my journey for several years now and I've spun my wheels plenty but I've also made and continue to make great breakthroughs.
Our body is our greatest gift and keeping it working in optimal condition is the greatest gift we can give back to ourselves. With that being said, food is necessary to sustain life and the quality of food will determine to what degree our life is sustainable. It truly is amazing how many of our ailments are influenced by our food choices. I continue to read miraculous stories of how simple diet alterations have cured cancer's and disease. The simplest tip I can give you right out the gate is that our body is alive which would mean that we should feed it living food. The good news is that eating real, living food isn't equivocal to tasteless, unpleasant and un-enjoyable - it's quite the opposite actually!
Here is a little Food 101 to help you understand first the role that processed food plays in your body's daily duties. In some way or another it aids your body in fat storage, creates toxic build-up and dupes you brain into thinking it needs more. Ever noticed how you don't sit down to eat four bananas but you could eat an entire bag of chips? Food manufacturers create their food with that goal in mind - the more you eat the more you buy and it's ENGINEERED. Processed food is all about fast and addictive and chemical reactions. (A fascinating read on this is Salt, Sugar Fat). Feeding our engines fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and earth's superfoods (which quite honestly I find easiest to do through daily shakes and smoothies) is what will contribute to your vitality, energy and overall health. On my Zen Kitchen page, I will give you simple tips menu-planning tips and help you learn how to swap out the bad for the good to makeover your kitchen and your body. Just remember to keep it real and that our bodies are made for moderation - too much or too little of anything is bad.
FAT IS FUEL AND ENERGY - LOVE YOUR FAT
You don't have to love the fat on your body and the good news is that the right fats are necessary and wonderful for your body. No, I'm not crazy - I embrace fat! Fat is fuel for our brains (our brain actually burns the most calories from fat) and protects the cells in our body! I look for grocery store items that are full fat or low-fat depending on the ingredients. I'm not afraid! And you shouldn't be either! In fact, I have seen numerous studies that have shown the healthiest people do not shy away from fats. Extra calories do come from fat so this 'indulgence' calls for moderation and of course, knowledge concerning the right types of fat.
Sources of healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, real butter, (even real cream - a great way to even out the carbs in pasta). Coconut oil is absolutely amazing and if your metabolism needs a little kick start this is it. It is immediately processed in the liver as energy. As with everything, moderation.
REFINED SUGAR AND SIMPLE STARCHES ARE KILLERS
THIS is fat storage and THIS is what our problem is; THIS is what makes us fat - spiking our blood sugar. Ironically, having a fat with a carbohydrate helps keep our blood sugar levels more even because it slows the absorption process which then doesn't overwhelm the body and lead to the storage of excess sugar (almonds with a cookie, real butter on popcorn). We actually need to balance our generally carbohydrate-rich meals with healthy fats and plenty of protein. Protein helps our muscles which are responsible for also helping get our blood through our body. Our heart is a muscle! As you can see, a well-rounded diet with complex carbohydrates, protein and fats are vital to our overall health. This is why you are hearing the term "glycemic index" more often now as food that have a low glycemic index do not spike your blood sugar.
Sugar is also an 'anti-nutrient' which means it robs your body vital minerals, vitamins and nutrients in order compensate for and process the sugar; another reason why so people are vitamin deficient. It lowers your immune system leaving you open to illness. Naughty stuff.
BECOME OIL SAAVY
Eeek. Why do we want to eat foods that mess with messages being sent to the brain? In "Master Your Metabolism" Jillian dives into a lot of the chemicals that go into our foods and cosmetics that mess with your body because it changes the way the body processes everything. Incorrect messages get sent to the brain, toxins are stored in our fat cells and we are the ones wreaking havoc on our bodies by eating junk. I love watching Jillian go through people's kitchens and throw everything out that has nasty stuff in it. I wish she could convince my husband (although it doesn't really matter because I do the grocery shopping and I don't buy anything with naughty ingredients in it anymore).
The really gross part is how long some of these ingredients linger in our bodies for.
The half-life of trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated fats is 51 days. After 51 days, one-half of the negative effects of this man-made fat have been processed, but the body needs an additional 51 days to complete the process. After these 51 days, there is still a 25% residual.(37)
Good oils include grapeseed, teaseed, coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil. Canola oil is most often genetically modified.
FORGET MORTON'S AND USE SEA SALTSBleached sodium chloride, which is the salt that we all buy from the grocery store, is actually toxic. Doctors are right to be telling heart disease patients to lay off the salt - but they are referring to common table salt. REAL salt or Celtic Sea Salt has not been bleached and still contains the numerous minerals that help the body function as it is supposed to. The body requires salt to function and is actually critical for electrolyte balance. It is okay to salt your food with the good stuff (in moderation as always!).
INCORPORATE MORE RAW OR DEHYDRATED VEGGIES WITH EACH MEAL
Processed, dead foods require our bodies to find enzymes, minerals and vitamins from other parts of our body to adequately break-down the meal - this is where a great deal of our deficiencies come from. When we cook our veggies at high heats (from what I am hearing lately - anything over 114 degrees) those precious enzymes and minerals are destroyed. I admit, raw veggies aren't my favorite so I've found various ways to enjoy them; go with frozen, lightly steamed, pureed in a strong blender or throw everything into a giant salad with a homemade salad dressing (the latter are my favorite. Homemade dressings are SO easy and flavorful!).
SOME GOOD FOOD RULES AND PRINCIPLES FOR DAILY EATINGWith all of that being said, the number one food principle is portion-size. Portions affect the digestion and absorption of your foods and of course, your waist-line. Really, you can't over-do it when it comes to your veggies but watch your portions in all other realms.
Make sure you have three full meals a day and listen to what your body needs when it comes to snacking. Everybody has a different say on what is best for your body but do give your digestive system at least two hours in between meals and snacks. Jillian Michaels suggests up to four hours to allow your body to tap into its glycogen stores. Some more mornings I can skip the mid-morning snack but others day I can't do it. Eat within an hour of rising and stop your noshing three hours prior to bed-time.
Half your body weight in ounces in water a day. I carry my water bottle with me everywhere I go to the point where even my toddler notices and comments on the offhand chance that I left it behind. Drink twenty minutes prior to and twenty minutes after you meals to allow proper digestion and to avoid the diluting of your nutrients.
After eight it's too late. Or avoid eating three hours prior to bed time.
Make concious eating decisions. This means that if you choose to eat a cookie, be okay with that and enjoy it! On the other hand, do consider what you are putting in your body - do you really want to eat it? Is it a '10?' Do you love it? Is it worth the ingredients and calories (especially if you are looking to lose weight). I LOVE to eat. I LOVE food. And what a blessing to live in a day and age wherefood is in such wonderful abundance. Be grateful for and love your food. Take in the aroma, savor each bite chewing slowly allowing your body's digestive process to work for you. It's an experience!
A QUICK NOTE ON THE REAL FOOD PYRAMIDAs with everything, everybody has a different take on the good, the bad and the ugly. I personally find the real food pyramid base should consist of fruits and vegetables, followed by whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds; lean organic meats and fats and oils. Nature really has provided us with everything we need - the key is moderation. Too much or too little of anything is detrimental. I still struggle with eating carbohydrates because of their bad rap but our body needs complex carbohydrates - those sugars fuel our systems and I can feel how skipping that important building block affects my energy-levels and basic functioning.