One of the first areas we need to tackle as we move forward in the Baby Steps to Healthy Living Series is to determine what is healthy eating? There are many resources, books, experts, doctors and others who have various opinions on what healthy eating looks like. I am not an expert. I am a mom who desires to feed her family real food. I like to keep it simple – no fads, weird ingredients or specialty items needed to put a meal together.
I have done the research for our family and determined the best way to feed my family is to eat a real foods diet. We do not have any food allergies to deal with so we are good with grains, gluten and dairy products here. If you have food allergies and are following along you may have to make some substitutions and tweaks to some of the tips and recipes in this series.
So now that we have determined we are going to be eating real foods and the hope is to convert our homes to make this an easy daily transition over time, I want to layout a definition for real food below. Before you read this list and get discouraged or overwhelmed make sure you finish the whole post because I think it will be an encouragement to you.
Defining Real Food:
1. Whole Food: There is only one ingredient – the way God designed food. Examples are vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains. If you pick up a bag of quinoa it should just say in the ingredient list – quinoa. Pretty simple.
2. Pastured Meats: Meats (beef, lamb, chicken, pork) that have been raised humanely on a pasture and have freedom to roam. There are many sources from your local grocery store, farmer’s market or a private farm to purchase your meat. You may have to do a bit of research in your area. We are fortunate to have a great source at a private farm for our meats. I purchase meat twice a year and usually get beef, sometimes pork, chickens and our Thanksgiving turkey from our local farm.
3. Whole Grains – Look for the 100% whole grain label on the products you purchase at the store. The best way to assure you are getting whole grains is to bake many of the items yourself at home.
4. Nuts & Seeds: Purchase them in their raw form and preferable in packages as the bulk bins at stores may not be as fresh. Organic is a plus but I don’t always have the availability and purchase many of my nuts at Costco. I would also put unsulphured dried fruit in this category.
5. Wild Caught Seafood – Wild caught fish is at less risk for mercury and other toxins. The list of safe fish to eat changes from time to time but they are the most excellent resource of Omega 3 fats in our diets.
6. Natural Sweeteners: Honey and Maple Syrup. I would also put Rapadura or Sucanat in this category.
7. Dairy Products: Whole milk, butter, eggs, cheese & unsweetened yogurts. (No low fat dairy.)
Now that we have a basic overview of what real food is I want to look at the nutritional breakdown of the above areas so we can understand the importance of our bodies being properly nourished from what we eat.
Nutritional Breakdown of the Above Definitions:
Below are the three macronutrients that form a healthy balanced diet:
“Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, and for other body functions. Since “macro” means large, macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts.” ~source
1. Carbohydrates: They provide our bodies with energy and are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, sweeteners and milk (see above: whole food, whole grains, dairy, sweeteners & dried fruit). There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sweet and quick to digest (table sugar). Complex carbohydrates are not usually as sweet and take the body longer to digest (whole wheat bread or oats). Within our carbohydrates family we also have refined and unrefined carbohydrates.
Unrefined carbohydrates are a healthier option as they have all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fiber still in them (whole grains and fresh vegetables). Refined carbohydrates are of little or no nutritional value. They have the ability to increase glucose in your body as they are digest so quickly and may cause healthy related issues such as diabetes (white sugar, white rice, soft drinks).
Good Sources of Unrefined Carbohydrates: Whole grain breads, brown rice, whole grain crackers, fresh fruit over canned, vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables), beans, homemade pancake and waffle mixes from whole wheat flour.
2. Protein: Protein is the building block of our bodies. Protein is necessary for healthy muscles, building and repairing tissue, skin, organs, proper enzyme function and the nervous system. Our immune system uses special proteins called antibodies to fight infections. Without enough protein in our diets good health is not possible. Our bodies cannot properly utilize protein without adequate amounts of fat. Minerals also help to digest and utilize protein so having a balanced diet is so important.
Good Sources of Protein: Pastured meats, cheeses, unsweetened greek yogurt, free range eggs, wild raised fish, whole milk, beans, legumes and brown rice.
3. Fats: Fat has more energy than either carbohydrates or protein and is essential for forming cell membranes and in hormone production. Fat is a carrier for fat-soluble vitamins so without enough you can have vitamin deficiencies. Including good fats in your diet is essential to maintain your health.
Saturated Fats – Our bodies need saturated fats so don’t buy into the bad rap they have been given over the years. Saturated fats are very stable and can withstand cooking at high temperatures and will not produce tissue damaging free radicals*. We cannot achieve optimal health without enough saturated fats in our diet. They help our cells to maintain structure and they are so important in a baby’s brain development. (Sources: Coconut oil, real butter, and palm oil)
Monounsaturated Fats – These oils are high in the antioxidant Vitamin E but are not a good choice for cooking at high temperatures. They are great to use in salad dressings, spreads or cooking at lower temperatures. (Source: Olive oil)
Polyunsaturated Fats – Polyunsaturated oils are a good source of essential fatty acids but they are the least stable at high heat and would form free radicals easily so they should be added after heating food. Essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6) cannot be formed by our body and our American diets are deficient in this area. We need to be intentional in getting the proper amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats in our diets. (Sources: Cold water fish oils, flax seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil).
*Free Radicals – These are compounds that damage the cells of the body and can cause cancer, obesity, heart disease and autoimmune disorders.
Some Other Important Nutrients Our Body Needs:
Micronutrients: These are vitamins and minerals that are also a necessary part of a healthy diet. They are needed in smaller quantities (hence “micro”) and help in maintaining a normal metabolism, and our general physical growth and well being.
Salt: We need salt in our diets but we need the right kind of salt. There are two types of salt refined and unrefined. Refined white table salt has additives such as iodine, sugar and aluminum and little nutritional value. Unrefined salt retains its nutrient content and has many mineral the body needs to function well. Unrefined salt can help to balance blood sugar, improve brain function, help your body sleep better, thin mucous, it raises the ph in the body (alkalinizing), and prevent osteoporosis.
Good Sources of Unrefined Salt: Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt, and Real Salt.
What Does All This Mean?
I know it can sometimes seem overwhelming to feed our families a well balanced, healthy diet but it doesn’t have to be. If we are consuming real food and consciously planning our meals so they are well rounded it will become a second nature to us.
Since we’ve talked about what real food is and the nourishment it provides to our bodies to keep them strong and healthy let’s look next at what foods we need to avoid. The list below is not exhaustive but the more you educate yourself on healthy foods the easier it will be to recognize unhealthy foods. A book I highly recommend that is a quick read but a good overview on a real food diet is Food Rules and Eater’s Manual.
Unhealthy Foods To Avoid:
1. Processed and packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients and ingredients you don’t have a clue what they are.
2. Anything containing trans fats or hydrogenated oils
3. Avoid MSG – Monosodium Glutamate – There are a myriad of names and products it is added into so become a label reader.
4. No Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, Splenda
5. No refined white sugar, white flour, or white rice. No High Fructose Corn Syrup. Stick with whole grains and healthy sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.
6. Low fat dairy products. To make it low fat and taste good means sugar or other additions have altered the dairy from it’s natural state.
7. Try to avoid conventional meat and eggs. If you can find a good source of pastured meat and eggs I highly recommend it. They are a great source of Omega 3 and a high quality protein addition to your diet.
8. Avoid artificial food dyes – They are made from chemicals derived from petroleum products – enough said :).
9. Avoid fast food restaurants if possible and definitely stay away from deep fried foods.
10. Avoid GMO’s – Genetically Modified Organisms
What Does Making Healthier Choices Look Like:
I do want to share an important point with you. You may not be able to totally convert your home over to real food. Whether or not your husband is on board with you, your budget, the availability of these real food resources in your area and many other obstacles may make it difficult to fully convert your home. That is okay. Do your best and try to make good choices where you are at. Menu planning will be a huge help in you being able to put this together and we are going to talk about that in a later post. For now I want you to get familiar with what real food is and spend time as you grocery shop trying to make better choices.
Since we are just in the beginning stages – the series is called “Baby Steps” I want to give you some examples of what your shopping cart may look like if you were to swap out a healthy real food choice for an unhealthy food choice:
Coconut oil or olive oil instead of processed oils like corn or canola oil.
Real butter instead of margarine or butter substitutes.
Water instead of soft drinks.
Homemade baked goods instead of packaged baked goods with artificial ingredients.
Natural sweeteners instead of artificial sweeteners (aspartame, Splenda).
Whole Grain or 100% Whole Wheat breads instead of white bread.
Oatmeal instead of boxed cereals.
Raw, fresh nuts instead of roasted and salted nuts.
Sea salt instead of refined, white table salt.
Fresh or frozen fruit instead of canned fruit.
Fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables (which have been salted with refined salt)
This Weeks Baby Step Assignment:
We are going to become better label readers and become smarter shoppers at the grocery store. Be aware of what you are putting in your grocery cart and what it contains. See if you can swap out some healthier options to bring home to your family.
This week put that bag of chips or cookies back on the shelf and make a healthy homemade snack for your family. Have some fresh fruit for dessert after dinner and drink water with your meals.
Last weeks assignment was to be more conscious of our water consumption. How did you do?
All Posts in the Baby Steps to Healthy Living Series:
Introductory Post: Baby Steps to Healthy Living Series