Are you eating to live? Wait, what does that even mean? These days most of the “foods” on our grocery store shelves do more to destroy our bodies than they do to nourish them. Every day the news reports on contaminated foods, side effects from additives, and the growing litany of health problems growing out of our culture of junk food and processed foods. We’re all peripherally aware of this but are woefully uninformed when it comes to what makes up a healthy way of eating. Here’s how to change that and start eating for life and true health without skimping on flavor and heartiness.
The Real Food Revolution
The global food and beverage industry is a multi-trillion dollar industry but as a whole it doesn’t have our best interests at heart. These are businesses and they exist to make a profit. It falls to us, not them, to be savvy about our health. The best avenue to health is eating real foods, not processed foods. The healthiest, longest lived cultures eat a diet based around whole foods, not the diet of the West which revolves around processed foods. In America, for example, roughly 62% of our diet comes from processed foods and over half of the “foods” we consume can be purchased at 7-Eleven.
That’s not food. Let’s be frank: it’s poison and it’s the leading cause of our modern diet-based diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s, cancer and many more. Cultures that eat a whole foods based diet lack these diseases in the large numbers that have become chronic and growing in the West.
What do the longest living cultures have in common? When I say they eat whole foods primarily, I’m not saying they shop at Whole Foods. They eat real food, not packaged, processed, junk food or foods that come in kits, cans, cartons and boxes. They buy ingredients like fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses, tubers, whole grains like rice and quinoa, and cook meals from scratch using these fresh, real foods. They aren’t buying pasta kits or pre-made meals full of preservatives, additives and dubious chemicals. They aren’t eating only canned vegetables that are limp and flavorless. Instead, they are shopping in the produce aisle, smelling the ripeness of the tomato or enjoying a fresh pint of berries. Their snacks aren’t Snickers and their desserts aren’t Ben & Jerry’s.
They eat real food and their amazing health is all the testimony we need to realize that what we put in our mouth determines 80% of our health outcomes.
Here are 7 steps to living longer and healthier by joining the real food revolution.
Step 1 – Low Hanging Fruit
The path to amazing health and vitality starts with what we put in our mouths. Food is chemistry and our bodies depend on us to:
- Give them the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other necessities to function well while
- Not feeding them the foods that will tear down, disrupt or sabotage our health.
That daily dose of potato chips will hurt your body but so will withholding that daily dose of mineral and vitamin-rich nuts and seeds.
Unfortunately, we’ve gotten accustomed to bad food habits over the years and many of our most beloved foods are the most addictive. Those, like sugar and wheat, will actually put us into withdrawal when we cut them out or even try to lessen them so one of the first steps isn’t necessarily to tackle them first, but to build up easier and healthier habits that will give us the strength, energy and results that will encourage us to continue making the changes necessary to live in good health.
So start with low hanging fruit. These are the easy wins you’re happy to start or expand. For example:
- Drinking a glass of water at breakfast or dinner
- Adding a handful of nuts and seeds to your daily diet as a snack or as ingredients in your meals
- Eating your favorite fruit once a day
- Trying a new whole foods recipe once a week and putting it into your meal rotation if you enjoy it
- Packing lunch rather than buying it
- Grabbing that sugary coffee drink only once a week rather than daily
- Going longer between fast food runs and limiting them to once a week or less
- Buying more fresh meat and seafood from the butcher section and not the heat and serve frozen stuff with more additives and preservatives that you can’t pronounce than real ingredients that you can
- Adding an additional serving of beans to your weekly meals
Step 2 – Focus on Breakfast
People tout breakfast as the most important meal of the day. If you’re trying to eat for health, breakfast is the easiest place to start in developing new food habits. With breakfast it is easy to get in servings of fruit, nuts and seeds, and whole grains all at once. You just need cold or hot oats loaded with your favorite fruit and sprinkled with a handful of your favorite nuts or seeds.
It’s easy to make a delicious, real foods based breakfast like the following:
- Plain yogurt with nuts and fruit
- Oatmeal with nuts and fruit
- Eggs – omelets, scrambled, poached, etc – with a side of sliced avocado
- Breakfast beans like British style baked beans (American style comes loaded with molasses and high fructose corn syrup) with eggs and fruit
- Fruit or veggie smoothies
These are delicious and hearty breakfasts that will actually power you through the morning until lunch. Better, they’re all real foods that come packed with the essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and more that our bodies need to function well. These foods won’t sabotage your metabolism, spike your blood sugar levels, or hit your immune system like processed foods such as most cereals, pastries, donuts, bagels, waffles, heat and serve kits or fast food breakfasts.
Do your body and mind a favor – start eating a healthy, real food breakfast.
Step 3 – Ratchet Down
We love our pizzas and pastas, pastries and ice cream, chips and fries, snack cakes and candy bars. However, we don’t eat them in moderation. Eating them once a day isn’t moderation. At best, any of these should be eaten once a week and really should be limited to once a month or never. They’re all loaded with sugar and processed, refined carbs. Yes, even your breads, pastas and pizzas are made with sugar and processed, nutrition-less wheat which will spike your blood sugar, disrupt your metabolism, and probably harm your immune system (so many people have at least a wheat sensitivity).
If the thought of abandoning or severely limiting any of the above makes you want to quit a healthy diet, don’t despair! Just focus on limiting these addictive foods. Do this by ratcheting down their consumption rather than eliminating them entirely. Eat pasta and pizza once a week or on weekends. In fact, why not eat healthy most of the week and binge on your worst offenders on the weekends or only when you go out? That way you start putting your food choices into proper context.
Step 4 – Swaps
We can also gain control over our worst, most unhealthy offenders by finding near-enough replacers that allow us to ratchet down our consumption of unhealthy food. For instance, if you have a problem with soda, why not take up a tea or coffee habit instead? You might be trading caffeine for sugar but your waistline and insulin levels will get immediate relief. Or maybe you substitute fruit juice for the sugar kick since it’s hard to chug five juice bottles in the same way as five cans of soda.
Instead of eating the whole candy bar, eat half with some berries as a snack. Switch to cheese and crackers over cheese puffs; tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole over cake and cookies. Hummus and whole grain crackers are definitely healthier than a bag of Skittles or a bowl of ice cream.
Instead of pasta dinners all the time, start adding in more curries and stir fries. Bring bean salads or grain bowls to work rather than grabbing fast food or heating up that microwavable meal.
Step 5 – Cook More
Time is precious and most of us feel like we don’t have enough as it is. Think a good, healthy meal takes hours in the kitchen? Actually you can make a number of healthy, delicious meals in 15-20 minutes. Most of my meals fall around the 15 minute mark and use just a single pan.
Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be an opportunity, especially if you see it as a break from the hecticness of life. Have kids? See the kitchen as a refuge or use it as a means to spend quality time together rather than vegetating in front of the TV. Cooking can be social or solitary. Personally I love to cook with family and friends. It’s a great way to visit and chat and deepen our bonds. If you have children, cooking with them will impart the necessary cooking skills and eating habits they will need once they’re on their own.
Additionally, if you see cooking as an adventure and new hobby, you’ll look for opportunities to explore new recipes, cuisines and ways of cooking. You’ll grow curious about ingredients and ways of preparing them. If you look with the eyes of one undertaking a new adventure you’ll succeed far easier – and while having a lot more fun – than the person who shuts off their mind and sees eating healthy as a tasteless, must-do chore.
Food shouldn’t be a prison. Neither should cooking. How you look at taking care of your body, mind and soul will decide everything. Will it be a dreaded task or a new, exciting vista of exploration?
Step 6 – Avoidance
Good health and mental clarity begins by giving your body what it needs to function well but that’s only half of the equation. We also have to limit the foods and drinks that will harm our bodies. Does that mean never eating a chocolate chip cookie or passing on birthday cake? No. It means prioritizing our health and limiting the junk to a small fraction of our intake.
Daily doses of junk food or processed food isn’t moderation. Weekly is far better. You have to remember that processed foods are a new invention. We only invented refrigerators, high fructose corn syrup, fast food chains and microwaves last century. Sugar was a spice rarely used until the advent of processing it in the 1850s. Then we went from 2 lbs per person a year to the 152 lbs per person a year of today. Before that, our ancestors going back millions of years ate real food that grew on trees, plants, in the ground or caught or raised the meat and seafood. Let that sink in, then realize that our current way of eating is way out of balance from what it should be.
Almost all the foods we eat nowadays didn’t even exist 100 years ago, let alone 200 years ago. Even common foods like bread and pasta no longer resemble the varieties grown and baked 200 years ago thanks to modern processing methods.
I’m not saying go boar-hunting with a spear. I’m saying realize that we have gotten caught up in an unhealthy food culture that requires drastic rethinking. We have to go back to basics and that means limiting the wonder-foods and franken-foods of today. Our bodies can’t handle them, especially over years and decades of bombardment.
Step 7 – Respect Your Mind & Body
This step could actually be the first step. We are chemical beings, made literally from what we put into our mouths. How we eat says a great deal about how we feel about ourselves. If we’re only giving our bodies processed food and junk, what does that say about our attitudes toward our very being? Self-love begins with food.
Our bodies depend on nutrition to function well, to repair and heal us, to maintain us, and to work in optimal condition. The same is true of our minds. Our moods and feelings are greatly dependent upon the foods we eat. Researchers are more and more realizing that processed foods heavy with sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats and chock full of preservatives and additives are linked with greater rates of anxiety, depression, mood swings and other emotional issues. To think right, we must eat right.
Respect your body and mind. Choose live-giving foods. This is one of the best ways to show love for yourself. With the right foods, our minds also start to function better and at peak condition so that we aren’t so prone to anxiety and stress. Who doesn’t want to have less stress and anxiety?
Join the Revolution
Real food is the path to health. Our current health care system isn’t about health. It’s about disease management. There’s no money in a cure, only in the drugs that can be prescribed. However, prevention is worth so much more to us. Food is the best preventative out there. Not only can we feed ourselves life, we can also feed our bodies the nutrition they need to maintain proper gene expression. Researchers have found that eating healthily actually decreases the risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s even in those at hereditary risk for those illnesses.
We can take back our health by the food choices we make. Choose real foods – fresh produce and meat, beans and legumes, tubers, whole grains and nuts and seeds. Avoid and limit packaged, frozen, microwavable, fast food, and processed foods. Put down the boxes, cans and cartons and pick up real ingredients harvested recently. This is the path to good health and vitality.
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