Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What is Real Food??

I started this year by trying to find a diet. Like many of us, I have (more than) a few pounds to lose. I also have a lousy family health history--  a dad that died young due to a sudden heart attack, a mom who had rampant high blood pressure and other relatives with cancers of every imaginable type. My hubby's health history doesn't look much better. We needed something that would not only help us lose weight but also provide us with the best possible protection against our genetic predispositions.

In my investigations, I found only 1 nutritional approach that can do that--and that is real food. Real food isn't a fad. It isn't some program made up by a celebrity doctor to get people to fit into their bikinis. Real food is what sustained the human race for THOUSANDS of years. Anyone who looks at the historical data can see that the last 100 years has seen a radical transformation of the American diet (thank you industrial revolution). With the urbanization of our country, people have forgotten where food comes from and why we eat it (not just to assuage our hunger, you know!)

Doctors and researchers have long recognized that the health of the modern American is in jeopardy. Although they meant well, their suggestions for dietetic changes (food pyramid, anyone?) have done nothing but make the problem worse. Implementing a high carbohydrate/low fat diet to combat heart disease has led us to the highest rate of type 2 diabetes-- EVER! And, it completely and totally failed to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease--even though the average fat consumption by Americans has DROPPED dramatically in the last 25-30 years! As a nation, we've actually done what the doctors have suggested and it hasn't worked!! Its time to recognize that in some instances, the modern way isn't the better way and that our ancestors actually did something right!

This return to a traditional, unprocessed approach to food is what real food is all about.  Some call it "whole food" eating, I've also seen "clean" eating. And others call it "primal" or "paleo" (referring to our ancient ancestors). There isn't really a single defining plan, program or regime. This means that each person has to decide what approach works best for them and their family.  However, in my investigations, I've noticed that there are certain key elements in common to each of these programs.

Here's what I see as the core "beliefs" of someone who has a real food approach to diet and nutrition:

1) Primary nutrition comes from natural foods-- whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, meats, dairy. Most prepackaged foods are avoided. Only those containing very few and exclusively natural ingredients (not sugar or salt, though!) are usually considered acceptable.

2) Emphasis on whole grains (when consumed). This may or may not include whole wheat/whole wheat flour. Generally approved grains include things like oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice.

3) Dairy (when consumed) is full fat. Removing the fat from dairy shifts the balance towards carbohydrates/sugars and also generally requires the addition of extra ingredients to replace the missing fat.

4) Meats (when consumed) are as close to natural as possible-- wild caught, grass fed, or pastured.

5) GMO products are avoided. These can include: non-organic dairy or non-organically fed meat animals, soy products, corn products, and most vegetable oils.

6) Avoid added sugars-- generally in any form-- but especially as high fructose corn syrup, table sugar and other processed or artificial sweetners. There is some debate about whether any added sugars are acceptable but most people concede that-- in small amounts-- natural honey and natural maple syrup are appropriate.

7) There is no need to measure portions, count calories, carbohydrates, or fat grams. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Natural foods are more nutrient dense. They will fill you up, for longer, with less calories, than similar processed foods. Also, most people find that as they eat less sugary, processed foods, their cravings for those types of foods (in general) are greatly reduced.

Making these changes can seem daunting. But there is no need to do everything at once. To get started, try swapping out "bad" products for "good" as each item runs out. For example, instead of buying sliced american cheese, try an organic cheddar. Buy pastured butter instead of margarine. Replace chicken nuggets with pieces of grilled chicken breasts. This lets your family slowly acclimatize and get used to the changes you are making instead of doing everything at once. To get our fridge and pantry swapped out probably took close to 3 months. I'll admit there are still a few "bad" items lurking at the back of the cupboard or bottom of the freezer but I'm not too worried about them because I know that, by and large, the bulk of what we eat are wholesome, natural foods.

The only other suggestion I'd have is to start reading labels. Ignore the package fronts. You're going to be surprised at what they'll have on the ingredient list for so-called healthy foods. Just because it says "all natural" or "organic" doesn't make it a real food! Read. Read. Read. Do your best to find foods that don't have any added colors, flavors, preservatives, salt, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers, hydrogenated oils, genetically modified soy products or the like.

Even if you aren't perfect (and I assure you, we here are FAR from it!) know that every little thing you do is a GOOD thing. Every little step counts and adds up! Don't get discouraged when you have a bad meal, or day or week or month! Just focus on the big picture - a lifetime of good health for you AND your family!

Please feel free to add your thoughts below!

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