Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
Developing a healthy relationship with your food means eating for nutrition, sustenance, and with gratitude. Instead, in the modern age, we eat while we are standing or driving, as we rush through our day trying to meet obligations and deadlines. We eat out of stress or boredom, we over-focus on taste, and health goes out the window. The result of this unmindful eating is the feeling of being perpetually tired and health issues occurring at an increasingly younger age.
On the one hand, we have seen wonderful advancements in modern medicine that have increased longevity and help us manage many conditions while remaining active and functional, despite the effects of aging.
On the other, we live in increasingly toxic environments where we are exposed to harmful metals like lead, mercury, aluminum, and harmful chemicals in our air, food, and water. The only way to counter the inevitable intake of these toxins is to build up our body’s natural defenses and supply it with the right kind of fuel. A silent revolution has been taking place with our food. Many of us haven’t noticed that the food we consume in current times is several fold more processed, and combined with harmful additives, compared to the foods consumed a generation ago. We need to start saying no to this invasion of chemicals on our bodies. We need to start treating our bodies with care and respect. Not an easy task, since everywhere you look, you are surrounded by harmful additives. We need to begin the process of choosing what we eat deliberately, rationally, meticulously.
I’m not a nutritionist but I’ve always been interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. And healthy eating is a big part of it. I haven’t met all my eating goals yet and I’m somewhere in the middle of the ladder to a balanced, healthful diet. I will share here what I’ve read on the subject. If anyone would like to add or correct the info included here, please do so.
Know Your Foods
1. Whole Grains – What’s The Big Deal?
Why eat Whole Grains? Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. Refining normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.
Some whole grains to try (in place of white rice) are quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet (ragi, jowar), buckwheat, bulgur, and wild rice. All these alternative grains are great for maintaining balanced sugar levels. Quinoa has the highest protein content, so it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. It provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
2. The Argument for going Vegetarian
Meat contains dense protein, which is difficult to digest. Protein needs to be absorbed slowly, in order to have health benefits. Also, meat is highly acidic, leaching alkaline minerals like calcium from bones. Meat can be toxic with all of the antibiotics and artificial hormones fed to animals to make them grow faster and bigger and can exhaust the liver and kidneys having to work overtime to detoxify the body of these toxic and harmful substances. It also takes quite a lot more energy from our body to digest and break down meat, sapping our bodies of our vital life force. Meat contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular problems including heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke.
Plant protein comes not just from beans and lentils, but also from whole grains. Eating a variety of whole grains and legumes provides the optimal amount of protein the human body needs, at a rate at which it can be easily digested.
And of course, going vegetarian is good for the planet! Meat production is a huge contributor to pollution due the use of fossil fuels. In developed countries, it is the largest source of greenhouse gases and in developing countries, one of the major causes of water pollution.
For those who do eat meat, leaner (chicken, turkey) meats are better than red meats (beef, pork) and grilled is better than fried obviously.
Note: There are others who take a different stance. For instance, advocates of the Paleo diet argue in favor of a heavily meat based diet.
3. Colorful Veggies – the fashion designers of the food world
Veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain dozens of essential nutrients and have loads of dietary fiber. And just by getting your daily quota of five servings, you help build your body’s immunity to illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. One of the new trends with veggies is juicing – why – because it saves time and you can get in veggies you don’t normally like eating plus it’s more water. Whether you like to juice them, steam them, or eat them raw, veggies are great for you. Remember, no frying and no cooking with oil showing up all over your plate. With veggies, think bright colors plus white. Red, dark green, and bright yellow – all of these are packed with nutrients. White veggies like cauliflower, radish and cabbage are also excellent for you.
Here’s a suggested list of to include into your diet:
Dark Green Leaves – Spinach, Kale, Swiss chard, Methi, Romaine, Bok Choy, and Collards.
Green veggies – broccoli, green pepper, zucchini, cucumber
Red veggies – carrots, beets, red pepper, red cabbage, red potatoes
Yellow veggies – squash, yellow pepper, sweet potatoes
White – cauliflower, cabbage, radish
4. Fruit are cute, but too much is moot.
Fruit are tasty and nutritious, but watch out for the high-sugar ones. Berries are the healthiest kind of fruit. Most fruit contain fructose, a healthier form of sugar than glucose, except for grapes, which contain glucose. Even if it’s fructose, sugar is sugar. Bananas, apples, mangoes, and grapes are the sweetest fruit. Pineapple, kiwis, and strawberries are medium sweet. Pears, blackberries, raspberries are low in sugar. Cranberries are one of the lowest in sugar. Treat fruit as dessert, keep it to 1 to 2 servings a day max.
5. Dairy: No need for Milk Mustache!
For the longest time, milk was thought to be super healthy. Now, many nutritionists are questioning and debunking this long held myth. In general, it is better to keep dairy products a small part of your diet. We’ve been lead to believe in the myth that you absolutely need milk to get Calcium – mostly clever marketing from milk manufacturers (remember the famous milk mustache?). The truth is that there are many other, healthier sources of calcium in your diet – including all green leafy vegetables, also broccoli, and baked beans. Exercise is another excellent way to build and maintain strong bones.
Milk also has the disadvantage of making us feel full with no room for lean foods such as veggies and fruit. The more dairy we consume, the less lean, fibrous foods we eat. Milk can also lead to lactose intolerance in some people – bloating and constipation.
If you are a milk drinker, try substituting cow’s milk with alternative milks – almond, rice, or hemp milk. Many people are becoming intolerant to cow’s milk in the US because of the way it is being processed. If you MUST drink cow’s milk, then at least stick to organic milk and avoid brands that come from cows treated with hormones.
Organic, plain, non-fat yogurt is the better form of dairy. It contains probiotics needed to protect your intestinal tract against bad bacteria. There are also non-dairy yogurts available now – based on coconut milk, etc. Goat milk yogurt is considered healthy but I’ve never tried it.
6. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado. I also use sunflower and safflower oils, which are more suitable to Indian cooking. Avoid processed fats like margarine and butter.
7. Drinks: Live it up! Party! Get drunk! (on water, I mean)
Soda – One of the worst things of the typical American diet is the consumption of sodas like Coke and Sprite – sodas can contain strong acids, tons of sugar and caffeine, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, harmful colors and flavors. Coke contains Phosphoric acid – leave a nail in a cup of coke and it dissolves in 4 days. Imagine what it does to your body. Not to mention the 10 spoons of sugar that go into a regular sized Coke can. Avoid all sodas.
Diet coke is much worse. It contains Aspartame (an artificial sweetener present in many brands such as NutraSweet, Equal, and Spoonsful) which is linked to many devastating illnesses. Avoid all artificial sweeteners. Either reduce sugar, give up sugar (if you are pre-diabetic), or try Stevia, a plant based sweetener.
Store bought fruit juices (such as Tropicana) are not healthy – they contain high levels of sugar, some contain high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that has been linked to many illnesses. They also contain artificial colors, flavors and extracts. If you like fruit juice, please make it at home.
The best beverages to drink are –
Water – the 6 to 8 glasses rule is great if you can, but if you can’t, then drink as much as you can. Drink after every meal to aid digestion and hydrate. Avoid drinking from plastic bottles. Use a stainless steel bottle or cup, or one made from glass.
Coconut water – Make sure you buy a “clean” brand that contains no sugar or additives. The ingredients list should read: coconut water. Nothing else. And it shouldn’t say, “extracted from concentrate” or “sugar added”, etc.
Veg juices made at home with carrots, beets, etc. are awesome. Fruit juices made at home – orange, pineapple, mango, etc. Don’t add sugar please.
Fruit smoothies – Combine almond milk with your favorite fruit to make a healthy, filling drink.
Tea (hot water with tea bag – Burdock, Tulsi, Green Tea, etc.) Green tea helps you detox . Too much tea is not good as many teas also contain caffeine. Chamomile tea helps you calm down, mint tea helps you feel refreshed. Also look out for Teevana (now under Starbucks) – they have some interesting flavors like Samurai Chai. (Note on Indian tea – too much full fat milk, too much sugar, too much boiling – not good!)
Coffee – the jury’s out on this one. Some studies show that limited amounts of coffee (1 cup/day) are linked to a lower risk of diabetes. Others recommend giving up this artificial waker-upper altogether.
8. Snacks – what’s healthy, what’s not?
The short answer: the best snacks are mostly what nature offers – fruit, veggies, nuts. (And plain white, non-fat, organic yogurt.) Keep tons of these raw foods ready on hand. Everything else is unhealthy. Do not store your kitchen shelves with junk food.
The long answer (for those who love detail 🙂
Remember, it is BEST to eat food in its original form or lightly cooked. The more processed the food gets, the lower it’s nutritional value and the more harmful it becomes due to additives. This is why store bought snacks are among the unhealthiest of foods.
Many store bought snacks contain harmful ingredients such as colors, flavors, and flavor enhancers such as MSG. In the olden days, people used safe, natural coloring like turmeric to make the food yellow or beets to make it red. But artificial colors are based on chemicals and have harmful health effects.
Examples of healthy snacks:
Check out a health food store such as Whole Foods for some of these and choose snacks with less sugar (less than 5g per serving):
Fruit and Nut bars (with no harmful additives, like Kind bar or Lara bar)
Trail Mix – nuts and dried fruit mix (don’t pick those with added salt and sugar)
Baked chips (Lentil Chips, Kale chips, Sweet potato chips, Vegetable chips like beets and radish chips again without additives)
Organic dark chocolate (small amounts)
Whole grain crackers with no additives, plain or dipped in hummus
Examples of Unhealthy Snacks:
Protein bars (usually contain high levels of sugar and additives)
All snacks from the Indian store (cookies, crackers) contain additives
All packaged, ready to eat, instant foods
Anything deep fried (potato chips, corn chips)
All cookies, brownies, muffins, and sugary snacks
Many brands of nachos contain high levels of artificial colors and flavors
Anything with “bbq” or cheesy flavors or trans fats or GMOs
The biggest rule with snacks – READ THE LABEL! Read Ingredients carefully. A general rule of ingredients – the fewer the better, the more easily you can pronounce them, the better. A bottle of ketchup should read: ‘organic tomatoes, salt, water, organic paprika, organic red pepper’. Baked potato chips should read: ‘potatoes, salt, sunflower oil’. That’s it. Say no to brands with long lists of ingredients (many of which are harmful additives).
EATING/COOKING HABITS – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Cooking Veggies/Curry – when making curry, use no more than ½ tsp of oil to fry seasoning and spices, then add veggies, cover and lightly cook. Veggies must remain crisp to retain nutrients. Oil should not be sticking to plate when you serve curry. Avoid rich curry sauces that contain cream, etc. Avoid store bought sauces, they contain harmful additives such as flavor enhancers. Avoid bottled ginger garlic paste or anything ‘ready-to-use’. Grate your own ginger and garlic and if you lack time, skip it.
Vegetables like eggplant and capsicum do not taste good, when boiled/steamed. So the tendency is to fry them. To avoid frying, try grilling them. You can add grilled eggplant, zucchini, or squash to your sandwiches. You can add grilled bell peppers to almost anything – pasta, salad, sandwich, mixed grain dish, etc.
Eating Raw – There are many advocates for raw food but my personal preference is for lightly cooked foods. I feel the body spends too much energy breaking down raw foods – energy which should be used for other activities. The only veggies I can eat raw are tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and onions. I lightly steam carrots, beets, cawliflower, and all the other harder to break down (for my body) veggies.
Attitude – Sit down, chew well, and eat slowly. Savor your meals. Meals should not be eaten rushed, or while standing up. If you have little kids and meal times are chaotic, then let the kids eat first, then sit down to a peaceful meal with your spouse. As your kids get older, and you have family meals together, make it a social experience and catch-up time for the whole family. You can discuss something interesting you’ve been reading about or news from work (making sure it’s child appropriate). The dinner table can be the place for some great conversations.
Involve your children in the making of food. Children can accompany you to the farmer’s market, select veggies and fruit, and help out during meal prep, help set the table. Help your children develop a healthy relationship with food. Stocks your kitchen with tons of healthy snacks that kids can grab between meals. When kids watch you eat healthy, they are more likely to follow suit. Food battles are inevitable, especially during the teen years. Do the best you can – stick to cooking healthy at home, provide them with the right information, and when they eat out, let them make their own choices.
One of the best things you can do if you have some time is to grow a vegetable garden and get your kids involved with the planting and growing of veggies – this doesn’t have to be ambitious – even growing tomatoes is fine. This teaches children to have a healthy relationship to food and to be thankful to our planet and take good care of it. It is a therapeutic, stress busting activity and is quality time for you and your child. You can also teach them about generosity by distributing some of your home-grown veggies to neighbors and friends.
Buy seasonal, local, non-sprayed or organic produce. Don’t eat imported out-of season fruit, for instance. Support the local economy and the environment.
Eating Schedule – It is good to have a routine – that is you eat at consistent times everyday. The end goal of good eating is to be kind to your body – so your body can give you energy and focus.
Avoid negative eating habits – eating to fix boredom, to fix stress, starving to lose weight, over-eating something that is tasty, being excessively focused on taste rather than nutrition, using large helpings, craving excessive variety, random/unplanned eating or fixating on certain foods.
But, what about those darn cravings??
We all have them – chocolate, cheese, samosas, ice cream, pizza – we crave foods that are unhealthy. So should we kill our cravings instantly? The answer is NO! What happens when you suddenly eliminate these foods is – your craving intensifies. You do not feel good about eating good foods.
Instead, reduce bad foods gradually, with the goal of minimizing them. There are 2 ways you can do this – either by reducing the quantity of bad food OR by improving the quality of the bad food.
Say, you like eating pizza every month.
To cut down on the QUANTITY/FREQUENCY – You can try to cut down to a pizza every 2 months, then make it every 3 months.
You could also reduce your serving size (say from 3 to 2 slices to 1 slice), and supplement your meal with a salad.
Or to improve the QUALITY of the pizza – you can try going for thin crust pizza, with less cheese on it.
Thus you have not entirely eliminated the pizza or whatever it is you crave in one shot, but your consumption of it has been modified to be less unhealthy.
If you feel you are drinking too much coffee or tea, first try eliminating sugar in your coffee/tea without entirely giving up your ‘energy booster’ drink. Now, you don’t have to worry as much about your habit because it’s not as unhealthy. Next try eliminating milky tea and go for hot water and tea bag.
If you love ice cream, save it for special occasions or eat it with a fruit salad.
If you decide to eliminate a food, do it gradually by reducing your consumption over a period of time. In the end, you must be able to give up the food in peace, without feeling bitter about it or aching for it so much that you just gorge on it after a long gap.
POTS AND PANS – is it time to go shopping?
Avoid non-stick pots and pans.
Minimize the use of microwave ovens. Microwave ovens use radiation, which alters the chemical composition of your food.
Use glass containers and avoid plastic, for storing food. Glass is inert so nothing leaks into your food. Plastic is bad enough when cold but downright toxic when heated. Even BPA free plastic contains harmful chemicals. Glass and high quality stainless steel containers are healthier. Avoid zip-lock bags as much as possible.
Baking with glass (Pyrex) is way better than using metal pans to avoid leakage of metals into your food.
Pressure cooker versus slow cooking – slow cooking is healthier, soak grains (rice, quinoa, etc.) for an hour and cook on medium to low heat on stove top. Cook all veggies on stove top on low to medium heat.
Cooking pots – this is where most experts disagree – obviously non-stick cooking pots are unhealthy due to Teflon. Some people recommend glass cookware, and even though glass is inert and strong enough to be heat resistant, I still don’t feel comfortable using glass cookware. I currently use stainless steel cooking pots. My favorite brand is Cusine Art – the pots are heavy stainless steel. All stainless steel pots do have a bit of nickel and other metals in them – but they won’t seep into your food unless they’re scratched. So don’t scrape the bottom of stainless steel pots and pans. Use enough water to keep the curry or rice moist, to avoid scraping.
Eating better is a process and it takes time to get there. An at-a-glance way to assess where you are in this process:
Level 1 – you eat lots of sugary and oily snacks, don’t pay attention to labels, and eat out a lot
- You need to reduce sugar and unhealthy fats.
- Trash the junk food from your kitchen shelves and stock your fridge with cut up veggies and fruit to meet your in-between-meals hunger pangs. Also keep small quantities of raw nuts on hand when the munching urge strikes.
- Cook some simple, wholesome meals at home.
Level 2 – you cook simple, wholesome meals at home pretty regularly, avoid sweets and oily snacks, stick to some basic health rules like avoiding MSG and packaged foods. You eat some vegetables and fruit but you could do better. You also rely more on grains and less on fiber on hectic days. You may also be eating some refined grains. You may sit down and have a peaceful meal for dinner, but breakfast and lunch, you eat on the run because you are pulled in many different directions – the needs of work, home, kids, self. (Level 2 is sort of where I fall.)
- Include more fibre in your diet by adding more fresh veggies and fruit.
- Move closer toward whole grains. Aim for grain rotation (quinoa, millet, Amaranth, brown rice, whole wheat – try to eat a different grain everyday and keep rotating).
- Re-org your day (wake up earlier if needed) so you can set aside time to sit down and eat mindfully. Create a pocket of time to chop veggies and fruit to be used for next day.
Level 3 – you eat whole grains, lots of fresh veggies and fruit that are seasonal and local, you get optimal amounts of protein and healthy fats, you avoid colors and flavors, GMOs, avoid packaged foods, and eat at home as much as possible by cooking simple meals with fresh, organic ingredients.
- Find ways to maintain this.
- Keep reminding yourself of the benefits – you have optimal levels of energy, you are calm and focused, and better able to handle stressful situations.
- Get everyone in your family to join you, if possible.
Healthy Eating Info websites
Whole Grains –
Vegetarian Protein –
Leafy Greens –
Milk overrated – http://www.mercola.com/article/milk/no-milk.htm
The ugly effects of coke – http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060823150145AAUrVMa
The danger of artificial sweeteners
Is Coffee Good For You? – http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/coffee-new-health-food
Artificial colors in snacks – http://www.naturalnews.com/032512_artificial_colors_food.html
Harmful ingredients to avoid –
Dark Chocolate –
Quality of Food goes down with processing