I want you to eat differently and feed your kids differently. Why do I care? A convoluted, twisted path led me here. Something to do with a love of white flour and sugar, a medical degree, and bodily woes. Although I will never run a show like Dr. Oz, Robb Wolf, Jack Kruse, or Chris Kresser–and don’t want to–and only made junior high cheerleader squad alternate, if you can overlook that, I am here to cheer you on and educate you the best I can. (What I recommend in this post is not the end of the story of what I have to do to feel best, but I don’t think everyone needs to do what I do. However, I am fully confident that everyone needs to take their diet down to real, unprocessed, unviolated foods. We can negotiate from there.)
It’s Not Fair That Kids Suffer Because We Feed Them Crap. Stop It.
Over the last month, I’ve helped a friend revise her nutrition. She has a beautiful eleven-year old daughter who is too large for her body height, and the daughter excitedly wanted to jump in on the nutritional intervention with her mom. A couple of weeks later her mom excitedly pulled back the girl’s hair, “Look! This dark-colored neck rash she has is getting lighter and lighter! Something she was eating was causing it!” Folks, that rash was acanthosis nigricans. It basically looks like a “dirty neck,” but it is a sign of insulin resistance. (It can occur in other skin-fold areas, too, like the armpit.) The child’s body was already developing the inability to process carbohydrates and sugars. She was a set-up for diabetes at a young, early age. Heart disease at a young, early age. Reproductive issues related to endocrine disturbances.
We have got to turn this behemoth train AROUND. Please. Kids will whine and fuss when we change to whole foods, but they whine and fuss about homework. And washing dishes. And carrying in groceries. And brushing their teeth. And putting on their coats. So grit your teeth and do one of the most basic, fundamental jobs assigned to parents–to provide nutritious food for healthy body and mind. My friend’s daughter doesn’t want to be overweight! That’s an early curse in life, and statistics show it doesn’t diminish with age. The child needed her mom to step in and say, “Together our family is eating real, whole food. We refuse to eat crap any more. We deserve to treat ourselves better. Here’s how we’re going to do it…”
The rules for the new game are not that hard. Not to say the game isn’t hard. Oh, the game is VERY hard. Your opponents fight you at every television viewing, every gas station, every store, every school event, every church event, every holiday. Every food manufacturer and restaurant is out to rob your pocket. Every nutrition article set to confuse your direction. Perhaps, though, the worst part is you are often your fiercest opponent. You. You sabotage yourself. Then, as if all these worthy opponents are not enough, your spouse and kids start shooting too.
But you must change! If any of these describe symptoms in your household, you must! (And I left off dozens of conditions.)
Allergies (runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, post-nasal drip)
Dry eyes and/or mouth
Irritable bowel syndrome
Well, what should I do? “I don’t know where to start. We really don’t eat much sugar. We don’t eat much junk.” I don’t think people know what is in their food. When Campbell’s soup is considered healthy, we’ve got a problem. When homemade is a Duncan Hines cake box, we’ve got a problem. When Pop Tarts make the cut to give out as a school snack, we have a problem. We have a problem. I had a problem. I’m recovering from my problem. So can you.
Eat whole, real foods. For now, don’t micromanage. Don’t worry about fat content. Don’t worry about organic or inorganic. Or whether frozen or canned is best (but frozen is better). Don’t obsess if you love red meat. Don’t fret about whether almond butter is better than peanut butter. For now, just work on keeping the food real (see more below).
Shop only the outer aisles (and the deli cupcakes do NOT count) at the grocery store. Obviously exceptions are made for those whole foods that are shelved on the inner aisles. Examples of this would be peanut butter, vinegar, rice, certain baking goods/spices/ herbs.
Spend 3/4 of your time in the produce section and the other 1/4 picking up your meat, dairy, and inner aisle goods. I made up this fraction. It may be more like 2/5 time in the produce section, 2/5 time in meat, dairy, and inner aisle goods, and 90% of the time walking across Wal-Mart. Ignore the math.
Make vegetables and fruits priorities while shopping and when eating. You will not succeed if you cannot learn to like (or teach kids to like) a good selection of vegetables and fruits. You must expand the vegetable repertoire. My good friend Megan just made “the change,” and she told me she discovered that her son loves sautéed asparagus–he won’t touch a pea with a ten foot pole, but he loves asparagus! They never would have made him try asparagus before!
Buy and eat unprocessed grains/grain products only as accents, NOT meals. Grains should not be meals. Use them to get kids and adults to eat the meal if you must. But remember, many kids and people have problems overeating them and then end up not eating their vegetables and fruits, thus losing out on vital nutrients. Further, grains are hard on the teeth and can block the absorption of certain important nutrients, like calcium.
Read every label. Every time. I like to buy food without labels best! But that’s not always practical and realistic. The rules for label reading are below. You can never, ever let your guard down. Your favorite brand may be free of high fructose corn syrup this month, but strangely, next month it’s in there! Every label. Every time. Every label. Every time.
Keep cooking fats to olive oil, butter, coconut oil, lard, tallow. Shun vegetable oil. Um–“vegetable” oil? That’s a little vague. This is a big topic. This keeps it simple. Expand later. Just use the listed oils.
What do you mean by “whole, real foods?” I mean buy the food as close to how it was made in nature as you possibly can. Then mix it together any way you like it. You like it raw? Go for it. You like it mixed and cooked? Do it. If you want to get really good and fancy, then go for foods that are sourced locally! Or organic and hormone-free! But at this point, I want nothing unnecessary to stand in your way of changing TODAY! All fruits. All vegetables. All pure meat. All pure milk. Butter. Cream. Yogurt. Whole grains that are truly only whole grains. Read the label. You’ll know by that label if it should go in your mouth. There will be little dilemmas you have to sort through here and there. Do I really want to buy cream with carrageenan in it? What is carrageenan? This salt has dextrose. Am I willing to compromise on this? Sometimes the brand next door will be more pure, but sometimes none of them are. I almost always put them down and walk away.
What am I looking for on the label? (Not fat grams. Not calories. You are looking at the ingredients.)
NO refined flour at all. NONE. No exceptions. You must read the label on foods labeled “whole grain.” Most of the time these foods use refined flour with whole grains. This does not count.
The goal is NO added “sugar” of any kind to your food. No sugar. No honey. No maple syrup. No dextrose. Definitely no high fructose corn syrup. If you can find the product without sweetener, then that is what you buy. If it tastes yucky, sweeten it yourself just to the lowest sweetness needed. (I’m particularly thinking of yogurt and “nut” butters here.) You can control “sugar” that way. This is a very difficult rule. You may find yourself making some exceptions, but DON’T many exceptions. Common exceptions include bacon and chocolate products.
No colors. I can think of NO reason an artificial color is needed. I can usually find an alternate brand and usually make few to no exceptions. Canned banana peppers stump me on this one, however.
No preservatives. Like sugar, this is another difficult one, but it is also an important to not allow many exceptions. They commonly occur in whole canned foods and cured meats.
No more than 3-5 ingredients that you understand and have access to yourself should be listed in the ingredients for the product. (For example, tomato sauce should say nothing but tomatoes, basil, and garlic.)
Oils and fats should be things like olive oil, palm shortening, coconut oil, butter. Not canola, vegetable oil, soybean oil. Big topic. This’ll get you started.
What about all of this gluten-free, dairy-free hype?
People think because I don’t eat grains and dairy, I must be into this “gluten-free, dairy-free fad.” I cringe. (I’m not a faddist. I bought an Android when everybody else was in on the iPhone. I shunned Facebook for years. Never, ever did I join a sorority or fraternity. I’m still driving my 8 year-old Toyota mini-van. I like to hear everybody’s opinions, but I don’t like to be told what to do. Rant over.) Some people will absolutely need to give up gluten and dairy to feel good and function correctly. For example, it wasn’t until we eliminated dairy (and then reintroduced it) that we figured out my husband gets a cough from it–and we ditched the two inhalers he had become reliant on! BUT DO NOT fall into the trap of a gluten-free, dairy-free processed food package. DON’T. You won’t anyway if you follow the rules above.
Thanks for reading. Some of you have already changed. Maybe if that’s you, leave your number one psychological tip for trying and staying with this way of eating! If you haven’t changed, go for it! Ask questions! There is NO stupid question! You can do this! If I left out anything blaring or put in something outrageous, let me know! I’m not a professional at this! I just want people to feel better and be in control of their eating in a real, honest way.