Monday, February 24, 2014

On My Soapbox: Healthy Eating Edition

Heading into the back end of February, New Year's Resolutions of healthy lifestyles and weight-loss have tapered off some, but there are still handfuls of people swearing they'll start on Monday. Eating healthy for our little family became a necessity when I got pregnant with Zoey. Not because of some weirdo, granola-mom desire, a doctor's order, or because of the uber-posh phrase people like to throw around these days: "I'm gluten-intolerant." I physically felt awful if I ate processed foods; sluggish, tired, bloated, dehydrated, nauseous, with a raging case of heartburn. Nature's food - fruit, vegetables, grain, meat, milk, etc. - made me feel good, energized, and that everything was in fine working order. As it happens, my child loves everything I ate while I was pregnant, and since I wasn't about to buy or prepare separate meals for my husband, he was pretty much forced on board.

What started as pregnancy-survival quickly turned into habit. I am not compelled to eat junk food in the slightest, I feel like I can taste every chemical that goes into processing a food (and they all seem to leave a film on the inside of my mouth), and I crave things that are fresh and homemade. I was discussing this with a friend of mine and she said, "I'd love to eat more healthy, it's just so expensive!"

The problem with this statement is three-fold: 1) It's true. Marketing execs the world over would have you believe eating healthy means buying anything Kashi ever made and shopping the Organic Only aisle. And that shit is expensive! Even if you don't limit yourself to just Whole Foods, every food-maker out there has a "natural," or "healthy" option to their product, which will often cost more and be a lot smaller. 2) It doesn't have to be true and yet, 3) TONS of people believe eating healthy costs more, making them less compelled to do it despite the fact that they might really want to. I say this, of course, after spending $8.00 on apples, but that was a pregnancy craving so it totally doesn't count.

My main rule back then, and still is today: does it already exist in nature? And finding these things aren't that difficult should you be fooled by Special K's new line of protein-packaged crap.

What we all need more of: Fruits and Vegetables. Yes, they are seasonal and buying them off-season is like signing your name in blood. But the internet is a handy tool in finding ways to cook seasonal fruits and veggies (and to even find out what they are in the first place). For everything else, there's the handy-dandy frozen aisle. Frozen produce retain more of the good-for-you stuff than when canned, and besides soups (which I rarely every buy), I NEVER buy canned goods because of the BPA-ladened cans. But with this being "an issue" now, more companies are promising BPA-free containers so I look for those. Along with my pregnancy-apples, this is one area it's ok to spend a little bit more. I recently learned, however, that microwaving your vegetables saps them of the very reason you bought them in the first place so I steam them or cook them on the stove. A $1.99 bag of veggies will either make a Crock-Pot of my Veggie Chowder, or give my family a side dish for about two weeks. But whatever you buy and when, make sure to EAT THE PEEL. I mean, if you can. Especially in apples and potatoes, this is where tons of the nutrients are. And if you find an opportunity to throw in fruits or veggies (or more fruits and veggies), take it. That's how my Chowder went from Corn to Veggie.

Meat. It's my not-so-distant goal to find out how one goes about getting some local, grass-fed, cow. I do live in Montana, after all, so it shouldn't be that difficult. Until then, I only buy meat from Costco. I buy one of those pallets of ground beef, then separate and individually wrap and freeze each one. I wind up with about six of what we call "beef logs," that make meals for several months. Sometimes I don't use all of a log so I can get two meals out of just one. After that, buying accompanying things to turn the beef log into an actual meal is relatively inexpensive. In fact, I quickly learned buying ingredients for things is WAY less expensive than buying ready-made things. I'm sure I belong in the Guinness Book of World Records for once only spending $6.00 in Wal-Mart. Making things yourself is also way healthier. We haven't bought anything that requires microwaving in several years, and it's a better way to portion-control since restaurants and ready-made foods give you way more than you need. I do the divide-and-conquer method with pork chops, loins, and ham (I cut the sucker in half) in addition to getting whole, uncooked chicken, chicken breasts, I splurge a little on fish, and it's several months before I need to do meat-shopping again.

Interesting enough, Jacob suggested we have Meatless Monday, or another meatless day of the week. While I'm adamantly against the practice of vegetarianism unless it's doctor-recommended, I learned incorporating one meatless meal in a week significantly lowers risk of heart disease and other health problems. Sometimes I do make meals without meat but purely on accident. And those don't have to cost a fortune, either. Along with the Chowder, there is this recipe made from spaghetti noodle leftovers.

Dairy. When I was working, a nutritionist came to speak to us about how to eat healthy and use foods to help your body rather than erroneous medications and vitamin supplements. I enjoyed his presentation right up until he said dairy was poison. There are drawbacks to dairy but there are some health benefits too. I have recently learned, though, that organic is best if you want to avoid sex hormones in your milk (rBST-free is best, otherwise), and cow stomach in your cheese. Since I just learned this information, I haven't yet been on the hunt for hormone-free milk but Costco is still my favorite place to get dairy. Two gallons of milk for just about $5.00 makes me feel stupid for purchasing it anywhere else for $4.00 for one. And then there's my family's personal favorite: yogurt. We mostly get the Greek kind after learning its health benefits surpass that of regular. Whichever kind you choose, steer away from the "Light" flavors towards just regular Yogurt. Same with peanut butter, removing some of the fat or sugar means adding more of either to ensure taste.

Breads. Did you know your grocery store bread is made with High Fructose Corn Syrup?! That shit is everywhere! No wonder we all love bread and treat it like candy shortly after New Years. Like avoiding cans with BPA (even though that shit is everywhere too), I really make an effort to avoid HFCS, despite what their "everything in moderation" commercial touted. Did you also know your wheat bread is made with the same white flour as white bread?! It's just dyed brown. So to really eat healthy with bread, eat whole grains and check the ingredient label to make sure it wasn't made with bleached white flour or HFCS. I also recently learned to make sure breads aren't made with L-cysteine, which is made from duck feathers or human hair. Just some food for thought... If you're able to convince yourself that buying a loaf of bread isn't up there with buying crack, make sure to EAT THE CRUST. There again, that is where most of the good-for-you things are.

Sweets. Unless you're Pregnant Me, sweets are an integral part of your food pyramid. In my younger, more hormonal days, I was a candy-whore, hiding it in different drawers of my desk and feeling like I was missing an arm if I didn't have any. A friend of mine told me that if I stopped eating it, eventually I'd stop craving it and I thought he was bat-shit crazy. Turns out, not only was he right but he was backed up by science. Since candy and crap made me feel so terrible during Zoey's pregnancy, my non-pregnant self can walk by a counter of treats and not feel like I'll die if I don't have one of everything (of course those few days before your period totally don't count). Other people in my family like sweet treats, though, so instead of buying a package of cookies or cupcakes, I make them myself. You'll use considerably less sugar than packaged food while avoiding all the processing and end up with way more product.

When my husband and I set out to eat healthier, it wasn't because of some weird new-age-y granola plan but because of budget necessity. We looked at ways to keep controllable costs down and discovered quickly that buying, cooking, and eating things that already existed was easy, cost-effective, and healthier. After being in the habit these last few years, now it just makes sense. Why would I buy food with chemicals, metals, hormones, and parts of animals that shouldn't be there? Once I got my near-perfect biometric screening results back with zero recommendations, I felt our lifestyle was paying off. Yes, I might get hit by a bus and die tomorrow but I don't want to feel like shit or be flat broke up until then.

Off my soapbox. For now...