I’ve been tuned into the wellness community for a few months now, and I want to share some patterns I’ve noticed in wellness advice that can help everyone. Many people think it’s too expensive and time consuming to make themselves more well. Fresh and organic food costs money, cooking takes time, etc. etc. The five things I’m about to write for you are steps that don’t take any money and take very little time. They won’t be easy for everyone. But, if you do just one of them, you’re already taking a step in the right direction!
1. Read ingredient labels.
This first tip is probably the most important and life-changing thing I started doing as a result of my first round of Whole 30.
Here’s a label from Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Bars (made with 100% natural oats! What? Are there even unnatural oats?)
I know it’s blurry, but this illustrates the importance of reading labels. These bars, or similar bars, could be made at home using nuts, seeds, oats, chocolate and peanut butter. Easy. They are billed in the store as a healthy choice. However, look at the ingredients! (I know, I’m sorry it’s blurry, I’ll write them out for you):
Whole grain oats, Corn syrup (this is the 2nd ingredient!! And it’s sugar.), Sugar (again), Whole grain wheat flour, almonds, vegetable oils (only mass-produced and nutrient poor ones), rice flour, Fructose (sugar again), Tapioca syrup (sugar again), vegetable glycerin, cocoa, salt, soy lecithin (inflammatory, made from soy), corn starch, barley malt extract, milk, baking soda, yeast, natural flavor, mixed tocopherols added to retain freshness.
And, on the bottom it says: “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
Notice how many of these ingredients were SUGAR (four of them) and how many ingredients there were in total. I could write things about all of these ingredients, but I don’t want to give you more information than you need.
Suffice it to say that in creating foods like this, the food industry has removed real ingredients (expensive) and replaced them with cheaper, genetically engineered, and easy to mass-produce ingredients. This has put food on the shelves that is nutrient poor and full of inflammatory chemicals/additives/fake foods/sugars, which are causing our national health crisis.
The most important takeaway is: read the labels! You never know what kinds of sugar/flour/soy are hiding in even the “healthy” food. A good rule of thumb is to eat mostly foods that have fewer than 8 ingredients – and, the fewer the better.
2. Drink more water.
Water is the drink of LIFE! Most people don’t drink nearly enough. My doctor recommended at least 60 oz per day (two big Nalgene bottles): drink more in the morning, tapering off throughout the day so we don’t get up all night to pee. This has the added benefit of crowding out the other, more sugary drinks that we might pick up. There is a limit to exactly how much fluid we can consume each day, and most of it should be water.
3. Eat more vegetables.
This has a crowding out effect as well. More vegetables most likely won’t increase your intake of food; they will replace something less healthy on the plate. In changing to the Autoimmune Protocol, I was eating far more veggies than before, almost solely because I couldn’t eat potatoes. Veggies are the healthiest form of carb, with the most nutrient density aka vitamins and antioxidants and stuff like that! They are also the most sustainable food group, and many people even have the time and space to grow their own.
Despite being grouped together frequently, fruits and veggies are not created equal. Fruits are sugar/carbs. The most nutrient-dense fruit is strawberry! They are better than processed foods with sugar simply because they have more nutrients and enough fiber to make us feel full.
4. Cook at home.
Cooking at home has many benefits. This is often the hardest part for all of us, because we want the convenience of hot and ready food of any variety right when our limited mealtimes fall. It is much easier to go out, order in, or heat something up than it is to prepare foods from scratch, at least in the beginning.
However, in practicing cooking at home as a daily habit, I can say that it gets so much easier! The secret is prep. One of my favorite time-saving tips is to chop all the veggies right when you get home from the store, storing them in glass containers with a small amount of water until you’re ready to use them. Then, you wash one cutting board, one knife, and chop everything all at once. I use chopped veggies to dump in pans and roast, in scrambles, and to make salads.
Always cook enough to have leftovers. This is easy when cooking for one, harder when cooking for a family. Freeze the leftovers if you get bored with the food, or remix them (e.g., turn roasted chicken into a chicken scramble with toast or chicken salad over greens).
Cooking at home’s benefits include: more social time and me-time (with family, friends, yourself – whomever you’re cooking with and for), bringing us closer to our food, enhanced enjoyment of our food, more healthful eating and less spending. It’s also a really pleasurable ritual once it becomes easy enough to do regularly. I’ll probably write a whole other post on this one.
5. Limit sugar and processed foods.
Notice – this is the only tip that involves taking something away/restricting a thing in your diet. What are processed foods, anyway? Basically, anything that’s made in a factory instead of grown or raised on a farm. Most forms of snack and junk food are heavily processed, as are many desserts. Processing reduces the nutrient value of food and exploits our taste buds. Food chemists create flavors that keep our brains totally hooked on things that do nothing to nourish our bodies. This is the true “empty calorie.”
Sugar & processed foods (most of which also contain TONS of sneaky sugar) are nutrient-poor, not satiating, and generally make humans less healthy. By not satiating, I mean that they don’t have enough fat, fiber, and nutrients to signal our bodies that we should stop eating when we’re full. This, combined with the psychological effects of sugar (a hit of dopamine, triggering a feeling of pleasure), make us crave more and more and more even as it nourishes us less and less. It’s extremely hard to consume in moderation and very hard to give up. This is not our fault.
In addition, buying processed foods supports an industry with unregulated marketing capabilities and no interest in people’s health or well-being. It’s a social justice issue as much as it’s a health issue: buying food that makes us less well helps these companies to continue exploiting our cravings for money.
As I experienced with my first Whole30, when I quit eating sugar, everything tasted better. Carrots, snap peas, and avocados are sweet. Apples and bananas are almost too sweet. Our senses are dulled by these incredibly powerful synthetic flavors, and that makes us think they’re so much better than natural foods.
We lived off nature for so long for a reason: it provides all the nourishment and satisfaction that we need. And, the more we eat real food, the easier it becomes to be healthy.