2012 Real Food In Review
As the year comes to a close, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the many changes that I have made when it comes to eating. This was my first year of ‘getting real’, and considering that my year didn’t even start until mid-September, I feel like I have come a pretty long way. My approach has been to learn all that I can about food, and then make better choices about everything. Perhaps next year I will be doing one step above and making the best choices. I would also like to remind my readers that cooking is not my strong suit, nor do I particularly enjoy it.
When I started this journey in September, it was by embarking on a total elimination diet for one month to try and identify any food intolerances that might be giving me the allergy like symptoms I have been experiencing for years. The elimination diet meant no gluten, wheat, dairy, corn, soy, nightshades, sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Yes, it was a hard month. After the month was up I was able to slowly add corn, soy, tomatoes and eggs back in. From there I added an occasional glass of wine, and have been maintaining the diet for the most part (although I have definitely fallen off the wagon with the holidays). A blood test indicated that I have sensitivities to about 50 different foods, so I am now supposed to cut out such things as blueberries, chicken, eggs, avocado and spinach to name a few. I have not really adhered to this part yet, but plan to get strict with it after New Year’s.
Not only was I trying to figure out the root of my allergy symptoms, but we were trying to tackle my husband’s diagnosis of cutaneous lupus through a healthy diet. I can happily report that he has been completely medicine free for six months and has had no new flare-ups since changing his diet. It was because of his lupus that I started learning as much as I could about the effects of food on health.
I used to make one big trip to the grocery store, usually on Sunday or Monday. I might have to pop back over for one or two things during the week, but I really tried to get all I needed in that one trip because I do not enjoy grocery shopping at all. Now I make at least 2-3 trips to the local supermarket (Publix), I make a trip about two times a month to the big healthy grocery store about 30 minutes away, I regularly hit up our local health food store, and I go to the farmer’s market each week.
When I first was learning about all the dangers of processed foods and GMO’s, a trip to Publix became more like a nightmare. Everything I had once bought now seemed toxic and poisonous. I remember seeing a guy walking out with a bag of corn for a barbecue and instead of thinking oh, what a nice, innocent reminder of summertime as a kid, all I could think was don’t eat that, it’s full of crap! It was all a little overwhelming to say the least.
You know how they always say to shop the perimeter of the grocery store for the healthiest stuff? I used to scoff at that, thinking there was plenty of good stuff in the middle as long as you chose the “low-fat” or the “natural” items. Now I feel like I have actually figured that truth out and do stick with the perimeter for everything other than rice/pasta, cereal and spices.
All in all, you could say that grocery shopping got a whole lot more complicated and time consuming, but I am getting more efficient as I am figuring things out.
I have a great friend, the one who inspires me the most when it comes to making healthy choices. In fact, I like to say WWZD? or What Would Zuzia Do? when I am faced with a decision about health. She does not own a microwave and never uses one. When I first met her, I thought it was a bit extreme (sorry girl!). What a pain in the rear not to use a microwave, because man they are so convenient. Then, in my research, I came across reference after reference to just how bad the microwave is for our food, and it inspired this post.
We stopped using the microwave about two months ago, and the transition has actually been really easy considering that we were probably microwaving 2-3 meals a day. I have used it 2 or 3 times for organic popcorn, but I know that it can easily be done on the stove, and that will be on the docket for 2013. Now we warm things up in the toaster oven, the regular oven, or on the stove. Sure, it takes a bit longer but it is worth it. It seemed silly to spend all the time and effort on eating healthily only then to nuke it and wreck the nutritional content.
I have not completely done away with plastic in our house, but I do make sure that when I buy baggies or tupperware for the kids lunches that it is BPA free. I have started using glass Pyrex containers for storing leftovers, and I got a few stainless steel Klean Kanteen bottles for drinking water from.
Thankfully for Christmas I got some new stainless steel cookware. Now I can say goodbye to my chipped, teflon coated pots and pans that have probably been slowly (or quickly) poisoning us.
I now try to buy eggs every week from the farmer’s market. If I miss it or need extra, I get the organic, pastured brand from the grocery store. They are so much more yellow than the regular ones, indicating the chickens had a healthy diet.
Organic Valley has become my new staple for milk, cheese, sour cream, butter and cream cheese. Even though I have to drive across the city to get some of this stuff because Publix doesn’t carry the sour cream or cream cheese, it is worth it to get the rGBH free stuff, especially considering how much of it my kids consume. Yes, there are other brands that are good as well, but I do like Organic Valley.
Since the husband and I are supposed to be dairy free, we have been using almond milk instead. I prefer Silk, because it does not contain carrageenan, a carcinogen, like some other brands do. I am aware that it is owned by Dean Foods, which contributed a bunch of money to defeat Prop 37 in California (labeling of GM food), but it does contain the non-GMO project seal so I am torn on my feelings for it. The next step would be to make my own, since I have heard that it is a piece of cake and we just got a Vitamix for Christmas.
Bread has been tricky. I thought I had been buying some pretty good stuff before I made all these changes, and before I knew what all the ingredients meant, but I was wrong. I could not find one bread in the HUGE bread aisle of Publix that did not contain either high fructose corn syrup and/or at least one genetically modified ingredient. I have been buying Rudi’s Whole Wheat from the health food store, but my kids don’t seem to want to eat it. Not as squishy I guess. I would like to experiment with making my own, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Since the husband and I are gluten free now too, that makes the effort a little less appealing, especially since I am pretty sure the kids will turn it down anyway. Besides, having fresh baked bread in the house with an unwillingly gluten free person (me) is like leaving a six-pack in the fridge at the recovering alcoholics house. In other words, not a good combo.
I was very excited when my kids started eating more vegetables. They had to be dipped in ranch dressing of course, but still, it seemed like a major victory. Until I looked at the ingredient list on the dressing. Tons of genetically modified stuff, MSG, and all kinds of other junk in there. I started making my own using this recipe. At first the kids would not eat it, tasted too unprocessed I guess. I started mixing a bit in with the regular ranch dressing and slowly increased the amount of the good stuff in there until they were eating it no problem.
My kids are big fans of tortillas, but like bread, there was no healthy option at Publix. I started buying Rudi’s Organic Tortillas from the health food store, and they thought they were okay. I know that tortillas (flour or corn) are pretty easy to make, so that is also on my list for 2013. For the husband and I, we have been eating Food For Life rice wraps, which are a little tough to chew and nothing like a regular flour tortilla, they are better than nothing!
I started buying organic whole wheat for the kids, but they didn’t seem to like it as much as the rice pasta we were eating, so I now pretty much only use the rice stuff, whether it is spaghetti or macaroni or shells.
My kids like to snack. A LOT. They have been great about eating lots of fruit, and they really like the Organic Valley string cheese. They also eat a lot of yogurt, and I had been buying the Stoneyfield Farms Organic squeeze kind, until I recently looked at the ingredients and saw that darn carrageenan listed. I will not be buying those anymore. My kids have eaten a lot of goldfish over the years, but I wouldn’t say they were obsessed with them or anything. They were just an easy snack that they liked. They contain some pretty questionable ingredients though, so I have switched to buying Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies.
My kids also have always loved those little fruit gummies. I thought I was making a great choice with the Motts All Natural ones, but realized those really are pretty bad too. I did find Tasty Brand Organic Fruit Snacks at the health food store and they love those. They are kind of pricey though, so they are consumed in limited quantities.
We have experimented with a lot of cereals these past few months, since my oldest loves the stuff. Her favorite was always Rice Krispies, which I always thought had a great, short ingredient list with hardly any sugar. Then I discovered they contain the preservative BHT, a lovely toxin used also in jet fuel and embalming fluid. I tried EnviroKidz and Barbara’s, and neither of those were a hit. The only one that seemed to hit the mark were some of the Cascadian Farms Organic varieties. And yes, I know that they are owned by General Mills who also contributed a bundle against Prop 37, but I was running out of options. Since I am not supposed to eat eggs, milk, cheese or gluten, breakfast has become a bit limited for me. I now often eat Nature’s Path Organic Corn Flakes.
I have been trying to buy as much organic produce as possible, whether it be from the farmer’s market or the grocery store. I try to stick to at least the Dirty Dozen list whenever I can. There are a few things that I buy conventionally, like bananas, melons, pineapple, avocado, etc. Anything with an outer covering that is removed doesn’t seem quite so crucial to me.
I also started my own container garden this fall, which I am pretty stoked about. I now have cilantro, basil, lettuce and kale all ready to eat, and I have broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots and green onions in the works. Next year I hope to have a whole actual garden, and maybe even some fruit trees to take advantage of the Florida sunshine.
Gone from our fridge is my long beloved Miracle Whip, since replaced with Vegenaise. Miracle Whip has about every bad ingredient imaginable (probably why I liked it so much). The Vegenaise does contain soy, but it is organic and in small quantities I think it is okay. It is vegan, gluten free, dairy free and non-gmo and only has a few ingredients. I don’t love the stuff, but I can’t stomach the ingredient list of Miracle Whip anymore.
I also started buying Woodstock Organic Ketchup. I know ketchup probably isn’t the greatest thing in general, but we don’t eat much of it and this organic version is a lot better than Hunt’s or Heinz.
Before I began my real food change, I had only ever bought one kind of flour, and that was white, all-purpose flour. Since going gluten free, I have learned that there about a million other kinds out there, most of which I never even knew existed. My pantry now holds rice flour, amaranth flour, teff flour, tapioca flour, spelt flour and garbanzo bean flour. There are many more varieties that I have not tried yet, like almond, coconut and whole wheat.
I have tried to make a few changes with things I put ON my body as well. I tried using Burt’s Bees shampoo and conditioner, but it just doesn’t leave my hair feeling clean at all. It feels like I forgot to rinse out all of the shampoo. I have VERY thick hair so that might be a factor, but I just couldn’t stick with it. I also bought some Jason deodorant, which is aluminum, paraben, phthalates and propylene glycol free. It is okay, but makes my armpits feel very sticky.
I also tried Earthpaste for brushing my teeth. It tastes okay but does not foam, and for me that never made me feel like I was getting a good brush. Perhaps that is just conditioning, but it is not great to walk around wondering if your breath is making people gag. I did find some Nature’s Gate at Publix, which is sulfate, fluoride and paraben free but still foams, so I am a fan of that. I also have been doing away with Cetaphil lotion for the most part, which used to be the only cream I used. I got some Burt’s Bees fragrance free for the whole body that works well.
Things We Said Good-Bye To in 2012
Beef (all red meat really)
Gluten This one has been hard, I am not going to lie. Not something I wanted to leave my life.
Store bought granola Got a super easy recipe from my Mother-in-Law. 4 cups gluten free oats, about a cup of chopped almonds and a bit of maple syrup to mix it all together. Bake on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes at 225 degrees, mix it up a bit and then bake another 30 minutes. Add anything else you’d like (I have done cinnamon and coconut).
Miracle Whip If I was eating big deli sandwiches still, this one would be hard, but since I am not, it hasn’t been too difficult to give up.
Coffee I never drank coffee, but the husband did and gave it up. Not sure it was necessary or not, as I think coffee can be fine for you.
Soda We weren’t huge soda drinkers to begin with, but we were having them a little too regularly.
Artificial Colors I do not buy anything that has artificial colors anymore, including toothpaste and kid’s medicine.
Genetically modified foods I have been buying almost everything organic, which has been costly. For a good guide to real food on a budget, click here.
Store bought salad dressing It is way too easy to make your own, and I even got this for Christmas, which will make it even easier.
High Fructose Corn Syrup This is one of my top ingredients to avoid.
Trans Fats (hydrogenated oil) Another of my top ingredients to avoid.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) This is a sneaky bugger, going by MANY different names and in MANY different foods. Also another of my top ingredients to avoid.
Artificial Flavors And most natural flavors too.
Many extra pounds!
Here’s to a new year with even more healthy, positive changes. Thanks for reading!