In light of the new year, I’ve been thinking of resolutions. I know…surprise, surprise! I’ve never been a big resolution person, but this year I have a few goals in mind that I would like to work toward. One goal is definitely to continue writing quality content for the blog and to grow this community. I also want to take on some of the projects that I’ve been dreaming about for a while now, such as a real compost bin/pile (instead of a spot in the woods) and making/gathering equipment for home beekeeping. I think this will involve some carpentry, of which I know very little! In the realm of food and nutrition, I aim to learn how to use more of the organ meats that are stored in my freezer from the half of a cow we purchased last fall. Not only do I aspire to wasting as little of the animals we butcher or purchase as possible, but the organ meats are, ounce for ounce, some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet! One of these days (hopefully soon!) my husband is going to come home to beef tongue in the slow cooker. I haven’t yet decided whether I will tell him what it is before eating or not…
I frequently have friends and family members who know I’m “into nutrition” ask me what they should be eating, and I’ve had several conversations about food and diet changes lately. A lot of people I know have a goal to eat healthier in 2014. The real question is: what is healthy? Frankly, it’s a really difficult question to answer because there are so many factors involved in what people eat: how much time they want to spend in the kitchen, what their social life looks like, whether or not they have any food allergies or sensitivities, their personal ethical choices, and what food they are able to purchase or produce…and that’s just the beginning!
Food choice is very individual, but I do think there are some basic guidelines that benefit everyone when it comes to eating well and living a healthy life. In honor of the new year, here are four things you can resolve to do (or work toward) to improve your diet and pursue a healthier you.
4 New Year’s Resolutions for Everyone
Cut out the processed foods.
Most food that comes in boxes, cans, or packages has been over-processed to a point where it has been stripped of its nutrients. Preservatives and anti-caking agents have been added, many of which are known carcinogens, and other unnatural chemicals have been added to enhance flavor and color. It is also difficult to find packaged food that doesn’t have sugar added to it in some form, even those foods that are supposed to be salty or savory! While it may seem overwhelming to find replacements for everything you currently eat from a package, take it one step at a time. Pick a few favorite foods that you eat often, and find a way to make them or buy them in a less-processed form. Once you’ve mastered those options, move on to the next ones. One tip that helped me when I first transitioned from processed foods was to only shop the perimeters of the grocery store (produce, meats, dairy) and avoid the middle aisles. Now I find that I get most of my food from outside the grocery store, but keeping that tip in mind was really helpful when I first started changing my diet.
Avoid genetically modified organisms.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have had their DNA deliberately altered via genetic engineering in order to express specific traits, such as resistance to certain herbicides or pests. I have written more extensively on the topic of GMOs in an ongoing series starting here. There have not been enough studies done on GMOs to prove them safe for human consumption, and preliminary studies by independent researchers show that there are actually significant health risks to consuming them, including autoimmune disease, cancer, asthma, infertility, miscarriage, and allergies. Corn, soy, dairy, and beets (which are made into sugar) are all top genetically modified crops. Find a list of the top 10 GM crops here. In order to avoid GMOs in your food, try to avoid any items containing corn or soy in any form unless it is marked with the Non-GMO Project Verification label or other label showing it is GMO-free. When buying meat or dairy, go grass-fed or organic whenever possible. And follow the first item on the list: staying away from packaged foods makes avoiding GMOs a lot easier!
Don’t be scared of fat- your body needs it!
Contrary to popular belief and dietary dogma, eating fat isn’t bad for you and it won’t make you gain weight. Yes, eating a low fat diet will probably allow you to lose some weight, but it will be difficult to maintain and will come at the expense of metabolic function and your long-term health. Fat and cholesterol are actually essential to human growth and development. Without fat we couldn’t absorb necessary vitamins and minerals. Cholesterol is used in every cell in the human body, and fats, particularly saturated fats, give our cells their necessary stiffness and integrity. The key is eating the right kind of fats. For the past century we have been duped by big business into believing that highly processed vegetable and seed oils are better for us than traditionally used fats, such as butter, lard, and tallow. Independent research shows that it simply isn’t true. When considering fats, one thing I always think about is whether or not it would be feasible for me to make a certain fat at home. When it comes to vegetable and seed oils, the answer is no. It takes sophisticated equipment, high heat, and intense pressure to extract oil from these products. Animal fats, on the other hand, I could conceivably make at home if I or a friend had the animal from which the product comes (i.e. a cow for butter or tallow, a pig for lard, etc.). A good place to start reading about good versus bad fats is with the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Don’t stress about your food!
It is easy to see rules, rules everywhere when it comes to food. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Do this. Don’t do that. If you try to do everything to perfection, you will ultimately fail, and along the way you will do damage to your body by stressing out about everything you are doing. Chronic stress can exhaust the adrenal glands, destroy metabolism, cause digestive and heart problems, and cause inflammation, which leads to a host of other diseases. Not fun stuff! Maybe you’re just getting started on the path to “real food,” and you’re really overwhelmed. Maybe your budget just doesn’t allow for the amount of grass-fed beef and organic veggies that you would like it to. Maybe you just can’t resist that candy bar from time to time. My motto is always to do what you can with what you know and have, and when what you know or have changes, change what you’re doing! Eating well isn’t a race to the finish line. It’s a journey that you are obviously already on or interested in being on, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this! If you take things (even this list of resolutions) one step at a time and don’t stress about them, you’ll be well on your way to optimal health. Is eating one meal from a drive-through or a box going to kill you? No, and it will do a lot more damage if you stress about it, so just let it go!
Here’s to 2014, good food, and good health for us all!
Are you a resolution maker? If so, what are your resolutions for this year? Do any of them have to do with food?
This post has been shared at Fight Back Friday, Unprocessed Fridays, Small Footprint Friday, Old-Fashioned Friday, Simply Natural Saturdays, Clever Chicks Blog Hop, Homestead Barn Hop, Mostly Homemade Mondays, Thank Goodness It’s Monday, Natural Living Monday, Fat Tuesday, Tuned-In Tuesday, Tuesday Greens, Allergy Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Homeacre Hop, Thank Your Body Thursday, Natural Family Friday, Healing With Food Friday, Wellness Wednesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.
CC image used courtesy of bayasaa on Flickr.