This post is dedicated to the person or two a week that ask me where should they start with all this real food business. They want to get off the Standard American Diet, but don’t know where to begin. One baby step at a time, you can make major changes pretty quickly. Here are six steps to get you started.
Let’s just clear something up. My favorite foods include donuts, ice cream and Hawaiian Shaved Ice. I am not a zen guru with a kale-focused-lovingkindness-meditation or a type A hyper-hippie with so much energy that I wake up at 6:00am on Sundays to prep my sprouted grains. I’m quirky, overwhelmed, curious and most importantly, getting real comfortable trying new things. Sometimes failing. Sometimes winning. Real food is for real people.
One mini step at a time, I have transformed what my family eats. I went to culinary school, I aced a nutrition class, I plowed through health/fitness and food books, magazines, blogs, and even research papers that I barely understood. All just brought up more questions.
It was only through questioning the classes, the magazine articles, the restaurant ingredients that I came up with new answers. Answers that felt right for me. Every day I get closer to what feels right, which comes with the realization that nutrition is not a one size fits all, and each of us must do the work to figure out what’s best.
I’m talking about eating to thrive, eating to live longer, stronger and more productive lives. I’m sure we all will be confronted by illness & injuries, disorders & disease, that is just part of being a human. But we can meet those challenges with a strong base of health and fitness, with sound minds ready to fight, with an appreciation for what full health feels like so we can do what it takes to regain it.
For me, my seeking keeps coming back to eating – simply – real unprocessed food. And it wouldn’t be so hard, except that our American food system has made these real foods the underdogs in the grocery stores and most restaurants, out-marketed by jazzy packaging, amazing shelf life, tantalizing flavor profiles that purposely play to our deepest desires, and lots of time cheats. These new-fangled laboratory “foods” look cheaper, easier, faster and family-approved. But it’s an Oz-like curtain, and if you pull it back you realize that the corporations producing that “food” make every decision based on profit, and not one decision based on you at your best, thriving. It’s a trick, and the only way to change it is to vote at every meal with your decisions and dollars.
The Lean.Green.Kitchen community is a safe place for people just beginning to look consciously at their food choices AND for people deeply entrenched in their conscious food philosophies, as well as for all those seekers somewhere in the middle still eating the occasional donut and shaved iced. This is my mini list for those interested in beginning to eat real food. See if any of it could be some of your first steps. It could be summarized as Stop Buying Processed Food And Make Your Own. But let’s break that down a little.
Six Beginner Steps you could take today to Eat Real Food:
1. Ditch the refined table salt and choose a salt that has beautiful trace minerals with it. This is as much about taste as nutrition, as unrefined salt just tastes better in food. It’s also a statement that you are off the refined Morton’s and making high quality changes in your eating. My favorite is Pink Himalayan Sea Salt. Celtic Grey Salt is also unrefined and minimally processed. Unrefined salt has trace minerals in there with the salt. That is nutrient-rich real food. Check out the processed food in your kitchen. Review just how much refined salt is in those products. It’s a lot and it’s junk.
2. Fill up the veggie bins with fresh, seasonal produce. Prep it all in a foodie flourish so you will be compelled to use it all week. Nutrients are hanging out in all that produce. When you can, go organic and relieve your body of the energy necessary to detoxify the pesticides on conventional produce. Dipping your toe in the organic pool? Start with going organic for the Dirty Dozen and sweat less about the Clean 15. And if you can’t go organic, then don’t. Eat lots of veggies anyway. See if you can find a local source for seasonal produce. Farmers Markets, Natural Food Stores, Farm Box Subscriptions (Community Supported Agriculture or CSA) – figure out where they are and visit them.
3. Switch to fats that will fuel your body. Fat is not an enemy. Healthy fats are essential to living long and prospering. Fat is critical for proper body functions and especially important for your brain. I, for one, would like my brain (and my kids’ brains) fully functioning. I already can barely remember which kid I named what and there are only two of them. Let’s keep these brain cells happy. Say no to industrialized vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy, etc) and margarine (which are in pretty much every processed food because they are cheap, cheap, cheap) – these fats are not in the business of building thriving bodies. Say yes to real foods like avocados, coconut oil, nuts and olive oil and real fat from animals not pumped with nasty chemicals (think organic butter, full fat dairy, ghee, lard, tallow) – all are thriving body work-horses.
4. Take a look at sugar. That processed food lurking in your kitchen is filled with hidden sugars, to make sure you buy that box of “food” again. The corporations want your money, and are not interested in supporting your awesomeness with body building nutrients. This step is to make the transition away from processed sugars into the world of real food - honey and maple syrup being my favorite sweet places to land. Dates and ripe fruit work nicely too for sweetness. A little cane sugar is pretty easily processed by a healthy body. Problem is, when your diet consists of processed foods, it is never just a little – it’s a constant.
5. Meat, dairy and eggs are real food. But what happens when we create horrendous conditions for the animals, pump them full of toxic chemicals and inhumanely kill them? In my opinion, they no longer meet my personal requirements as real food (as well as my moral standards for treatment of animals). So the step here is to begin researching where your meat, dairy and eggs come from and start looking for better sources. For my household this meant reducing the amount of meat we ate, so we could afford high quality sourced meat. It also means that I make our yogurt and kefir, in order to afford the quality and quantity we consume.
6. Get a crock-pot and a cookbook. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. This process starts with getting the right food in your home. But it only works if you actually eat it. Like me, you might not be a master chef right off the bat if you’ve been relying on boxed, bagged and pre-cooked meals for your adult life. It’s a process that involves… trying. That’s all. Starting with a cookbook that fits your tastes and a crock pot that can have food ready for you when you are hungry is a really wonderful place to start.
When asked what I eat, I like to share the motto of this blog, I “eat (real) good food.” When you stop buying processed food and start making your own, I promise you will feed yourself better than the food corporations. And the effort will be well worth it.
When you look at what you are thinking about eating, ask yourself, “does this build up my health or make my body work harder to process out toxins?” If “we are what we eat,” then it makes a lot of sense to choose nutrient-rich, whole foods.
There is always a next step on the real food journey. And I just keep taking the next one that catches my attention. What steps would you recommend for those just starting on THEIR real food journey? What is your next step on YOUR food journey?
Here are some bonus tips and resources: