My Whole Foods Journey:  What You (or may not) Want to Know!

This page has been in the works for quite some time now.  At least in my head.  But there are lots of things swirling around in there, so that's not saying much.

I've talked about avoiding "processed foods" many times on various posts and to some I may seem crazy, fanatical, hypocritical, or possibly all of the above.  Let me assure you though--I don't have it all figured out, nor will I ever.   Over the last year I have done a lot of reading.  Some books, some blogs, some websites.  Some are written from a Christian perspective, while others are from perspectives very different than my own.  However they all seem to reach the same conclusion--that there is a correlation regarding our nations decline in health and the rise in eating refined and/or processed foods.  It's no coincidence that over the last century, health conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes--you name it, have all risen dramatically and we  are also eating worse than ever before.  I am not saying that if you or someone you love has any of those conditions, that it's all your fault.  Nor am I saying that all processed foods are evil.  However I do firmly believe that what we eat should be nourishing to our bodies.

Much of what we have been told regarding our health and what is good for us is very misleading.  Remember when butter was bad for you?  Now margarine is the bad guy--or at least trans fats are.  Foods in their most natural state are going to be best for you--most of us already know that.  My conclusion has come to this:  if it can't be picked, slaughtered, or milked--it's probably not very good for you.

All of that said, I also have a small grocery budget that I still need to work within.  And it's hard.  If I had unlimited amounts to spend on the food we eat, I would be in heaven.  I have dreams of only buying pastured chickens (at $4-$5 a pound!), pastured eggs, and owning my own jersey milking cow to milk everyday.  However, that's not happening any time soon. But a girl can dream, right?

What got me on this whole crazy journey was watching the film, Food Inc.  (it's available to stream on Netflix).  "They" say it will change your life.  It will.  That film is what got me thinking about everything our family eats. It also led me to finding a local source for grass fed beef and ordering a quarter beef less than a month later.

Shortly after, I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.   This got me started on reading the labels of everything I buy.  I already knew that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was bad, but then I started to become diligent in avoiding foods that have that and just knowing in general what was in the food I was buying.  After that came another of Pollan's books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and a book called Real Food: What to Eat and Why authored by Nina Planck.   These all have great information regarding the food industry, the diet myths we have been led to believe, and how many traditional cultures eat lots of foods high in saturated fats but don't have the myriad of health problems so many Americans are plagued with.  They talk just enough science to make sense but not so much that it goes way over your head.  That's a good thing--at least for me.  In between all those books, I also watched Fat Head and King Corn (both available for streaming as well).  Fat Head talks a lot about the saturated fat myths and the history behind it and how so much of what we have been led to believe about diet is not even true.  King Corn is about the corn industry and how corn is in nearly every processed food in some form or another--it's actually sort of scary. 

One of the blogs I have been following for quite some time is Musings of Housewife.  I am like her in that we are both moms that want to feed our families the best we can, however neither of us are professional dietitians or any other type of health guru.  Jo-Lynne started her journey a little while before I did and I got to observe all her thoughts, reservations, and new found knowledge regarding this whole foods kick.  She was the one who mentioned watching Food Inc., so really I guess you could contribute my journey all to her.  :)  She led me to Kelly the Kitchen Kop and the Weston Price Foundation (the information on this page is really, really interesting....it really makes you think and reevaluate what you know about nutrition).

As a Christian, the thought I kept going back to was, if God created it, why would man think he can do it better?  Whole milk and butter are bad for you--we've been told--and we should drink skim milk and use hydrogenated oil spreads instead.  Years and years ago, it was considered superior to formula feed babies.   Then "they" figured out that breastfeeding is both better for baby and mommy.  Again, why would we think that something that happens naturally (or better yet, how God intended) would somehow be inferior to something that was created in a lab?  It's a funny thought, don't you think?  Even if you aren't a Christian, it still makes sense that these theories such as saturated fats being bad for us need to reevaluated.  We have had diets full of them for "millions" of years (thousands in my book) and it's only been in the last 50 years or so that we've been told to avoid them.  It's no coincidence that our health has also started a rapid decline in that same last fifty years....it doesn't take a rocket scientist to say, hey, wait a minute, let's rethink this.

In learning all of this new information (and there is still so much more to learn!) I just wanted to stop eating.  And I LOVE food.  It was just so overwhelming--I really felt that so many of the things we eat and or how we prepare food were not without consequence.  I wanted to get rid of everything in my kitchen (food as well as everything else) and just start. over.  However, I still had the pesky budget to think about and I simply couldn't afford to start over, nor could I afford to buy strictly organic--although I would love to.

I had to find a balance between feeding my family the most nutritious foods I could and still stay within a fairly small budget. I still buy things like pre-made pasta, canned tomatoes (organic on coupon at Costco), and cheddar bunnies for the Peanut for an easy snack when we are out and about.  When I refer to "processed foods," I am talking about most any convenience food (like pizza rolls, chicken nuggets, breakfast cereals, etc.) and foods like (but not limited to) canned soups, premade breads, and potato chips.  Although I am a diet cola fiend, I now try to stay away from that as much as possible.  Honestly, I don't shop too terribly different from what I did one year ago.   I rarely bought processed foods before--and that was due strictly to finances.  But now I am just trying to be a little more nourishing as well.

What has changed are some of the scratch foods I use.  I no longer use vegetable oil for baking, I strictly use coconut oil.  I have always used EVOO for cooking and sesame oil for Asian inspired dishes, so neither of those changed.

I use whole wheat flour whenever possible (and I now grind my own wheat {as of Summer 2011} using soft white wheat for most things--muffins, cookies, pancakes, etc. and using hard white wheat for yeast breads), with the occasional use of all purpose flour for things like this.    I use whole wheat exclusively in pasta (except for lasagna noodles-I can't seem to find those anywhere) and we are strictly brown rice as well. 

For sweetener, I use rapadura in most of my baked goods--muffins, cookies, cakes, all chocolate things.  However that's not to say I never use table sugar either--rapadura is sugar that doesn't have the molasses stripped from it, so it is a really dark form of sugar--think dark brown sugar.  When you're craving coconut cream pie or vanilla ice cream, some things just can't be replaced so I will use standard sugar, but I don't make those things as much as I used to.  Either way, we still consume less sugar than before--rapadura is expensive and I just try to use less sugar/sweeteners, because it is not that good for you.  I use honey in our smoothies (just a little) and I use maple syrup to sweeten up things like my whipped cream.  For coffee, we were the pink sweetener people before, but now we use stevia, which is a natural no calorie sweetener.

We bought a quarter of a cow at the end of last summer, which was strictly grass fed.  As for chicken, this is an area I wish I could afford to do more.  Pastured chickens are best, but I don't have a good local source for those, plus pastured chickens are SO expensive.  I watch the ads and try and get organic whole chickens when on sale (and stock up), but I still, on occasion, buy conventional chickens.  Also for chicken dishes, I just use less and add more veggies/pasta/rice to make things stretch a little further.  For pork, I still buy conventional chops, sausage, and bacon and then just try not to think about it.  We are getting a half hog at the end of the summer from the same rancher as our beef, so I am excited to have that as well.

As for dairy and eggs--I still get conventional in all of those.  I simply can't afford to pay $5 for a gallon for milk and $4-$5 for a pound for butter.  I do get all our dairy products at Costco--all their Kirkland brands of milk, cheese, and butter are all hormone free, which is a very good thing--and a step in the right direction at least.

As for everything else, like fresh produce and all those other grocery items, I try to buy organic whenever possible, budget permitting.  I've also found that Costco is carrying more and more organic items and they of course almost always have really good prices.  I think there has been maybe once where I have found something cheaper somewhere else. 

Phewww...did you catch all that?  Any questions?

Tap, tap.........is this thing on?  

Finally, just a few things I have learned in the last year in all my "researching".......
  • Foods that make health claims are probably bad for you (because they are typically highly processed and stripped of most nutrients ie: low fat, non fat, high fiber, etc.)
  • Don't eat anything that your grandma (possibly great grandma, depending on your age) wouldn't recognize
  • In terms of buying things that are "processed" like pasta, canned tomatoes, canned beans--avoid things that have unpronounceable ingredients and/or things that list more than 4-5 ingredients
  • I used to think organic just meant that it was grown without pesticides/chemicals, but organic will also help avoid things like HFCS.   For example, ketchup.  In conventional ketchup, HFCS is one of the first ingredients listed and organic ketchup won't contain HFCS at all--at least that I've seen. 
  • Did you know that meat is seasonal?  I never, ever knew that.  If you buy from a local farmer/rancher, most still only slaughter certain times of the year, which is directly related to when the animal was born and how long it takes to reach market weight.  I never even knew that--can you say city mouse?
  • Buy only aluminum free baking powder (same reason as above)
  • In desserts, if it's sweet on the first bite, it will be too sweet by the last

I've also read numerous accounts of people feeling better (from a variety of illenesses, both well known and not) when returning to a diet of whole foods. For me, although never formally diagnosed (although I've been tested and consulted with doctors on a number of occasions), I've always felt I had IBS.   It was not uncommon for me to have flair ups 1-2 times a week before, and it's been months since my last episode.  I still on a rare occasion have an episode, but nothing like it used to be.....and hey, I'll take it!

Finally (for reals this time), all of this is not to say that I don't occasionally let myself indulge in a diet cola or have a really weak moment and buy a bag of Doritos at the grocery store or eat out.  Usually though, if I do eat out, I end up having an episode, so it's not really a treat in the long run....so there you go.  I am trying not to be "legalistic" about it (although my Mom may not think so!), but at the very same time I want to make sure what my family eats does provide nourishment more often than not.  I also find that the more I compromise, the easier it is to compromise the next time, so I try to limit those compromising moments as best I can!

If you have questions about the things I have learned, I would love to hear from you!  I can't promise I'll know the answer, but I can probably point you in the right direction.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I am not a doctor or a nutritionist.  All of the information on this site is based on my own research, beliefs, and experiences.  Always seek the advice of a physician before making changes to your diet.  Never dismiss any advice your health physician gives.

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