Don't let the stress of trying to eat "perfect" undo all the good from "eating well". Do the best you can, and don't sweat the rest. I take a Good, Better, Best approach. Or, rather, a Rotten, Not-so-bad, Good, Better, Best approach.
In other words, if I have a choice between white or whole wheat bread, I'll take the whole wheat. That's better. But if I have a choice between store-bought whole wheat bread or homemade, freshly ground whole wheat bread, I choose the homemade. That's best. (And if I have a chance for homemade, freshly ground whole wheat bread made with natural sourdough yeast or soaked, that's out of this world! Yum, yum!)
My point is that rather than stressing out because you don't have soaked whole grain bread every time you eat bread, just start by learning to choose the best bread available. Slowly work on increasing the availability of better and best food. Once you have a steady source of great bread at home, it gets pretty easy to turn down the flavorless stuff offered at restaurants and grocery stores. The same goes for other food choices, too.
Starting Point -- Be an Ingredient Detective --
The number one best thing you can do when purchasing your food is to look at the ingredient label. Not the nutrition label. Who knows how they get all those vitamins, etc, in there. Usually it isn't by natural means. I skip the nutritional labels. No, look at the ingredient label. Try not to buy anything with more than 3-5 ingredients listed. And those ingredients should be things you recognize. If you're buying oats, the ingredients list should say "oats". That's all. It should NOT list high fructose corn syrup as it's second ingredient. Just saying.
If you are like most Americans, learning to shop for simple foods with short ingredient lists will dramatically change the way you eat. Let's take a little test. Go to you pantry or fridge. Take a few minutes to look at the ingredients on the foods found there. Are they pronounceable? Are there only 5 ingredients or less? If so, you're ready to move to the next level. Great. If not, get ready to embark on a food adventure.
Check the ingredients even when buying so-called "healthy" foods. Stevia is usually a good thing, but if you look at the ingredient list and it says anything but "stevia", it isn't the real thing. Move on. My stevia is pure stevia with nothing else added. Often, foods we consider healthy are just another form of processed food. Steer clear.
Learning to shop this way will eliminate probably 90% of the processed food you're eating. If you don't cook, it will also mean you need to learn how to make a few simple meals. You don't need to morph into Julia Child, though. With great ingredients, a simple sandwich can taste gourmet -- no stove required. Next week, we will be talking about how to get that real food on the table.
Baby Steps -- Learn to Substitute --
Once you have stocked your kitchen with great foods, you need to do something with them. While you could just eat a handful of raw nuts, usually we want to put those nuts into something. But most recipes (as written) are not going to help you eat real food. This is where substitution comes in.
Look at your recipe. If it calls for sugar, the first stage would be to replace the sugar cup for cup with unrefined evaporated cane juice sugar. You probably don't want to eat a ton of that, but it's slightly better that white sugar in that it still has the minerals intact. Gradually, you can find or alter recipes so that you are using honey, maple syrup or even stevia or coconut sugar instead.
If you've been using margarine, switch to real butter (I doubt you're family will complain. Real butter tastes better). If you've been using store bought "pancake syrup" (whatever that is), switch to real maple syrup. When I first started serving maple syrup, my kids preferred the high fructose corn syrup flavor of the fake stuff. They were pretty young, so I just kept putting maple syrup on the table. Now, they can smell the fake stuff a mile away and vastly prefer the flavor of real maple syrup. If you're family doesn't like it at first, mix it half and half with the fake stuff and gradually wean them off. My kids (all but one) don't even like most candies now because they can taste the HFCS. Once you wean off HFCS, it just tastes nasty.
If your recipe calls for white rice, try brown. Or if your family is timid, mix white and brown. Ease them into whole grains and real food. White sugar, white flour and white rice are pretty flavorless foods. If that is what your family is used to eating, they are getting the flavor from the added sugars and sodium in processed foods, not the food itself. Allow yourselves time to retrain your tastebuds. Real food is full of flavor on it's own. In the beginning, you will be more successful if you substitute a little brown rice with the white and a little wheat flour with the white flour. Mix, mix, mix. If you're anything like us, it won't take long before the white stuff tastes like flavored styrofoam. My family devours whole grains and real food now.
Here's a link to a Real Food Substitution InfoGraphic. You can print it and paste it on your fridge or keep in your purse, or iPhone. Whatever works for you. When you shop, it will help you keep in mind what is bad, good, better or best.
Advanced Level -- Search out good food --
Once you have tackled the local grocery store and won, you are ready for the next level. In addition to our regular grocery runs, we buy things in bulk. Sometimes we take long trips to purchase a year's supply of ingredients.
We travel several hours into Springfield, MO to buy a year's supply of grains, honey, unrefined evaporated cane juice sugar, beans, etc. If you happen to be within a few hours of there, Lynn of Lynn's Bread will fix you up. Twice a year, she offers an opportunity to buy grains, etc. right off the freight truck. That's how we buy ours. If you need something in between times, she often has extra on hand. Tell her I sent you.
See if you can find eggs from a local farmer or backyard chicken coop. They are usually inexpensive, and if you can find a good supplier, they are far superior to grocery store eggs.
Sometimes we are able to get home-raised grass fed beef this way, too. (And sometimes our fabulous church folks give us some. Thank you!! Super big hugs!!) It is much cheaper to buy a side of grass-fed beef than to go to the health food store and buy it by the pound. (Plug your ears, animal lovers, but an inexpensive way to get organic grass fed meat is to go hunt for some deer. I know, I know. We killed Bambi. But Bambi's life was a whole lot better than the feed lot cattle that are killed and sold at the grocery store. Both are killed to feed us, but one enjoyed it's life a whole lot more than the other.)
Jedi Knight Level -- Grow and raise your own food --
I am not a Jedi yet (said in my best Yoda voice), but I'd like to be. One day, in my day dream world, I'll raise my own chickens for meat and eggs, have my own dairy cow (a Guernsey, if you're wondering) and have a garden that is much bigger than the one I currently have.
Even if you just stick a tomato plant in a pot on your porch, you're beginning to live on this level. Kudos. Every little bit helps.
No matter on what level you find yourself, anything you do toward fueling your body well is going to be better than doing nothing. Even if you begin to make changes, then binge on chocolate cake, you have still put better nutrients into your body than if you had made no changes at all. Just get up and dust yourself off. At your next meal, ask yourself what you could eat that would put good nutrients into your body. I think you will find that the chocolate cake binges gradually fall away as you focus on feeding your body good, nutrient dense foods. I find it better to think in terms of "what shouldI eat", rather than "what shouldn't I eat." When I feed my body well, my cravings disappear and my energy increases. Try it.
Join me next week for the final 2 installments in the What to Eat series.
Have a great day!
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