A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

This article came trickling across my wire today and I think it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s a pictorial: one week of groceries in 20 different countries around the globe. Interesting to see how much of that picture is taken up by ingredients, and how much is taken up by processed foods. I’ll say this, I have a hunch as to why Bhutan keeps being named one of the happiest places on earth…

THAT is a whole lot of real food.  It’s an interesting experiment really.  What would your kitchen look like if you spread a week’s worth of groceries around and took a picture? Check out the other 19 countries in the pictorial and see what food looks like around the world.  I’m tempted to include my own picture, but the market trip was a few days ago and the idea of hauling it all out to photo makes me crazy…  but chances are good I’ll be going again… Hmmm, I smell a little real food pictorial coming on.  What’s in your pantry?

Salt, Sugar, Fat – It’s Not You, It’s Them

The release of Michael Moss’ book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us has prompted a flood of news stories. Moss is a New York Times reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winner. The guy has street cred as an investigator. I’ve not yet read the book; however, I’ve read the excerpt provided by Moss to the NYT Magazine. I also heard Moss interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday. Moss’ revelation confirms the worst of my concerns about the producers of processed and convenience foods. The long and short of it is that when you feel like you can’t stop eating Oreo’s, that’s because you very nearly can’t. It’s not you, it’s them.

Moss reveals that in 1999 the Vice President of Kraft addressed CEOs of the other leading food producers and laid out his concerns about the growing obesity crisis and the increasingly clear links between highly processed foods and some of America’s biggest health threats. This individual worried about his industry’s culpability both from a moral and a financial perspective – we could get sued people. The response of his peers? We are responsible to our shareholders. We’ve spent a long time figuring out exactly how much salt, sugar and fat to use to ensure that consumers will buy our products and we cannot risk the loss of marketshare that would surely result from a change in practices.  Let me say that part again: we are beholden to our shareholders.  Guess who’s not in that sentence?  You (unless of course you are a majority shareholder in General Mills or something).

Let me be clear, I am aware that companies who make food are for-profit companies.  I realize that this is the arena in which they are making their living.  Somehow, however, the brazenness of the shareholder beholden-ness shocked me.  The implications of the food industry’s refusal to consider health crises in food formulation are vast.  For me, the takeaway from Moss’ revelations is two-fold: 1) processed and packaged has been scientifically researched and developed to maximize taste, addiction, and profit, and 2) the onus of providing your body with nutritious food falls entirely on you. Continue reading

Baby Steps Down the Road to Better Health

  • You want your children to be healthy.
  • You want to be healthy and feel good.
  • You want members of your family to maintain a healthy weight.
  • You are VERY busy, including juggling various schedules.
  • You have not yet won the lottery.
  • You don’t think you and/or your family can make the necessary changes in your lifestyle to achieve “Hollywood Health.”  You know the kind of health I mean… the kind on the talk shows which requires lots of time and lots of money.

My sister and I (we write this blog together as Little Sis and BiggSis), have both walked a long way down the road to eating well and feeling / looking better.  We have dragged our spouses and children along for the ride, and while it isn’t always easy, it IS possible to eat well, without spending hours in the kitchen and without greatly increasing your grocery bill.  We are talking about Hometown Health here!  Jill Q. Public Health… Happy, Human Health.  (Okay, I’m done now, I get on a roll sometimes.)

If you’ve been on a diet before and tried to change everything you eat at once, then you know that it is easy to fall off the wagon and revert to your old ways.  However, this is not a diet.  This is not a test of your character.  This is an opportunity to change your life.  Eating food : real food is an attempt to better nourish yourself and your family in a culture that encourages mal-nourishment.  Every time you and your children turn around there are advertisements for, and the presence of, cheap junk food.  It’s everywhere… school, church, work, meetings, sporting events and practices, many stores that don’t sell any other food… and did I mention that it is cheap, convenient and appeals to our taste for sugar and fat?

Processed food contains ingredients that make us want more.  It’s not just you who can’t put down the bag of Doritos.  No, you are not alone in this.  Sugar, which is more addictive than cocaine (PLOS, 2007), is also everywhere. The food industry is pumping sugar through their powerful machine that keeps us eating their products, regardless of the effects.  However, the results of better nourishment, and of eating real food, not only include weight loss, but a stronger response to sugar and fat.  In other words, after eating real food for a while, processed food became less appealing and I now notice how badly I feel after eating it.

For the Sis sisters, eating real food began with a desire to feed our children well in a world filled with horrible food choices.  Eating real food was reinforced by what we saw and felt in our children, our spouses and ourselves, as we all became healthier and thinner.  The plan is simple and is touted by lots of celebrities, chefs, and books in various forms, but we feel that it is made too expensive and too difficult via an emphasis on ‘super foods,’ exotic foods, and expensive foods.  It is possible to eat well on a budget.  It is possible to feel better, look better, and even preserve the environment just by changing what foods you buy and consume.

Yes, but it’s still difficult to change how and what you eat, right?  Trying to replace everything at one time is usually a losing plan.  That’s why we are going to begin a series on this blog to present you or someone you love, with Baby Steps.  Some of the baby steps mirror small steps we took in our own journeys and others are steps that make sense under the bright light of hindsight.

You can head down the road to better health one baby step at a time.  Baby steps are wonderful because they don’t demand a huge change from you, are easier to live up to, and they still take you down the road.  The processed diet lies at the beginning of the road, and every baby step forward takes you further from obesity, lethargy, and diseases like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, auto-immune disorders, high cholesterol and cancer.  Of course, everyone knows someone who has one of these diseases despite a healthy lifestyle.  That stinks.  However, you watch the people you know who eat real food.  They feel better and look better, and research is indeed on their side, in terms of their lower probability for chronic diseases.  Feeling better, being thin and having a decreased chance for chronic disease is on my side, my family’s side, and it can be on your side too.  Just take it one Baby Step at a time.

We will be publishing the Baby Steps along with our usual postings of recipes that are made with real food here on our blog, so follow us down the road!  And in the meantime… here are some links to easy, healthy breakfasts from previous posts.  Everyday is a new day and any successes in eating well are just that.  Successes in eating well.

Crock pot oatmeal takes the hurry up out of the morning.

If you have some leftover rice (always make extra rice!!) you can have a very yummy sweet potato for breakfast!

Oats that you soak in milk overnight and don’t even have to cook. – plus some cool pics of a bear in Little Sis’ backyard 🙂

Another soaking cereal that is ready when you wake up – no oats this time.

Eat food.  Real food.

Cutting back on gluten

As if it isn’t hard enough to eat well in our overly ‘convenient,’ ‘sweet,’ ‘pre-fab’ culture, it looks like my husband has a problem with gluten.  After eliminating several early diagnoses of diverticulitis and intestinal adhesions, some research on our part, and a change in our diet is leading us to believe that he is indeed sensitive to gluten.  This is not the same thing as celiac disease which is an auto-immune disorder whereby gluten causes damage to the lining of the intestine, blocking absorption of nutrients and, as you might guess, also causes a myriad of symptoms that accompany malnutrition.  Although Celiac disease is thought to be a much more serious health problem, there are experts who claim that while gluten sensitivity is a lesser reaction to gluten, it is nevertheless one that may cause a host of discomforts as well as chronic illness.

So back to the difficulties of eating the way you want in our culture… there is gluten in many, many processed foods (often masqueraded with names like emulsifier, hydrolyzed plant protein, natural flavorings, stabilizers and starches).  Yet another reason to avoid products that have vague or unrecognizable ingredients.  It also turns out that wheat has been bred / hybridized to increase gluten content as we Americans like springy, spongy bread that you can roll into balls and throw at your classmates (oops sorry a memory interjected itself there). This increase has been followed with an increase in celiac disease!

All this to say that this morning I altered my usual pancake recipe by substituting buckwheat flour for whole wheat flour.  The recipe is:
1 cup oats
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp – 1 Tbsp cinnamon (optional)
2 small eggs or 1 jumbo egg
2 Tbsp oil (or melted butter)
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
Mix dry, mix wet, mix together and following my little sis’ advice, cook on an evenly hot surface that is only mildly oiled, if at all (see her post “Cast Iron Pancake Chef“).  I usually do 1.5 or 2 times this recipe so I can freeze leftovers for future breakfasts.

And remember, that no matter what nutritional advice, warning, fad, new info, latest thang you follow, nothing is ever better than eating fresh, whole foods.