Over the past few months I've been doing a lot of reading in various books and blogs regarding healthier ways to choose and prepare meals. Somewhere between watching Food Inc. and reading Real Food by Nina Planck, Jer and I decided to drastically reduce the amount of processed food in our lives. And I don't just mean processed food like fake cheese snacks and Hostess cake. We've never eaten much of that anyway. I mean refusing to buy meat that has been raised in a processing plant with cruel conditions and improper diet. Rejecting bread that is full of chemical "dough conditioners" and high fructose corn syrup. I mean eating as sustainably and locally as possible.
Doing this while maintaining some semblance of a rational food budget is going to be a challenge, but I feel I am up to it. Choosing to go this route means I have to cook most of our food myself (with Jer's help of course, and his Big Green Egg). I already do a lot of that-I don't think we have bought bread all year-but it also means taking more time to properly prepare ingredients, and making things stretch farther. Turning one chicken into four meals (two with the meat, and two with the stock that I make from the meat). Using a sourdough starter for my bread. Making my own yogurt and buttermilk.
Ultimately I think we will be happier and healthier. While we started this a few months ago, it's really been the last few weeks that the major changes have been put into place. After having the worst year healthwise last year, I have hardly been sick at all this year. No colds, no flu. My mom was commenting this weekend that my skin had looked better than ever (surprising after the skin issues of last winter). My nails have gotten healthier-less ridges (a sign of vitamin deficency) and splitting, and they are actually growing out longer and stronger, which is a very new thing for me. And both Jer and I have lost a few pounds in the past month.
When I was a teenager, my family ate mostly low-cost, low-fat, high-carb meals, like pasta and rice. I was overweight, and carried most of it in my midsection, with very little energy or muscle. About four years ago I changed my diet drastically, doing South Beach for a few months and then settling into a more vegetable/protein heavy diet. I also started exercising regularly. I lost weight, had more energy, and generally felt great. I got lax on it after a couple of years and began eating out more and put a lot of weight back on. Then last spring I went vegan for Lent. I ate a lot more grain than usual, and started drinking soy milk. I was sick all the time, my allergies were worse, I put on weight, and then got mono. Looking back on it, the contrasts are striking: low-fat and high-carb led to weight gain and allergies; high-protein, low-carb led to energy and good skin.
Based on my reading and my own observation, I have virtually eliminated any non-fermented soy, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats from our diet. We've never eaten a lot of meat (I always laugh at the blog posts about having a meatless day a week or some such thing-we have meat two, maybe three times a week) but what we are buying now is grass-fed and free-range as much as possible, and we stretch it so we are eating less at a sitting. We're using a lot of eggs, whole milk, beans, and organic produce. I'm planning meals around what is coming in our CSA box instead of what is on sale at Albertson's (really the WORST store if you are trying to eat less processed foods. They don't even have options for free-range meat). We're also planting a few pots of veggies and herbs on our back porch.
I'm finding that making high-quality food means I eat less but get more in the way of real nutrition. And it is tasty food-burgers made with grass-fed beef and homemade whole wheat buns are far superior to anything at a fast food joint. That doesn't mean we don't splurge and eat out, but it does mean that overall we are eating better than we ever have. While I am still learning, and have a long way to go before I can be considered a true real foodist, I am glad to be on my way.
Some resources for you to investigate:
Real Food, by Nina Planck
The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
The Healthy Home Economist