In a world where food is often cheap, easy, and fast, we choose to eat a clean diet of whole foods. Find out what that means and why we do it.
By Jerri Ann, Contributing Writer
Have you noticed the shift in thinking recently? It seems to me that even the mainstream is picking up on the idea that our current industrialized food system, which provides most of the “food” for us, is not working. I’ve seen and read stories recently about the harmful “yoga mat” chemical in bread, how chia seeds are good for you, and that there are benefits to eating a clean diet.
While I do agree with these, every story I see or read coming from the mainstream about food misses the mark. It’s easy to pinpoint one chemical or say that grass-fed meat is superior over grain-fed, but it seems like every story is concluded with a “….but the fill-in-the-blank-organization regulates this or that and they wouldn’t allow us to eat it if it wasn’t safe”.
Are you buying it? I’m not. Unlike large news companies or magazines or even online news sites, I don’t profit one way or another depending on what you eat. I have nothing to gain financially by having this article published. I’m sharing what I know because I want the world to be a better, healthier place when I leave than when I came in.
If you’re ready to take the step and to start educating yourself on what the typical Standard American Diet actually consists of and how to get away from it, then stick around because this month we are discussing what a real food lifestyle is, how to get there, and lots of awesome recipes.
Now, let’s start with things that we don’t eat in our house that you may in yours, and why we don’t. Now, the “whys” may not work for you, these are specific to my lifestyle, but I recommend you dig a little further into each of these food categories and find your “why.” It’s important for us to talk about why we eat a clean diet.
Things We Don’t Eat (and Why)
Most of the meat raised in this country is raised on feedlots or in huge buildings with no windows, with no room to roam and eating grains or other animal byproducts. Because cows are meant to live in pastures, they then have to be given large amounts of antibiotics. To raise the animals quicker, steroids are used so companies can turn a quick profit. Conventionally raised chicken is often treated with an arsenic-based drug to increase growth and help the pigmentation of the meat look more appealing to us, and this was and is regulated by the USDA. The levels of this added drug and inorganic arsenic are both found in the meat we eat.
- For the health of the animals: it’s our goal to eat meat from animals that were raised the way God intended, eating what their bodies are designed to eat and enjoying the green and sunshine-y nature God created for them.
- For the health of the planet: Organic and/or sustainable farming is shown to emit fewer greenhouse gases by focusing on reforestation, use less water, and rely more on employees instead of machinery (yay for jobs!).
- For our health: Grass-fed meat is shown to have more omega-3 fatty acids (the good one) and less omega-6’s (the bad one), more Vitamin E, beta-carotene, and several other vitamins and minerals. And as previously mentioned, most conventional is raised on antibiotics and steroids which can be found in the meat, and conventional meat is often treated with different chemicals during processing.
2. Conventional Dairy
Much the same as conventional meat, most of the dairy sold in this country comes from cows that live in unbelievable conditions and are pumped full of antibiotics (to fight against chronic illnesses induced by their diet) and artificially inseminated to undergo multiple births (because, you know, a nursing cow produces milk). Many live with chronic disease, are unable to walk, or die from their injuries.
If the living conditions and health of the animals weren’t reason enough for us to avoid conventional dairy, the process to make most conventional dairy involves heating the milk to temperatures so high that all the beneficial bacteria and enzymes are depleted, then it’s stripped of most of its fat, artificial colors and flavors are added in (because what’s dairy without the fat?), and large amounts of sugar is added, particularly with yogurt.
3. Boxed Foods
The ingredients found in most boxed food contains corn (in the form of high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, corn oil, and many more) and soy (soy lecithin, hydrogenated soybean oil) which are both almost always genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Synthetic food dyes and flavorings are in most boxed foods as well and have been linked to ADHD and other chronic diseases. Most of what is in boxed “food” are man-made chemical preservatives and flavorings.
Most common boxed food ingredients:
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene (also found in jet fuel and embalming fluid), Yellow #5 (derived from coal tar and contains lead and arsenic)
- Propylene glycol alginate (also found in antifreeze)
- Polyoxyethylene-(20)- sorbitan monostearate (often replacing dairy products in baked goods this chemical is made of corn, palm oil, and petroleum).
- Enriched flour (this ingredient is stripped of all nutritional value, is often bleached, then to “enrich” this flour, companies add in products that should not be digested (metallic iron, etc).)
For us, we try to stick to a real food diet, so boxed food is simply out of the question. The term “boxed food” refers to anything in a box, bag, jar or another container. Yes, even store-bought almond milk has harmful ingredients. You’ve heard it said before, read the ingredient list. A rule of thumb we live by — if my 6-year-old nephew can’t pronounce it, we don’t eat it (he could pronounce “ankylosaur” when he was 4, just sayin’).
4. Processed Sugar
Ah, sugar. When we think of sugar, we think of that good old-fashioned table sugar, don’t we? It was always sitting in a nice bowl on grandma’s table and we’d put it in our coffee (aka milk and sugar with a splash of the dark stuff). Unfortunately, sugar is not just added into our morning joe anymore. Sugar is in virtually everything. Sugar is in the obvious things, soda, cookies, candy, but today it can also be found in baked beans, dried fruit, ketchup, and salad dressings just to name a few. It’s everywhere. Because most processed food is, well, processed most don’t have too much flavor, so sugar in its varying forms is added in. Other names for sugar: dextrose, diatase, glucomalt, inulin, maltotriose, and many more. Sugar hides in everything.
Sugar in its many forms is often highly processed (white sugar), genetically modified or a combination of different chemicals. We avoid all of these things. Even corporations like the American Heart Association and the USDA warn against sugar (and yet, it’s still in everything). Sugar consumption can be linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease, and this list could keep going.
How We Eat a Clean Diet
Before we get into how we eat a clean diet, let’s start with this: making dietary changes can be intimidating and scary, take it slow. Ask for help or advice (that’s why we here at MAM do what we do, we love sharing and helping). Also, the best way to cut back on most of these things is to simply cut back. Don’t feel like you have to find replacements straight from the get-go, one night a week simply cut out meat. For a fun Saturday afternoon family project, make your own cookies or granola bars for the coming week’s lunches.
Eat less dairy. When we can learn to go with less, we are able to afford high-quality foods. I’m not saying quit eating, but maybe instead of cereal with milk every day, cook eggs with veggies and sourdough. Meat and dairy products are expensive whether they’re organic/pastured or not. When we can cut our intake even by a little, affording higher quality food doesn’t seem as daunting.
1. Organic, Grass-fed/Pastured, Local Meat
Having been a vegetarian for two years, meat is a touchy subject for me. If we are somewhere that doesn’t offer grass fed/pastured meat, I go without. We do eat a lot of meat in our house, but that’s an area I try really hard not to compromise on. If there’s a better option available, we do that. Oftentimes, if there’s not we’ll go without meat. Meat, when raised the way God intended can be very nutritious and beneficial to our health. Look for local meat CSA’s, check out Eat Wild, and talk to the farmers (even the produce farmers) and your local Farmer’s Market.
2. Organic or Raw Dairy
The other area we try very hard not to compromise on is dairy. Respecting what God gave us is important in our house, so supporting a system that uses and abuses its animals is not one we want to partake in (organic dairy farms are often factory farms as well). Honestly, we don’t eat much dairy. We’ll get one gallon of raw milk a month (it’s too expensive for more than that), we use a lot of pastured butter, and from time to time we’ll get a block of raw cheddar cheese.
3. Simple Homemade Sides
One of the easiest ways to eliminate boxed food from your life is to have a bank of easy to prepare, simple ingredients sides. Try these Kid-Friendly Beans and Rice, or this Roasted Butternut Squash or these Balsamic Honey Carrots. Most nights, we simply have an oven-roasted or pan-fried (in coconut oil or bacon grease) vegetable. Some of our favorites are Brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and asparagus.
4. Natural Sweeteners
Since we rarely eat anything that’s processed, our sugar intake is pretty well under control. When it comes to baking or making something that needs to be sweetened (smoothies, tea), we use raw honey, organic 100% Grade B maple syrup, coconut sugar, or organic pure cane sugar. These sweeteners are less processed and contain some nutritional value compared to their nutritionally devoid counterparts, processed sugars (white table sugar, corn syrup, etc).
Are you already living a real food lifestyle? If not, what’s keeping you from stepping over that line?