#JunkFreeInJune has started and I’ve asked several guests to share different ways we can clear our lives of ‘junk’ for a healthier and happier lifestyle.
I recently conducted a poll in the Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond – Let’s Thrive Facebook Group and asked the question:
What is one change you would make to your eating style?
The results were:
40% wanted to cut down the sugar in their diet
25% wanted to cut down the amount of processed food they eat
15% wanted to cut back on unhealthy snacking
10% wanted to eat the recommended 2 servings of fruit each day
5% wanted to eat more raw food
These results show that we all can and want to make changes to eating healthier and remove the ‘junk’ food from our diets. It shows that we are wanting to change unhealthy eating habits for healthier ones.
I’m delighted to introduce my first guest for #JunkFreeInJune is Nancy Dobbins from Defining Third Age. Nancy and her husband recently embarked on a course to transform their eating habits. I asked Nancy to share her experience, their journey and also a favourite recipe.
Transforming our Eating Habits
“Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
I actually have a graphic of this quote hanging on my refrigerator. In our quest to be more mindful of what we eat and where it comes from, this little phrase succinctly summarizes and reminds us of the nutritional goals in our house.
By this Pollan means cook from scratch. Reject anything with unpronounceable ingredients – if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as a food, it probably isn’t (another Pollanism). Local is better; local organic is best – avoid ingesting chemicals, including pesticides and preservatives. Avoid anything sold in a box or sealed bag. The less processed before it reaches your kitchen, the better.
“Not too much.”
This is self-explanatory.
Again, no one is surprised by this. Everyone has been told to “eat your veggies.” Yet there also is a growing body of evidence that animal products are not good for us and we should avoid them, or at least crowd out their place on our plate with fruits, veggies, WHOLE grains, nuts and seeds.
This seems simple on its face. But, let’s face it, making these food choices is sometimes difficult. Fresh, local, and organic is not always available or is expensive. Add to this the frenzied pace of our lives and the feeling that cooking healthy meals, where we are in charge of pulling together the ingredients in those meals, seems time-consuming & overwhelming. And we are addicted to processed “junk” food as our taste buds have been conditioned to crave them. So it is both a challenge and a balancing act at times to adhere to this way of eating.
Dan and I are on a journey to transform our eating habits.
Eating habits that were developed over a lifetime. Eating habits acquired through family/society/culture. And eating habits contributed to by BIG Food and BIG Agri who engineer the products they make to create addiction. Yes, addiction.
We get it. We know the challenges. But we continue on our journey…and are proof you can change these lifelong habits. And the health benefits are significant.
I recently read a New York Times Magazine article by Michael Moss from Feb. 20, 2013. You can find the full text of the article here (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html
It is entitled, “The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food.” I highly recommend this read. It sheds some well-researched and documented light on some of the food industry practices that contribute to these facts:
The prevalence of obesity in 2018 in the US was 39.8% of the adult population and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016.
Type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically, such that it is now a major health issue. Consider that before 1980 this was a relatively uncommon condition and one virtually unheard-of for children who are now its fastest-growing victims.
Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight -US CDC
This is a health crisis of epic proportions. And it is all related to how we eat.
Easy fix. Pitch the “Junk Food.” Right?
Except if it were easy, the statistics above would be far less staggering. We are all now conditioned for food, in order to taste good to us, has to hit our “Bliss Point”… that exact combination of sugar, salt, fat, and “mouth feel” that makes us LOVE a food product and crave more. This is the engineering of foods by food companies that exploit our natural brain chemistry to get us to eat more and more of their unhealthy products. Processed food is engineered to make us want it, eat it, and buy more of it. And it is a hard habit to break. This is the crux of the NY Times Magazine article.
If you are reading this post, it is likely that I am “preaching to the choir” and that you already are aware of the benefits of healthy eating, and the risks of consuming junk food. Given the difficulty of eliminating processed food full of SOS (salt, oil, sugar) and chemicals (preservatives and pesticides) from our diet, what should we do?
Try. Make an effort. And if you slip, forgive yourself and try again.
- Try to buy minimally processed foods. If it has more than 4-5 ingredients or ones unpronounceable to you, do not buy it. Avoid the SOS.
- Try to cook from scratch where YOU control the ingredients, particularly the salt, oil, and sugar. This will naturally reduce the amount of these items, and over a relatively short period of time, a few weeks really, you will find you crave them less. You will break your addiction.
- Try to buy organically grown, fresh, LOCAL food. If you cannot find it or afford it, frozen is often your best bet. Be aware, as much as possible, where your food comes from. Closer is better. Organic is even better. Best by far is to grow it yourself – most delicious, too!
When Dan and I made the decision to try to transform our diet, we were motivated by what I suspect is the motivation of those reading Sue’s blog: being the best, healthiest versions of ourselves. We took the additional step of working towards being “Whole Food, Plant Based” eaters which also involves the elimination of animal products from our diet. I have published a number of posts on my blog that address the hows and whys of this decision, so if you are interested in reading more you can find info there.
Basically we, like many of you, were starting to be plagued by some of the diseases of culture and lifestyle. Dan was obese, both of us had bouts of diverticulitis, I had IBS and borderline hypertension, and cholesterol was a concern.
And, now, while Dan could stand to lose a few more pounds, other than that our health concerns have disappeared. Gone. I have avoided medication for hypertension and high cholesterol (with all the concerning side-effects!), as well as surgery for diverticulitis. My IBS symptoms are also gone. Both Dan and I had recent full physicals where all of our exams and tests were perfect, including our cholesterol. Perfect.
Here is my disclaimer: Your results may vary. I am not a health professional. I am only relaying our results and my belief that a healthier diet was a contributing factor.
One of the most prevalent arguments given against this diet is that healthy eating is bland and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. Plant-based, delicious options are all around you, you need only be open to the possibilities. We do not feel at all deprived; in fact eating this way seems like something of an adventure. We have tried many foods that never graced our table in the past. In fact, we had Jerk Eggplant steaks on the grill the other night that were just delicious. And, in the past, eggplant would NEVER have been on the menu!
Our taste buds are evolving. Yours can, too.
Sue asked that I share a recipe that we like. A new favorite is a quinoa tabouleh. One of the great benefits of this journey is the exposure we have gotten to the flavors of different cultures, many which routinely use healthier, plant-based ingredients. Tabouleh is a middle-eastern salad that traditionally uses bulgar and parsley as its base ingredients. Sometimes mint is also added. This is a twist on that recipe, using quinoa instead of bulgar.
2+ cloves minced garlic (use more if you like it as we do!)
1-2 medium tomatoes
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
4 scallions, white and green portions (in other words, the whole scallion)
1 cup (uncooked) quinoa – about 2-2.5 cups cooked
Juice of one lemon, more if needed, to taste
Salt to taste
Optional: splash of organic olive oil
Prepare quinoa as directed, being sure to rinse well before cooking; cool
Chop all veggies.
Mix cooked quinoa, parsley, tomatoes, garlic, and scallion in a large bowl.
Squeeze lemon juice over all and mix.
Add optional olive oil if desired. (go easy with this)
Salt to taste. (go easy with this, too)
Mix all together and enjoy.
Health benefits of parsley:
- Reduce the risk of cancers such as breast, digestive tract, skin and prostate.
- Improve your immune function. Parsley may help to modulate the immune system.
- Beat inflammation.
- Fight disease.
- Protect your blood vessels.
Health benefits of quinoa:
- High in protein
- One of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of all nine essential amino acids..
- High in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
Remember, you are in control of your SOS (salt, oil, sugar).
Using the least you can get away with and still enjoy the flavor is key. Work to reduce the amount of SOS in your cooking. Experiment with different spices in your cooking. Believe me, you will NOT be sacrificing any flavor. Pinterest and whole food, plant based blogs are great resources for finding recipes that you like that will help you develop a new repertoire of go-to meals.
Enjoy the adventure! Healthy food is all around you!
I started this post with a Michael Pollan quote, so I would also like to end with one:
“Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.”