Guest Post: A Real Food Journey

Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by Renae Porter, one of our official January Rulers!  Last year she gave herself a challenge of eating “REAL” food for 100 days. She enjoyed it so much that she’s now into her second 100-day challenge! She writes about her experiences on her blog, 100 Day Challenge – Real Food Journey, and here she offers some thoughts on her own eating rules, my January Rules, and how to put it all together.

– Andrew

Good Food Served Here

I have no scientific proof that the explosion of illness and disease that runs rampant in our society is linked to the foods we eat, but I’m a firm believer that the chemicals and preservatives in our foods have a direct correlation to those diseases that dominate our culture. I hold no degrees in nutrition nor do I have formal medical training. I’m simply someone who has strong opinions and beliefs about the food we put in our bodies and the effect that food can have on our health.

I’ve always been conscious of what I ate but that doesn’t mean I was always aware of what I ate. (If that makes sense). I’ve recently challenged myself to eating REAL food which basically means I am eliminating chemicals, preservatives, growth hormones, and other “science lab experiments” from my food.  As a guideline I’m following three rules, which I’ve borrowed from Michael Pollan:

  1. Eat only food that your great grandmother would recognize as food.
  2. Any store bought food must have five ingredients or less.
  3. If a third grader cannot pronounce an ingredient in a food, don’t eat it.

Rule #1

This rule alone cuts out an enormous amount of food available at the grocery store. My great grandmother would not recognize Honey Nut Cheerios cereal or yogurt with fruit on the bottom. She wouldn’t recognize prepackaged dinners or cereal bars covered in chocolate stripes. Her breakfasts consisted of bacon (from a pig grown in her own back yard), eggs (from chickens strutting around her yard), bread (homemade of course), followed by milk (fresh from the cow in the barn).

Rule #2

This rule doesn’t seem that difficult to follow but it’s been the most eye opening rule of all for me. I’ve always been a label reader but I’ve watched for words like “healthy” or “heart smart” or “low fat” rather than really looking at what is actually in the food. Finding foods with five or less ingredients has been a challenge but there are a lot of foods out there! The more I look, the more I find.

What I’m also finding is how many foods I used to eat that are basically made up of one big science experiment! One that completely shocked me was the ingredient list of a 10 oz. “Supreme Party Pizza.” It contained 96 ingredients. Seriously — 96! We all know what it takes to make a pizza and it sure isn’t 96 ingredients! Of course I couldn’t pronounce most of them but I did notice the “mechanically separated chicken and mechanically separated turkey.” If you aren’t familiar with those terms, it will be an eye opening experience for you when you Google it!

And to think, I used to feed these pizzas to my kids when they were little. To both my daughters: I apologize!!

Rule #3

This one is the easiest rule for me to follow. If I can’t pronounce it, it’s safe to say I don’t know what it is, so I don’t eat it! I’ve also begun researching ingredients that I can technically pronounce but have no idea what they really are and I’ve found several that are quite frightening.

Recently, while shopping for beans to make chili, I was surprised at how many ingredients a simple can of beans has. In my mind, I’m thinking the only ingredient should be “beans,” but that wasn’t the case. One ingredient that caught my attention on so many cans was calcium chloride. It sounded too much like a scientific term to be in a can of beans so I did some research when I got home.  The FDA calls this substance “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS). The FDA also reports that the average person ingests between 160 and 345 mg of calcium chloride each day as an additive in food and “shouldn’t” have a negative health effect. Calcium chloride is also used as a deicing agent in road salts! Ok, I don’t know about you but I’m not comfortable eating something that is “generally regarded as safe.” I want to eat something that IS safe.

Another ingredient that was prominent in many of the beans I looked at was calcium disodium. I found that this is “a preservative for color retention” AND “used medically to detoxify poisoning by lead and other heavy metals. It may cause intestinal upsets, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. It’s on the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic reproductive effects.”

Wow! All I can say is – wow. I don’t have much trust in our FDA system when it comes to protecting the public from chemicals in our food. Sadly, I think they are much more concerned with politics and money than the health of the American public.

Beyond the Three Rules

On top of the three rules, I do not buy meat in the store because of the chemicals and growth hormones pumped into those animals. I worked at a feedlot for several years and I saw how much medicine and hormones were pumped in to the cattle to keep them healthy and make them grow faster. The faster the cattle gain weight, the sooner they can be sold and the sooner the profit is made. Yes, the cattle are tested when they are shipped to packing plants, but I question the amount of residue left in the meat from these hormones and what effect it has on our bodies. We grow our own beef, eat farm fresh eggs which we purchase from a gentleman nearby, and farm fresh chickens which we also purchase locally.

I’ve also chosen to make all our bread from scratch which we have just loved! The ingredient list on a simple loaf of bread might surprise you! I ate Sarah Lee whole wheat bread with 45 calories and I thought I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing to eat “whole grains” and still watch calories. Once I began my REAL food journey and looked at the ingredient list, I knew I wasn’t on the right track at all. The ingredients are:

Water, stone ground whole wheat flour, wheat gluten, cottonseed fiber, yeast, brown sugar, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate,  dough conditioners-mono and diclycerides, ethoxylated mono and diclycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium peroxide –  honey, wheat bran, wheat protein isolate, sulfiting agents, vinegar, natural flavor, soy lecithin, guar gum, sucralose, cornstarch, L-Cysteine, sorbic acid, calcium propionate.

Obviously there are more than five ingredients in this bread, a third grader couldn’t begin to pronounce many of them, and those that I can pronounce sound like they’ve come from a science laboratory. I can honestly say that I will never purchase another loaf of bread from a store again.

On the Positive Side

I’ve found that eating REAL food isn’t as difficult as I had anticipated it to be. It does require some serious label reading and a little bit of planning, but the rewards are worth it in so many ways! I was a little apprehensive about being limited to what I would be able to eat once I started this, but I’ve found that you can tweak nearly everything by swapping out an ingredient here and there. I’ve also found that you can be very creative with what you find in your cupboards and in your fridge. The other day I wanted to make some chicken soup but I was out of fresh chickens and I’m not about to buy one at the store after researching the amount of chemicals and growth hormones those poor chickens eat, so…. I searched through my fridge and found carrots, onions, corn, green beans, and a potato – cooked it in chicken stock and topped it off with homemade dumplings and it was delicious! I didn’t miss having the meat in there one bit! It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to taste good!

For me, it’s all about investing.  Investing in myself and investing in my health. Shouldn’t that be the most important investment of all?

Where do you begin?

The answer to that will depend on where you are right now. It’s easy for people to be overwhelmed at the idea of change and simply throw up their hands and say, “Just forget it – I’ll never be able to do this anyway.” To that I would say: “B-R-E-A-T-H-E” ?

Start small, start slow, and be patient. Let’s start with Andrew’s January Rules:

  • When you eat grains, eat 100% whole grains.
  • Don’t eat high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  • Don’t eat hydrogenated oil, trans fats, or anything deep-fried.

It’s the perfect place to begin! This can be your personal challenge to test yourself, see what works for you and what doesn’t but most importantly to see how your body reacts to cutting out these things in your life and in your diet.

The First Step is to Read Labels

Food companies are out to make a profit and they use marketing strategies and phrases to mislead the consumer into thinking their products are healthy when in fact many times they are not.

When you hear “whole grain” many people think only of bread, but there are other wonderful foods to add to your diet. Maybe add brown rice to your next meal or add some barely to your next soup for a great new taste and texture.

HFCS is used by the food industry because it’s very cheap and it also works as a preservative; therefore it’s the perfect match for their profit margins. From a business standpoint it’s a smart move but as a consumer we need to take responsibility of who we give our money to. It’s not impossible to find food and drink without HFCS, but it is a challenge. Look at the ingredient labels carefully.

Like it or not, things that are deep fried aren’t the best choices for you. They tend to be higher in fat and calories compared to those same foods prepared in other ways such as baking or grilling. I honestly think foods that are baked or grilled taste better! You actually taste the food and not the oil it was fried in.

Put Yourself First

So here you are, ready to take that first leap of faith. Make yourself and your health a priority and decide what you want to do differently. Put yourself first – everything else will be better once you do. Good luck, my friends.

Remember, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”   – John Bingham

Photo by Alicia Griffin.

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