Nutrition, Health, Weight Loss, Mental Health, Food News
In Seattle, it’s easy to believe we have reached Spring, as there are flowers and trees blooming, and afternoon temperatures have reached the 50’s and low 60’s. Yes, we feel for you on the East Coast, and then the rest of us are walking around town with big smiles on our faces, taking in the sunshine, riding our bicycles on the roads and trails, or like the Man-Geek did, gliding his SUP (standup paddleboard) on a local lake.
Just about every week of winter, one of the major journals, whether it be Nature, Cell, or Scientific American, has released new information about the consequences of eating processed foods with chemicals, or about the mysteries of the intestinal microbiome, what I call our “second brain.” Heart disease, obesity, and GI disorders are just some of the consequences of eating out or eating in with processed foods and additives, along with lack of exercise, increased stress, and poor sleep/rest patterns.
How are the of spring weather and nutrition related? Simply this: you can’t get out and enjoy the great outdoors unless you take time to get cooking in the kitchen and learn to eat real food. Do one without the other, and you miss the benefit of both. Here’s three reasons why you need to learn how to cook and eat real food at home, and most likely, select your food choices more carefully when you go out to eat.
Time to Get Cooking
Why on earth should you go back to the kitchen when it comes to eating a healthy diet? Don’t restaurants provide enough choices of healthy food and save you time?
1. Naked food is good food. Do you find it strange that some companies have started branding their processed food as “naked” food? All they are trying to do is make you think that their processed food in a bag, box, bottle, or can is that the food is clean because it is naked. Yet flip the item over to read the ingredients, and if any of the ingredients are a chemical, a filler or binder, a preservative, an artificial flavor or color, or something difficult to pronounce, it’s not naked.
Truly naked food is food that is a single ingredient, such as a fresh vegetable, herb, fruit, nuts, or a meat or poultry item. That’s it. If it is processed, a clean food typically has three ingredients or less, and has an expiration date because there is no preservative added to it. If your pantry is full of foods that have a long shelf life, take a moment to understand what that really means. What is keeping that food edible?
Your body knows what to do with truly naked food. It breaks it down in the stomach, empties into the small intestine, and absorbs that food through the intestinal lining for distribution. When you eat primarily naked food with a good dose of fiber, your body responds with regular and efficient bowel movements (unless there is disease or illness).
There are special foods made when the body has difficulties from illness, disease, or injury that prevents it from doing its job. Some of these prepared foods are better than others. However, other than those particular times, our bodies were meant to eat real, whole foods.
2. Food cooked at home is more affordable. Calorie for calorie, food cooked at home is more affordable. The ingredients you start with are the ones you are paying for. Your time and labor are unpaid. You don’t tip yourself. You set the portion, and you eat what you need.
Here, I assume that cooking at home is not simple reheating of pre-made food that comes in a box. Cooking at home means you start with natural, naked ingredients, and you combine them in ways to create a balanced meal containing complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat.
If you are clever about how you cook, you can always do bulk cooking, and cook for several days or several weeks at a time, freezing and canning what you can’t eat immediately. This is a much less expensive way to eat nutritious food and keep unhealthy (and expensive) grazing at a minimum. For larger families with picky eaters, it may help to create “build-a-meals” starting with a simple protein that can be combined with a number of ingredients you keep your kitchen stocked with so that at any given meal time, you can create plates du jour for each family member without losing your mind.
It may help to know how you pay for every food item twice: once at the supermarket or at the restaurant, and then later if the food you purchase is of low quality or is full of unnatural ingredients. Much of the time, the cost is seen at the doctor’s office, in the bedroom in the form of poor sleep, and relationally when people are crabby, sluggish and sleepy, or experiencing anxious and depressed moods related to poor eating habits.
If you find yourself asking, “How can I afford to eat well by buying good food to cook at home?” you should also ask yourself, “How can I afford not to?” If you ask yourself, “Why shouldn’t I go out to eat cheap fast food when I’m so busy and don’t have time to cook?” you should also ask yourself, “Can I afford to pay for increased medical bills and more days off from feeling sick and tired?”
Remember, cheap food and take out foods have costs that go beyond the check out counter and the drive-thru window. You need to think beyond Tagamet, TUMS, Milk of Magnesia, and Imodium, and break away from a pill-popping food consumer culture.
3. Food you mindfully cooked is mindfully consumed. Lately, I’ve been making my own gluten-free beef jerky at home using a recipe from ComfyBelly.com. By doing so, I avoid corn, soy, and gluten, three items that make me seriously ill. While I have Celiac Disease, I’ve noticed that my clean eating routine could benefit almost anyone else, although I would add in quinoa, nut butters, seeds, and a variety of healthy sources of dietary fat which I am unable to eat.
I noticed that when I take the time to make my own foods, I become very mindful of every ingredient used, the care in which I take to make the food taste good, and the effort it takes to make this food good enough to share with others. I get a real thrill about not only creating great food that serves my purposes of going long on bike rides for triathlon training, but that put a big smile on people’s faces as they say, “Wow, you made this?” or “This tastes better than packaged jerky.”
Cooking becomes a meditative and mindful process, putting us back in connection with the people who made the ingredients, the stores from which we purchase them (or the garden in which we grow them), and the environment that makes it all possible. When you are connected to your food in this way, you are less likely to waste food, eat more than you need, or use food as entertainment or distraction.
Food you mindfully cook is food you mindfully consume. For those of you who struggle with emotional overeating, a few lessons in the kitchen with an experienced nutrition or healthy food expert can help you change your relationship to food through the mindful process of mindful cooking. You may notice how you only eat what you need when you take the time to cook it yourself.
My Story: The Snappy Dragon II Comes Alive
I recently purchased a new bicycle. It’s a triathlon bike designed for long-endurance races. One of the first accessories I purchased for it was a Speedfil, a triangle-shaped plastic bottle that holds a large amount of water connected to a tube to sip the water while riding; the second accessory I bought was a strap-on fabric bento box to hold enough real food, dried and condensed, so that I can eat real food instead of race gels. Race gels, while powerful, can sometimes turn athlete’s stomachs inside out (again, look at the ingredients!). And as many of us learn the hard way, a bad stomach day usually means a poor race performance, or even a DNF (Did Not Finish). Many a racer knows what it’s like to feel your stomach fall apart, and despite the will to keep moving, s/he is reduced to a grimacing, moaning walker. I’ve eaten seen a few athletes vomiting by the side of road (although vomiting can be caused by dehydration as well, especially in hot, dry weather).
I’ve learned the importance of eating real, nutritious food, from start to finish of a race. For my size, you would not believe how much I have to eat! Yet when you look at the power that is generated to complete an endurance course, you’ll understand why I would rather eat real foods that are easily digestible than processed race foods, with the exception of Honey Stingers gels and gummies, which are gluten free, and corn/dairy/soy free, in the final run event of a race.
While every athlete is different, we all agree that the least amount of additives, preservatives, and cheap sources of carbs and sugars, the better for the majority of people who consume them.
Don’t be surprised if a Chinese girl comes whizzing by on a Cervelo, chomping on a concoction of sweet potatoes, bacon bits, and maple syrup from a baggie!
Is it time for you to return to the kitchen and get cooking?
What barriers do you face in eating in healthy, and learning to make more intelligent choices when you go out to eat (like asking what kinds of oils are used to prepare your food)?
How can you get everyone in your household motivated to make nutrition a primary focus of health?
Let us know how we can help you! While neither of us here at Seattle Direct Counseling are nutritionists, we can direct you to one, and we can give general resources to point you in the right direction. Many of my clients are already inquiring on how they can improve their health through proper eating. We welcome you to ask questions.
Now, let’s get cooking!