I get so frustrated when I go into a grocery store. Not because of the crazy grocery cart drivers who fail to yield, or drive on the wrong side of the aisle. It is because I spend most of my time standing over the cart reading ingredient lists. I am just trying to figure out what it is I might be feeding my family. Is it really food?
It is scary to see some of the additives and preservatives that go into our food these days. I dare you to actually look up a few of the ingredients you can’t pronounce. Our Western diet has been criticized for many years now for being one of the worst on the planet and our obesity rates and health care issues seem to prove the point. Food has become too complex at the same time that eating has become too easy. This is backwards from what it was 60 years ago. Then we had simple foods that took effort to store and prepare. Now we have foods with way too many ingredients that can be ready to eat in under five minutes.
One of the best books I have ever read, (other than “The Monster at the end of this Book”) is a very short book on nutrition; it is called Food Rules by Michael Pollan. I like this book so much because it gets to the point very quickly and has taken the complexity out of our meal planning. Even my kids can follow it.
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Food Rules does not have chapters but simply a series of 64 rules that will help guide you to a healthier diet for you and your family. Of course you are not expected to follow all 64 rules, but even following a half dozen or so of these rules will improve your diet substantially.
Here are a few of the rules that our family follows. Rule #2 — Don’t eat anything your grandmother would not recognize. Rule #6 — Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients. Rule #7 — Avoid food products that contain ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce. Rule #12 — Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. Rule #13 — Eat only foods that will eventually rot. Rule #22 — Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Rule # 27 — Eat animals that have themselves eaten well. Rule #36 — Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the milk. And of course my wife’s favourite is rule #43 — Have a glass of wine at dinner.
One of my favourite sayings now is one I picked up from Pollan. We have too many “edible food-like substances” in our meals today and not enough real foods. Most of our food industry today is, of course, all about making a profit. Big business needs a longer shelf life so the food will last longer without spoiling. These edible food-like substances last longer because they are highly processed and full of preservatives and additives. Well, I say, if the food is not good enough for the bacteria, it’s not good enough for my family.
I have a son who was diagnosed years ago with ADHD and we have experimented for years with diet. I have seen quite a few dietary issues that affect his behaviour. First off, get rid of the junk food. Eat real food! In general, we now try to reduce the intake of trans-fatty acids, sugar (especially fake sugars), artificial dyes, preservatives and MSG. At the same time we want to increase the intake of essential fatty acids and protein. We also need to ensure we are ingesting enough iron, fibre, water and vitamins.
A simple rule that we follow is to have at least five colours at every meal. The kids started picking which vegetables they want to make up the five colours. All of the meat that we eat is all natural, grass fed. “All-Natural” refers to what is not in the meat. The “Grass-Fed” refers to what is still in the meat.
Basically, we are back to eating whole foods and eliminating the processed foods. Pretty simple on paper but much harder to do in our fast-food, complex lifestyles that many of us live in today. I believe quite strongly that our diet has a major impact on our immune systems. If we want to be able to stay healthy, we need to eat healthy.
I still find it funny when people argue that their kids need to wear a sweater so they don’t catch a cold. Catching a cold has very little to do with being cold. I would strongly recommend that if you don’t want your kids to catch a cold, improve their diets and let them get plenty of sleep. Those two parental choices will do far more for their immune systems than a sweater ever will. Watch after any holiday season for the number of colds that our children get these days. Every holiday now seems to demand a bucket load of candy, which is detrimental to the immune system. The old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not just an old saying. The levels of antioxidants in an apple are through the roof.
Another change we have made is that we no longer take multi-vitamins. It is incredible the amount of additives and dyes and sweeteners that go into some vitamin pills. We have something better; as well as eating healthy and getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, we harvest our own stinging nettle. It is a “weed” in our pastures that has more vitamins and minerals than spinach. It is dried, crushed and bagged so it can be used in meals anytime by just sprinkling it in like a spice. The kids don’t even know it is there. It also makes a fantastic tea. Stinging nettle tea is quite flavourful on its own, or try it with a bit of honey or agave nectar as a sweetener. It is a multivitamin in a cup. Cool it off and it makes a great iced tea as well.
I am not a scientist; I am simply a concerned parent who wants to look out for the health of my children. I have been seeking nutritional knowledge for quite a few years now and as I have said before, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. I have only seen the tip of the iceburg. There is a lot more to learn.