Start Here: Just the Basics!

First off, I want to start with the disclaimer that I have written this article for the average-healthy person, not for those with diagnosed or undiagnosed health issues. However, if you do have a health issue, you may want to read this and see if you are in need of some changes. It doesn’t help to try to cure one issue if you aren’t doing things to support your body in every way you can.  Supporting your body as a whole is the goal.

This is not a research backed article. There are countless books written, supported by current research, but come to conflicting conclusions. My goal is to try to guide you through some basics and help direct you in areas where you may want to do more research. Your health is in your hands, I am just here to provide information and support where I can.

Are you new to eating and living healthy?

Have you just started and already feel overwhelmed?

Are you confused about all the conflicting information, or you just don’t know where to start?

You have come to the right place, this is the place to start.

My goal for you is to transition to a healthier lifestyle that will establish a baseline for health. Then you can have the strength and vitality to work on your life’s goals or primary mission.

 The Baseline: Eating Healthy

The simplest way for me to explain how to eat healthy is to say:

“Eat as close to the tree as possible”.

This means, if you are going to eat an apple, eat the apple, and not the apple bran muffin. Although an occasional apple bran muffin isn’t so bad, the apple will provide wonderful nutrients, fiber and satisfaction, but there will be very few nutrients from the apple in the muffin.

Another example is orange juice. Many people think they are getting lots of vitamin C from a glass of store-bought orange juice. Next time you pick up a bottle, read the label and see how many grams of sugar there are in your orange juice, then pick up a can of any soft drink and compare them; they are about the same! You are getting as much sugar from your orange juice as you are from a soda! If you want orange juice, buy a couple oranges, cut them in half and squeeze them into a glass. Now you know you have fresh orange juice, without additives, and it tastes amazing! Better yet, eat the orange, then you’ll get the fiber, too.

These are just a simple examples of what I mean by “eat as close to the tree as possible”. Another thing some people say is “just eat real food!”. So what is “real food”? This is the question I want you to think about when you are choosing food to feed your body and perhaps your family.

You have heard that “processed food” is bad for you. Do you understand why? I could throw out terms like rancid oils and bleached, pulverized flour, but I want you to understand the ideas behind it, so you can be confident in your food choices and why you make them. Even if you choose to eat a store bought chocolate chip cookie.

Food Choices

As I said, I want you to feel confident in your food choices, and know why you are making them. The confusion comes when ten different “health experts” cite scientific studies that support their health theory, but these studies seem to be in direct conflict with each other. That is because there is no one “right” way to eat. Our bodies are made to be adaptable, and they can eat just about anything to keep us from starving. However, just because we can eat it, doesn’t mean our bodies need it. Our bodies also need balance, and keeping them out of balance will cause problems.

Your body has a unique history and environment. Taking a study with subjects that are in college, or have a specific illness does not easily translate to your body. So when that 25 year old athletic male tells you what works for him, that really has nothing to do with what works for you. Your body, your history, your weaknesses are all unique to you.

If you find someone that seems to have similar issues in their lives and has resolved them, they may be good to learn from. Just remember, though, it is still your body, so listen to it.

Having said that, I can make some general statements regarding foods and what types of foods may serve you better than others.

Foods that work for most people:

The following is some categories of foods that have worked for most of the human race for centuries, and should be of benefit to you, (unless you have digestive issues, then you can read some of my articles on gut health). Some of this may be considered a “gold standard” or what you should aim for. Think of all of these coming in a scale from where you are to where you may want to be, and your goal is to move up the spectrum toward the goal.

Also remember, the big difference in many of these foods are quality over convenience and price. Cheap and easy food has been the detriment of our health for the past 50 – 100 years; please don’t do more of the same!

The following I would consider a Gold Standard of foods:

Vegetables of all kinds, in their natural form, especially organic and in season, even better—locally grown.

Berries and fruits in their natural state, especially if they are in season.

Starchy Vegetables: Sweet potatoes and white potatoes (as well as the less known taro root and others) have been banned as “carbs” in many circles.  If you choose not to eat them, fine, but know by themselves they are low in caloric density and high in fiber and nutrients.  The longest lived people groups on the planet eat diets full of these vegetables without suffering many of the diseases common in our country today.

Beans, grains and legumes as close to their natural form as possible.  Most of these items need to be soaked in water for a time to remove the anti-nutrients, but these are overall very healthy food choices, as long as they are in their natural state.  Once they are ground into fine powders, they become higher in caloric density and may not be great for maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, they are usually added to processed foods that aren’t beneficial to our health.

Herbs and spices, preferably organic and have not been sitting on your shelf for years! (I throw mine out after a year or two.)

The following foods have been eaten throughout history, but are higher in caloric density, so you may want to consider that if you are trying to lose weight.  

Dairy products from healthy animals, organic, from grass fed-cows, is best here, and even better if they are fermented or aged (kefir or aged natural cheeses). 

Meats from healthy animals, preferably grass fed without extra processing (such as bacon or sausage).

Eggs from healthy chickens (or ducks).

Oils from sources you recognize, fresh and as unprocessed as possible. Butter and cold pressed oils such as olive, coconut and sesame are good examples. Unfortunately, these oils are usually added to processed foods that aren’t beneficial to our overall health.

Limited natural sweeteners, such as dates and maple syrup, in limited amounts.

If you think about it, these foods are mostly the ones you find on the outer aisles of your grocery store. In fact, that is one of the first health tips I can give you:

Tip: Shop on the outer aisles of the grocery store.

Here is where your buying decisions come in, do you know where your food comes from? How close do your foods come to their original form? Are all your grains processed into breads and flours? Are your fruits made into jellies? Is your milk homogenized and pasteurized and “fortified” (with vitamin D and calcium added)?

Or do you know your farmer, where you get your eggs? Or do you ferment your milk to make kefir or yogurt? Do you buy aged cheeses, or do you get the plastic coated slices? Wherever you are, you get to decide where you want to improve, with the knowledge that you also need balance and creativity to do well in this life.

Foods that cause problems to most bodies:

Foods that are processed usually have questionable ingredients, and the benefits they have are usually stripped out. The other problem is what they put back in. In our culture of “better living through chemistry”, the chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors, and the questionable processing techniques should really cause us to rethink whether we should be eating those foods or not. That is without even talking about genetic modification of seeds. Basically, the safe rule is to avoid those boxed and packaged foods as much as possible.

Common foods that fall into the category are packaged cookies, pizzas, crackers, breads, microwave dinners and even many boxed grains.

Processed oils fall into this category, as well. Did you know that “vegetable” oil comes from soybeans? Since when is a soybean considered a vegetable! Canola stands for Canadian oil, which was designed to be another WD-40. When people ask me if canola oil is better than soy oil, I squirm! Even so, it is often in the “organic” processed foods in Whole Foods.

Tips for change:

When you are looking to change something in your diet, and you don’t think you can make a huge change at once, just take it one step back in the processing. For example, if you eat microwaved oatmeal, it is not that hard to buy Old Fashioned oats and cook them, and you will be surprised at how quickly they cook. The extra work added from stirring the oats, and washing the pan you can chalk up to extra workout for your arms. Once you find the step easy enough, you can select steel cut oats, which you need to soak overnight and take longer to cook, but add extra chewing and a better workout for your jaw. It is one step closer to the original state of the oats, which is oat groats. Oat groats are harder to find, (check, so if you don’t feel you are ready for those yet, at least you have worked in that direction.

If you choose small things and get used to them, then work on another one and another one, soon you will find you are making healthy choices without thinking twice. It will also have been a journey where you have learned what works best for you.

“But healthy food is expensive!”

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Fortunately, the costs are coming down, but do what works within your budget. Then consider for a minute how expensive a trip to the hospital can be. If you can avoid even one trip to the hospital, you have saved enough money to eat organic vegetables for years!

Once you start eliminating the chips, cookies, crackers, pasta and questionable cereal, you can afford to buy organic vegetables, fruits, berries, and grains. You can upgrade your meat and dairy as you see the benefits. Grassfed beef is getting more available at many grocery stores. Organic-milk and milk products are becoming cost effective and more available, as Aldi and Walmart are catering to the demand of the consumers.

“But what do I make?”

My suggestion would be to keep it simple. Here are some simple ideas where you can start:

  • Add in the vegetables. Steamed broccoli (even if not organic, local, or in season) is an easy addition to any dinner. Add real butter and salt to make even the kids love it, and you won’t have much push back. Gradually, expand to other familiar vegetables that many people can learn to love.
  • Replace pastas and bread with whole grains such as rice, and experiment with quinoa. 
  • Eliminate sodas. You can start by trading out the soda for a stevia sweetened soda, such as Zevia. Then you can work on things such as lemon and water, sweetened with stevia. Some people love simple water with fruit or cucumber slices added.
  • Experiment with new recipes. Search in Paleo or Vegan cookbooks for new, fun recipes. Both of these “diet” approaches stress the quality of the ingredients, and have great recipe ideas.   Have fun trying out new recipe ideas.

This is just an overview with ideas to get you started.

Most people have many detailed questions on how to proceed, and some know what to do, but need motivation. My suggestion would be to find a partner who wants to go on the same journey, and hold each other accountable.

If you don’t feel you know anyone like that, or need more specific ideas of what can fit into your life, you can work with me. You can have a free one hour strategy session with me where I can direct you on a path specific to you. If that isn’t enough, and you want to work with me as a health coach, my rates are on my site. I would love to work with you, because I love to share the results of my years of research and work on myself. I truly believe you can have health at any age!

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To your health!

Patti Bealer
Certified Health Coach
Institute for Integrative Nutrition