Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding Balance : Tips for Cleaner Eating

Organic food we grew last year
A farm we like to visit in Massachusetts

A meal from food we grew

A 2.5 acre rooftop farm by our home in Brooklyn, New York. - "Brooklyn Grange"

 Farmhouse my mother-in-law was raised in
 My in-laws' old family barn and farmland
 My grandmother-in-law's old horse stables 
My daughter picking our Brooklyn-grown window tomatoes

 Our first family garden last year at my husband's childhood home
Our friends DH & Caylin's garden in Athens, Georgia last summer

  Our family goal in eating cleaner is health, energy, vitality, and prevention of illness or inflammation, as well as curbing our environmental impact and carbon emissions, while connecting more deeply with the Earth.  As mentioned in my previous post, I've never been on a "diet," and I have a few guidelines for the way I eat and feed my family.  My goal has never been weight loss, yet it has been a nice side effect of eating cleaner.  As about 75% of the human immune system lies in the gut (digestive tract) we aim to keep these organs clean and flowing smoothly.  Human food choices also effect the environmental health of the planet immensely and we try to remember this as we decide what to eat and where to get it.  Understanding the origins of what we consume helps us to make informed decisions.   I am by no means a nutrition expert, I just try to be conscious of what I ingest and how it may effect my health.  On my family's side there is a history of diabetes, cancer, anemia, heart problems, and ALS; while my husband's side has stroke and heart problems, so we aim to understand these diseases and learn preventative measures against them.

  While we eat a mainly plant-based diet + fish and eggs, we don't exclusively put ourselves in any specific category like vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, paleo, raw foodist, or gluten-free, but I pull and create recipes from each of these paths as I find benefits in all of them.  Keeping an open mind to the plethora of changing diets and scientific research, helps us to grow in knowledge and understanding of human health and how food effects us.  I hold a holistic view that everything I put into and on-to my body effects my cells and the environment in some way, although the impacts may not be noticed for many years.

  We have found these guidelines to be helpful for our family health and so far (5 years) they have kept us out of hospitals and off of antibiotics: 

1.  Eat lots of natural color ~ Count colors not calories
The more varied colors of vegetables and fruits eaten, the more different nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and benefits you receive. Avoid food coloring, as it contains chemicals and can worsen allergies and behavioral issues.

2.  We don't order anything from children's menus. 
Offering kids more whole food and fresher options from a young age may help them to start off on a healthier foot or at least to understand what is going into their bodies so that they can make educated decisions later. Our 5 year old daughter has always eaten whatever we eat, we don't cook or buy special "kid food" for her. She eats our menu and eats out with adults often.  This has helped her to have a broad palate since she began eating solid foods, and a desire for varied foods from many cultures, as her tastebuds adapt to and explore the variety of flavors in the world of food.  Her favorites are sushi (she only likes raw fish now), Indian, and Thai. Most kids' menus at restaurants contain the same things. I know that many kids like these foods and that they are easy and convenient, but they have very little nutrient value and contain lots of refined, bleached white flour / sugar, chemical preservatives, food coloring, meat bi-products, and are often fried at high temperatures which can cause inflammation and high cholesterol. Kids can only eat what adults keep in stock, which gives me motivation to stock our home with healthy food for all of us. 

3.  Raw fruits, veggies, herbs & spices heal.
They work as well, if not better, than medicine. I've seen that strong, raw juice can help knock out the onset of an illness which just goes to show how much healing & preventative power is in raw food.  Prevent illness and increase energy with the foods you eat and avoid eating. Food can heal or hurt our immune systems.

4. Take probiotics and drink lots of water.
Probiotics (in pill form or in yogurt/kefir) help to maintain the natural balance of organisms- microflora- in the intestines that make digestion go smoothly.  Basically they are "good bacteria" that help to rid the intestines of "bad bacteria" which can come from too much sugar.  Drink water all day to cleanse toxins and keep the digestive tract hydrated for easy elimination of waste.  Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body, inside and out- your skin will thank you too! 

5.  I don't cut anything out completely (except soda- which I did in 2000)
because I've found that deprivation can lead to binge eating and cause cravings to spike if trying to cut things out cold turkey.  My only exception is if we are sick- we totally cut out white, refined sugars, wheat flour (gluten), dairy and fried food as they can cause inflammation and weaken the immune system.  I try to keep our daily intake of these items rather low and monitor this by balancing with plenty of whole, nutrient-rich foods.

6.  Replace white, bleached, processed, refined sugar & wheat flour with whole grain or wheat-free  flour like coconut flour, barley, amaranth, quinoa, brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, teff, oat meal, almond meal, non-gmo corn meal, or millet flour.  These flours or cereals were once staples in our ancestors' diets and held much more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fiber than modern processed wheat, soy or corn which is often genetically modified and used as filler in so many packaged products. We are not gluten-intolerant / celiac but we find that our guts bloat less when we decrease our gluten intake.  Also having at least one meal a day containing no grains at all is a good way to balance the immune system. I replace refined sugar with raw honey, pure maple syrup & dates, as they have some nutritional benefits, while sugar actually depletes the body's nutrients.  Most sugar used to be derived from sugar cane plants, but is now mostly processed from sugar beets which are very often genetically modified. 

7.  Variety and balance are key. 
Eating a wide variety of foods from various cultures with many spices and herbs helps keep metabolism rates up by switching it up and not allowing the body to get too used to one type of food.  Not getting stuck in a food rut and trying new things, keeps the digestive tract running smoothly and tastebuds excited! 

8. When buying packaged, processed foods ALWAYS READ LABELS
We try to keep these to a minimum as they often contain far too many chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, coloring, and hidden fillers or man-made ingredients that just aren't natural and have not been proven safe for long-term health.  If we do buy packaged foods, we make sure that they have the least amount of ingredients possible and that we know the origin and can pronounce each word on the labels.

9. Avoid genetically modified / genetically engineered food (GMO, GM, GE) if possible. 
Look for NON-GMO labelled products, if you eat packaged foods at all. Genetically Modified Organisms are products that have been engineered in a lab by scientists by changing natural DNA and injecting chemicals, herbicides and pesticides to make food last longer, grow faster, fight weeds, and breed new varieties.  This hasn't been proven completely safe for long-term health and may be harming biodiversity, animals, plants and the environment as well as farmers' livelihoods.  There are bans against it in many countries and some US states, as more people are now fighting to have laws passed to end it and for mandatory GMO labeling on products. Many still debate GMO safety, but I'd just rather decrease their levels in my body. To learn more:

10. Eat Local
As much as possible, within budget, we try to support local, organic farms, shops and eateries that use locally sourced, in-season products.  This makes a difference in our local and global economy and environment, and helps support the hard-working farmers who make a living by providing us with fresh, sustainable, whole, real food.  Food is fresher when grown nearby, or by you!  I worked on an organic, hydroponic farm in Florida for a bit and my husband worked on an apple orchard in Massachusetts years ago, which is where we had our wedding. We make a point of visiting farms and gardens often and grow our own food as well. My husband comes from a family line of farmers and Native Americans, so connection to the native land in Northeast USA is important to us and we hope to pass this appreciation along to our daughter.
Rooftop garden at Rosemary's restaurant in New York City
(Thank you stranger for photographing us:)

(All photos taken by me. Please do not use without permission. ~Tina Picz-Devoe)

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