Over the last several years I have been on a quest to learn more about what is in the foods I eat. I knew the processed foods I was eating like frozen pizzas, potato chips, and sodas were not healthy but I had no idea just how bad they were for me. That led me on a hunt to discover the truth behind what I was consuming. Not only did my findings cause me to start eating healthier, but they completely changed the way I thought about food. Now, I should share a disclaimer, that I do not always eat healthy. My biggest weakness is ice cream! Oh, man, my love for that frozen creaminess runs deep! But…as I became more aware of the food industry and pesticides and other harmful ingredients, I knew I needed to “clean” up my act. So, let’s spend some time discussing what exactly “clean eating” means.
Here is a relatively good definition:
“Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food’s pathway between its origin and your plate. At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible.”
You would not classify clean eating as a diet. I do not restrict any food groups and have always been a little leery of diets that ask you to not consume whole entire groups of food. Now, I do not agree at all with the current setup of our food pyramid, but that is a topic for another day. Clean eating is simply focusing on whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed meat. Basically, if you can envision the outer section of your typical grocery store, that is where the whole foods are located. As soon as you start meandering into those inner aisles, you will find the items becoming more processed with an increasing number of ingredients.
Let me share with you what I look for when I go grocery shopping.
Fruits and Vegetables– I try to buy organic when possible, but it is not always feasible. There are two lists you can go by to help you with this. One is called the Clean 15 and the other is the Dirty Dozen. The first list shares the fruits and veggies that have the least amount of pesticides. You can get by without buying organic on that list if you are trying to save money. The Dirty Dozen list includes the fruits and veggies with the most pesticide residue and are the ones you should aim to buy organic. The lists are below.
Clean 15 List
• sweet corn
• sweet peas
• kiwi fruit
• sweet potatoes
• sweet onions
Dirty Dozen List
• domestic blueberries
• sweet bell peppers
• spinach, kale and collard greens
• imported grapes
Before we go any further, let’s delve into the whole pesticide, GMO business. Now, in my opinion something being genetically modified (GMO) is not necessarily a bad thing. My problem with GMOs are the reasons why many of them are modified. GMO corn, for example, is modified so it resists dying from all the pesticides sprayed on them. The weeds and insects all around the crops will die, but the corn stands strong. I, then, as the consumer eat the corn that has pesticide residues. On top of this problem, the weeds and insects are becoming more and more resistant to the pesticides, so the amount sprayed has increased. Washing your fruits and vegetables before eating them does not guarantee all the pesticides have been removed. Take the strawberry, for instance. It is on the Dirty Dozen list. Pesticides can leech into the berry itself, making them virtually impossible to remove.
How are pesticides harmful for us? Your body stores the toxins in the colon. Your body is unable to efficiently get rid of them, so through the years the toxins keep accumulating. Pesticides have been linked to cancer, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, birth defects, and many other medical issues. My journey to find out what was in my food actually began when my husband and I were struggling with infertility and I had found links to pesticides and infertility. That is when we started looking at food differently.
I do want to be clear, though, that just because you buy organic does not mean your food has no pesticides on them. Organic farmers are able to use certain pesticides that are deemed safer. I actually prefer to buy from local farmer’s markets. You are generally going to have less pesticides from these farmers because they are growing on a smaller scale.
I try to buy only organic meat that has been grass-fed with no antibiotics or hormones. This also can be quite pricey, but to me, it is the most important. If the meat you buy was fed GMO feed, then you have the same problem as I described before, so that is why you want them be grass-fed or on an organic feed. I also care about how the animals were raised and I am not meaning I am some big PETA person. I just feel better knowing that the meat I eat is from an animal that was raised with care not in mass production all squished together in a small area. I am not one to push documentaries because they generally are very one-sided and have a specific agenda, but Food Inc. was very eye opening. It shows actual ways animals are being raised for our food and it is disturbing. Even buying eggs that say “cage free” does not necessarily mean the chickens had some great life. When I eat my steak, I want to picture this happy cow grazing in a pasture being enjoying his life. 🙂 Another way to make sure you are getting organic meat is to hunt. My husband brings home deer, rabbit, pheasant, dove, and duck. If you eat at our house, you never know what you are going to be served. haha…He is also a wonderful fisherman. It doesn’t get more organic than shooting it on your property and butchering it yourself.
The best milk you could consume would be raw milk. That makes most people turn up their noses, but that is how milk was drank for centuries until pasteurization was invented to keep up with the rising population in the cities. Raw milk has many health benefits, that I won’t describe in this particular post. Ridiculously, in some states raw milk is banned and in most states it cannot be sold in stores. So, if you live in a state that allows raw milk, you generally have to seek out a local dairy farmer to get it. Again, you want to make sure the farmer is not using antibiotics or hormones and that the cows are allowed to graze or have access to non-GMO feed. For butter, I also buy grass-fed. Kerrygold is a great brand!
I think this is the hardest group to eat organic. I have tried “organic” breads and they taste like cardboard. For flour I buy King Arthur’s brand. You want to get something that is organic so the wheat hasn’t been sprayed and you want unbleached so there are no added chemicals. For pasta there are now some organic brands available or you can purchase semolina, which tastes just like normal spaghetti noodles.
Now, let’s get to the challenge portion of this post. One thing I have found very helpful is the 5 ingredient rule. That means when I look at an item I might purchase, I flip to the ingredient list. If it has 5 ingredients or less, then I will consider buying it. Have you looked at any ingredient labels lately? Look at the number of ingredients for this cereal.
Not only does it have more than 5 ingredients, some of them are hard to pronounce. That is the other part of the 5 ingredient rule. You have to be able to pronounce those 5 ingredients. Those long words that are hard to pronounce are not always good for you to be consuming either. Many of them are additives and preservatives to make the food last longer. You want your food to be able to spoil! That is a good sign!
My challenge to you is this: The next time you go to the grocery store be mindful of ingredient lists. Only buy items that have 5 or less ingredients you can pronounce. Shop those outer walls and don’t let the inner aisles lure you in to their grasp. Yes, there are plenty of organic options within the confines of the inner aisles, but keep in mind organic does not always mean healthy. Organic chips, though better than normal chips, are still chips! Leave me a comment if you plan to try this challenge and if you complete it. I want to know how it went and will offer encouragement as needed. Join me in “cleaning” up your diet. It is so very important!