Most of us would like to eat healthier, but have trouble with breaking old habits and starting new ones. Maybe you’ve been eating the typical American diet for so long now, that it seems almost impossible to learn to appreciate the flavors of real food, as opposed to the highly-sugared, salty, processed food that you’re accustomed to. Or maybe, you are currently a pretty healthy eater, but would like to learn a little more to “tweak” your diet. Well, read on, and you will learn how to get the most out of your diet by making the necessary changes to make the transition from unhealthy to healthy foods.
First and foremost, get in the habit of reading labels. Awareness is the key. Becoming aware of the chemistry in your food is one of the first steps to become healthy, and is probably one of the most important of all. When you get into the habit of reading what you are eating, it will make a big difference. Don’t become overly obsessive, just become aware. If you cannot pronounce it, you shouldn’t be eating it. And chances are, if there are more than 6 ingredients, it’s probably a processed food. Your goal should be to eat whole foods that have no other ingredients but themselves. The flavor of whole foods will make such a difference that soon (with consistency) your taste buds won’t want for anything else. You will soon find that any food that has chemicals and preservatives in it will taste medicinal and fake. When shopping in any store, whether it is your local grocery store or a health food store, remember it is best to shop the perimeter (outside aisles) as much as possible. That is where you will find most of the whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, dairy, and so on. The inner aisles, with the pre-packaged foods, will do the most damage to your health.
Refined sugar is a huge health-robber, but one of the easiest to wean yourself from because there are many treats that you can buy at a health food store that are made with “legal” sugars: raw honey, barley malt, fruit juice maple syrup, Sucanat, stevia, Rapidura, raw cane juice, and agave. These sugars have not been put through a process that removes all of the nutrients. They will give you an energy boost, but not so high that you will come crashing down 20-30 minutes later with the awful feeling a “sugar crash” gives you. I know it’s hard to conceive, but if you start to eat more real-food and more earth-centered food, your cravings for sweets of any kind (even the “legal” ones) will decrease tremendously. The best way to start the weaning process is to stop buying refined sugars and sweets and bringing it into the house.
Now, everyone is not going to go for this one, and I am aware of that. But you nay-sayers please still read on, because you are bound to get something out of this section. In years past, there were very few substitutes for meat, but now you can get almost anything you want in any form or flavor that you can imagine, based on turkey, chicken, fish or soy products. These red meat/pork alternatives are so well-seasoned, at times, that you’ll be convinced that you are eating the real thing. Most of the dishes we make with ground beef are really about the seasoning or condiments. If you dress up a veggie burger with goodies like tomato, onion, lettuce (other than iceberg), pickles, ketchup, and mustard, your brain will tell you that you are eating the real thing. For other ground beef dishes like meatloaf or sloppy joe, you can add your “special sauce” and other ingredients to ground turkey or texturized vegetable protein (soy protein crumbles) and fool even your biggest meat eaters. If you are trying to wean yourself and/or your family off beef and pork products and are not ready to become completely vegan, try Shelton Farms turkey and chicken products. They are preservative-free and made from free-range poultry meat. With all of the panic surrounding mad cow disease, it’s good to know that you don’t have to sacrifice your health for flavor anymore.
If you make the commitment to give up dairy products, you will realize how easy it is to make many of you favorite dishes with a milk substitute. You can find healthy milk alternatives that will not only taste good, but will also make you feel better because your nose won’t be stuffy, your throat won’t be phlegmy, and you digestion will be greatly improved. For a milk alternative, I usually recommend Silk Soy Milk by White Wave- this is the Cadillac of all soy milks on the market. Or, if you’re allergic to soy, I recommend Original Enriched Rice Dream by Imagined Foods. Both can be used in cooking and baking, but I recommend you use the unsweetened versions of either one. Also, Earth Balance Margarine is a good butter substitute because it has no hydrogenatated oils. As for cheese, Veggie Slices are great and they come in a variety of flavors (American, Swiss, Provolone, Monterey Jack). The same manufactuer of Veggie Slices brand makes shredded versions of the cheese, too. There are also substitutes for sour cream, cream cheese, and dairy creamer to replace half-and-half. And let’s not forget yogurt. There are soy substitutes for that as well. Going cold turkey may be hard for some, and in that case, you may need to gradually wean yourself off dairy. Gradually decrease the dairy products you use while substituting the alternative version. You will notice that there isn’t much difference, except that you will begin to feel better.
It is my hope that you have learned a lot from this issue, not only about what is written here, but about yourself and the things that you need to work on to gain better health. If it all seems overwhelming, then just start with one thing at a time. You may want to start at the top of the list, and each 2-3 weeks work your way down the list. I recommend at least 3 weeks of consistent work on each topic before moving on to the next, in order to create a habit of change. Before you know it, you will have incorporated 4 important steps into your lifestyle that can do nothing but make YOU a healthier YOU.