Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Small Changes for Healthier Eating Habits

After yesterday's mention of Dan's raw food detox, some of you have asked me to write more about our eating habits. In this post, I'm going to highlight the areas of our diet which we've benefited from changing. This is not a comprehensive guide to eating properly; I'm not a nutritionist. It's just a list of common sense principles to help you choose nutritionally valuable food. 

I'll begin with a bit of background information.  I grew up learning about the importance of nutritious food. My mother was actively involved in ensuring that we ate healthily.  We had occasional treats, but they were rare and we learned to appreciate quality food: whole grains, lentils, beans, natural sweetening like honey and maple syrup, homemade baked goods, and meals that included plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  My foodie memories include driving for what seemed like hours into the hills of upstate New York to collect stoneground flour, and the UPS arriving with boxes of organic sourdough multi-grain bread on special order from a bakery my mom had found in Massachusetts.  My grandmother was a vegetarian who completely eschewed sugar. When I was growing up, I had always assumed this was for health reasons, but later I discovered that she had originally stopped buying and/or eating anything with sugar because of ethical concerns with sugar plantations and processing methods.

I ate fairly "normally" as an older teenager, munching on fast food with friends and snacking on sweets I hadn't eaten growing up. Eating more nutritiously only began to appeal to me when I was pregnant with The Boys, ten years ago. By most standards, we would have already been classed as healthy eaters. Thanks to my crunchy whole-foods background, however, I knew we'd barely seen the tip of the iceberg, with our multi-grain bread and brown rice.  To start, we began to choose organic food.  Initially with dairy products, moving on to fruits and vegetables, then store-cupboard items, there was no going back to conventional after becoming accustomed to the taste of organically grown food.  As the quality of the food we ate improved, what we were eating also began to change.

The following paragraphs detail seven small changes for eating healthier.  They're easy to implement, and once you've maintained these changes for a while, it will be difficult to go back.

We eat a lot of rice.  Many of our meals are one-pot wonders that benefit from the addition of rice.  Instead of white rice, eat the wholegrain version.  We prefer brown basmati, which has a lovely flavour and requires less cooking time than standard long-grain brown rice.  For baking, use brown rice flour; for snacks, opt for whole-grain rice cakes.  We also eat steamed quinoa often in place of couscous and sometimes as a substitute for rice.

We limit our pasta-based meals to once or less per week.  Instead of white pasta, we eat wholegrain versions.  Wholemeal spelt spaghetti and brown rice fusilli are our favourites.  We have no wheat or gluten intolerances in our family, but we prefer to include a variety of grains other than wheat for a more balanced diet.

When The Boys were three, I stopped buying bread.  It was lovely bread, too; multi-grain organic loaves in perfect slices that were beautifully crisp after toasting.  Why?  Because it was becoming such a large part of our diet that balance was lacking.  We were capable of going through an entire loaf in a day.  My sister Emily was living with us then, so maybe she was eating most of it.  In any case, it was just too much yeast and wheat.  Instead of bread, I began to buy wholegrain organic oatcakes, and rice cakes.  We use these for sandwich making at lunchtime.  Every once in a while, usually when guests are round for a soup-based meal, I will serve a loaf of "normal" yeast-based bread, and the way it is inhaled like cake convinces me that we do not need to ever have a "bread habit" again.  For Saturday morning breakfast, we have organic sourdough 100% rye toast, made from a locally-produced bread. Best healthy habit advice for bread: eat rarely! It's certainly filling, but doesn't provide the nutrients that the same amount of calories in fresh fruit, nuts, and vegetables would.  

Snacks and Sweets
-Instead of daily individual bags of crisps, shop-bought packets of biscuits [cookies], and other processed snacks, we eat fresh fruit for snacks.  Fruit gives the kids the burst of energy they need to get through the afternoon, and contains vitamins that are invaluable for maintaining strong immune systems.  Sometimes, if friends are visiting, we'll have home-made cookies or muffins. During our routine Sunday evening open house, I relax the snacks rule and both crisps and biscuits will be consumed in great quantities by all. The kids are not included in this, as they've usually gone off to bed. However, they do enjoy their Sunday morning biscuits after our weekly church meeting, and we have plenty of home-baked treats to make up for their lack of processed food consumption.
-I love to bake, and over the years I've learned to increase the nutritional quality of my baked goods by using wholemeal spelt flour and brown rice flour in place of white flour.  I use rapadura, molasses, maple syrup, and honey instead of overly processed white sugar; and cold-pressed coconut or olive oil plus small amounts of butter, in place of margarine [hydrogenated fats] or vegetable oils [which routinely undergo deodorisation to remove the rancid taste that develops because of being heat-processed].  Extra ingredients like freshly ground linseed [flaxseed], chia seeds, mashed bananas, grated courgettes/carrots/beetroot, ground almonds, chopped nuts, and dried fruit add nutritional value to our homemade baked goods.  Less is more; I do baking only once a week unless birthdays or other special occasions are taking place.
-Some cakes I make include chocolate Guinness cake, chocolate fudge cake, and baked cheesecake.  For these recipes, I choose organic ingredients, even if the flour or sugar in them is more processed than I would prefer.  These are our celebration cakes: the ones that I make rarely - true treats.

We predominantly juice vegetables like carrots, beetroot, purple cabbage, and spinach; adding in apples, ginger, or citrus fruits for extra flavour. These high-calorie juices are like the purer equivalent of nutritional shakes, and in large quantities can take the place of a meal. We drink these juices freshly made by Oscar, storing any extra in glass jars in the fridge but consuming within 36 hours.  Masticating juicers like Oscar are the most expensive but are a better buy; centrifugal juicers can heat the juice while it's being prepared, damaging or lowering the quality of the nutrients.  I still buy organic apple juice, on a limited basis, but we don't rely on this for any nutritional value.  Most "fresh" juices have been heat-treated in a way that destroys many of their nutrients, which then have to be artificially added.  I read recently about typical juice processing practices; if I recall the link in the future, I will add it here.  Just one word to describe them: disgusting.

Animal Products
Apart from small amounts of organic dairy butter, cheese, eggs, and plain yoghurt, we consume a low proportion of animal products.  There is just no need.  We eat other protein-rich foods [beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, brown rice] in place of meat; and drink fresh almond milk, calcium-added rice milk, coconut water, and hemp milk instead of plain old cow's milk. We have no dairy intolerances; we merely prefer to balance our preferred consumption of butter, cheese, eggs, and yoghurt by using plant products in place of meat or dairy milk.  

Drink lots.  Enough said.  Dan will tell you, with a weary look on his face, that whenever he claims to have anything wrong with him, my first question will have something to do with his daily consumption of water!  Drink herbal teas, green teas, coffee in moderation, whatever, but still drink substantial amounts of water.  Even minor, unnoticed dehydration can have an effect on your health.

To sum up: choose brown rice and pasta. Limit your consumption of bread and animal products; instead, vary your diet by increasing your intake of plant-based foods like nuts, quinoa, lentils, beans, and alternative milks. Drink fresh juices, instead of processed; bake homemade treats instead of buying processed, and make meals from scratch instead of relying on prepared foods. Drink lots of water.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment!  I'd love to hear from you.

For more healthy eating advice and lifestyle ideas, visit Beth's blog and follow links to other bloggers' articles about green living.


  1. Anonymous10:16 pm

    Erin This is all so good and very true! I work in a licensed wellness center who are also Chiropractors, and we have a wellness program that we do. Many of these things you mentioned are in the wellness "innate diet". I have found over the years that water is HUGE! Sometimes if I am getting a headache, it's most likely that I did not have enough water that day and I then will chug a glass! haha!

  2. I'm happy to hear my water theory backed up! Thank you... :)

  3. Ok! This is an amazing blog post...so concise and a really good breakdown of how you cook and eat. Love it!!!

  4. Anonymous10:50 am

    Thank you-love the pictures and great tips-we have been enjoying some real cranks bred this morning before I begin on the raw trip!!!!

  5. My guys are also bread junkies so I stopped buying it after new year's. I'll be following you and check out your recipes! Found you through Your Green Resource. :)

  6. Hi Melinda... thanks for visiting! Enjoy.
    Love Your Green Resource... so much inspiration there! :)


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