Eating healthy can be expensive. It took me a couple of years to get where I am now. I’m going to share with you my secrets and tips on eating healthier. I’ll include what is worth changing and what is okay to let slide. Feel free to ask any questions and let me know your experiences.
Why eat healthier?
We all know that eating healthier can help us lose weight, but the changes on the inside are more important. Eating healthy helps regulate our hormones and neurotransmitters, and it allows our brains and bodies to function at the best level. This is especially important for people with pain. You cannot begin to heal until you allow your body to be in a healthy condition first. Did you know the toxins in preservatives and pesticides are not only linked to several types of cancers but dramatically impact our hormones, which play a huge role in our daily health? We are getting sicker and sicker, essentially poisoning ourselves. The “health food” we eat today is sadly not the same as a hundred years ago. For those of you looking to lose weight, I lost 20 lbs when I cut out preservatives and have kept it off effortlessly. It’s not a diet; it is a lifestyle. I previously cooked almost all of my meals and believed I was eating healthy, but secretly I could have done better. Even though I’m still in pain, the rest of my body has never been healthier.
Organic food expense and what’s worth buying
Eating organic isn’t necessary, but if you want to truly be chemical-free, you should try your best to buy what you can organic. If you have never heard of the Environmental Working Group, it’s worth looking into. I follow their “Dirty Dozen” rule while buying produce and use their Food Scoring app for packaged or bottled foods.
We can’t always be perfect and eating organic is expensive. I try to buy my produce organically from the “dirty dozen” list. When I shop, I stick to organic for most of my berries and greens. For produce with a peel, I tend to let it slide more often (oranges, mangos, onions, melons. etc.). You’ll find what works for you and what you can afford. My produce bill hasn’t increased too much as compared to my bills prior to shopping organic. People think it’s the produce that’s expensive but it’s actually pantry and baking supplies that cost the most. If you are not buying organic, make sure you are properly washing your produce. Even organic veggies and fruits need washing and (unless stated) triple-washed. Make it easier on yourself by shopping at stores that have a large organic selection, or if it’s the right season, a farmers market.
If it says “Natural” does that mean “Organic?”
NO! I fell for this trick before becoming educated. “Natural” is better than other options, but it’s not “organic.” Products that are listed as “natural” promise not have any artificial dyes or flavors, but it does not mean that these items are free of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs (as the USDA’s definition of “organic” promises). Side Fact: A lot of these “natural” labeled foods are loaded with fructose and other unhealthy sugars and oils that you should avoid in general.
For a food to be labeled “USDA Organic,” it must pass heavily regulated rules. The food must be grown free of all prohibited chemicals and pesticides for over three years before earning the label. It is GUARANTEED not to contain toxic pesticides, chemicals, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, artificial additives, or preservatives.
In this case I make sure all my pantry supplies are organic. I’d rather splurge here than use cheaper flour and broths full of additives, antibiotics, growth hormones, and preservatives. Also choose glass over aluminum if you can for your pantry items.
Your pantry can quickly get overstocked with canned goods and expired foods. I use containers that make it easy to notice when I need to buy more (pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc.). It’s best to avoid a bulk supply to help cut down on waste. Check your canned foods for BPA, and watch out for all the preservatives. If you can afford the foods in glass containers, always lean towards those brands. Another tip is to switch your drinking and storage containers to glass. It’s pricey at first, but worth it in the long run as they last forever. Below are food brands that use BPA as well as some BPA-safe brands. As with all of the other toxins and chemicals mentioned, BPA can impact our health in negative ways.
Preservatives and MSG: what’s the scoop?
My migraine diet currently has me 90% preservative-free. Obviously some foods need to have preservatives in them, but there are healthier and more natural options. Look for food preserved with lemon, vinegar, salt, or sugar. Citric acid and some gums are okay in small quantities. Until I began reading labels, I had no idea about the extent of preservatives in almost everything I ate. One goal I try to follow is the following: if the ingredient list has more than 10 ingredients, then I shouldn’t be eating it. Honestly, I try to aim for less than 5 ingredients, but you have to start small. Preservatives are hidden in your food labels with loads of MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). Neither are good for you. Preservatives are linked to causing cancer, and MSG can give you a whole slew of side effects, such as migraines. Below I’ve included lists of common preservatives to avoid, hidden names for MSG, and what you should generally avoid in those long ingredient lists on food labels.
Bad sugars and oils
These are probably the most known as bad sugars and oils have gotten the most exposure over the years. Refined sugar is something we do not need in our diet, yet almost every food label has sugar in it. Even if it’s pure cane or coconut sugar, it’s still sugar. Artificial sugars are just that: artificial. If you must eat an artificial sugar, stick to a plant-based Stevia or Monk fruit. As with any sugar, use these options in small amounts. Once you remove sugar from your diet, you’ll be able to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit and vegetables. Not only will you enjoy food more, you will gain the health benefits of a low-sugar diet. Read labels! Products you might think are sugar-free often have hidden sugars (your granola, nut butters, juices, etc.).
Oils have gotten some exposure over the years. Mainly we’ve learned that not all oils are bad for you and that some can provide health benefits. This is true if you are eating good oils with good fats and omegas. Please stop thinking vegetable, canola, or soybean oils are healthy. They have no nutritional value and are extremely processed. Instead I’m a fan of olive oil and ghee. Make sure your olive oil is extra virgin so you can get the nutrients in the oil. Also be sure that your oil is packaged in a dark container to prevent oxidation. Ghee is clarified butter and I slather it on everything. Ghee actually helps you maintain a healthy weight; it’s filled with vitamins and helps with inflammation and energy in your body. Below is a list of oils to choose vs avoid and a list of the additional benefits of ghee.
Skip the refined and processed food!
I’m not perfect. I don’t cook every single meal, but I try my best. The more you cook, the easier it gets. Meal prepping also saves you more money than you realize and is the best thing that you can do for your body. Meal prepping can be as simple as planning your weekly meals and chopping up your ingredients. Build up to taking an entire day for making meals and freezing them; it gets easier the more you do it!
There are also “healthier” frozen options. Follow the rules above and look for the “bad” ingredients. Frozen foods tend to have more preservatives and use the “bad oils.” Yet there are healthy and easy meal options: Trader Joe’s makes a ton (but beware that not all are safe). Frozen veggies and fruit are easy and safe frozen foods that make your life easier. Look into what you can freeze; freezing fresh food, bone broths, cooked meals, and desserts will become your best friend.
Building a healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t eat out. There are a ton of healthy options nowadays. Just avoid white pasta, sugar, and high-flour or fried meals. Pick foods with some nutrients still intact and go to a healthier restaurant. Skip McDonald’s unless it’s the last option. It’s okay to splurge once in awhile, but make sure it’s worth it – something you will enjoy and not feel guilty about.
I hope this helps you understand how to live a healthier lifestyle and the secrets of reading food labels for hidden preservatives, MSG, and highly processed food. Here’s to a healthier life and healthier you!