What I eat, and what I don’t

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Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more articles and books about the horrors of processed food. I thought I was doing pretty well — I cook at home nearly every night for my boyfriend and me. I load veggies into every dish. I rarely eat red meat.

But about a year ago I looked at the list of ingredients in my go-to breakfast, a Kellogg’s FiberPlus bar. It is, by weight, almost 20% sugar. It contains hydrogenated oil. BHT. But I thought it was healthy! Thirty-five percent of my daily fiber! Nevermind that I was loading myself with chemicals and preservatives. And yet I still felt hungry within an hour because there were no real (read: quality) calories for my body to use. What are my cells supposed to do with Polysorbate 60? What is Polysorbate 60? (It’s an emulsifier commonly used in skincare items, actually. Why do I need that in my breakfast?) I stopped buying these candy bars disguised as a health food.

Last November, my boyfriend Scott and I kicked soda to the curb. We were drinking diet, because we thought that was alright — no calories! But the artificial coloring, cancer-causing sweeteners, and reports that drinking diet soda could actually cause weight gain changed our tune. I was drinking a can a day…well, let’s be honest, usually two. I felt tired even though the caffeine should have been perking me up. The syrupy flavor left a bad aftertaste in my mouth. Looking back, I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Not to mention all the money I’ve saved and kept out of Big Food’s coffers.

For a long time, I thought eating lower-calorie versions of real food was the only way to be healthy. But I recently turned over the package of my Carb-balance tortillas. They may only be 120 calories, but they contain 20 ingredients, including Sucralose (a chemically made, artificial sweetener) and hydrogenated oils. I won’t be buying those again. I’d rather take an hour on the weekend to make a stack of fresh, homemade, whole wheat tortillas.

I prided myself on being heath-conscious. I read nutrition facts, I cooked my own “homemade” meals from these “healthy foods” I bought.

But now I read the ingredients list. I no longer buy heavily processed foods filled with chemical ingredients, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners and HFCS, white sugar or flour, refined oils, or something I can’t recreate at home. I choose organic and local produce and meat when possible. I eat less meat.

Today I decided to clean out my pantry for the last remnants of processed crap. I had to laugh as I pulled out the offending items, because nearly every one was expired.

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The dessert mixes were all my boyfriend’s, there from before I even moved in. He’s out of town for work so I took the liberty to get rid of them for him. The Crisco, admittedly, was mine. My Southern upbringing made me think I needed shortening in my cabinet. In truth, I only used it to season my cast-iron cookware, and once or twice for biscuits. I’ll be making those with butter from now on.

So what ingredients did I keep?

Whole wheat flours, brown rice, oatmeal. Dried and canned beans, canned tomatoes. And my large, wonderful assortment of spices.

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For sweeteners, I will lean on honey and maple syrup, but in extreme moderation. My cooking fats of choice are olive oil, coconut oil, and butter — all used sparingly. I use a Misto to create my own (chemical-free) cooking spray. And I have an array of vinegars so I can make my own salad dressing in a flash, so I can avoid the store-bought dressings made with refined oils and added sugar.

When I choose to cook with meat, I try to make it a part of, rather than the focus of, the meal. I make my own bread when I can. I choose 100% whole-grain breads and brown rice.

I’m not writing this post to be preachy, but I felt I needed to explain how I came to this point. I’m not trying to push my opinions or choices on you. I do want to inform you why I’ve made these changes in my life, and of course I hope you agree and want to change for yourself. I will post articles, book reviews, and other links I find relevant, but my main focus will be on delicious food made with real ingredients. I hope I can show you how easy it is to choose a real food lifestyle. You will feel better, save money, and make the planet happier.

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