When we decided to start buying “clean”, healthy food, we were so overwhelmed. We didn’t even know where to start. What ingredients should we avoid? What food should we eat? We hit the library and the internet hoping to find answers. Well it ends up – it’s not that easy. Nutrition isn’t black-and-white. Actually it’s pretty much a big gray area. After reading countless books, we still don’t have all the answers and we’re not sure we ever will. But we do feel a bit more informed and more capable of making better choices when it comes to food. We learned how to eliminate some potentially harmful ingredients and how to choose nutrient dense food. We still have a long way to go but we’ve definitely made some improvements and we’d love to share how we got started.
Our first step was limiting the amount of processed food we ate. After doing a little research, we learned some sad realities about processed food.
In many processed foods, the original ingredients are stripped of their natural nutrients. We didn’t know this and we never would have guessed it by reading the nutrition facts on the products we were buying. Most of them had a whole slew of vitamins and minerals. But it ends up – manufacturers add back synthetic nutrients to processed food. Once we learned this, we took a closer look at our food and noticed some packages had an entire section listing vitamins and minerals as ingredients. So instead of buying nutritious food, we were buying empty calories and a multi-vitamin. Kind of a bummer.
To make matters worse, we learned that our body does not absorb synthetic vitamins and minerals as well as it absorbs naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. This is especially true for vitamins and minerals that work together. For example, vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium. We can load up on calcium but if we don’t have enough vitamin D, our body will not be able to absorb all the calcium. Well who wants to learn about how much of each nutrient we need and which ones work together? Not us! And thankfully we didn’t have to….keep reading to learn why. :)
Now this last one is the real kicker. The really bad processed foods are not only stripped of their nutrients but they have tons of “modifiers” added to them to make them look more appealing, taste better, and last longer. These ingredients include artificial coloring, artificial flavors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, refined salt, sugar, and many more. Not only do these ingredients not add any nutritional value, research has shown some of them may cause health issues such as allergies, heart disease, and even cancer. (We discuss specifics and provide support for these claims on our Healthier Packaged Food page.)
Choosing Healthier Packaged Foods
After learning the facts about processed food, we considered the idea of cutting them out entirely. But let’s be realistic – that’s not going to happen for us right now. Maybe someday, but not now. So instead we decided to read up on the most controversial ingredients so we would know what to avoid. The good news is not all packaged foods have harmful additives and preservatives. Even better, some packaged foods only have REAL food in them. Finally, something that makes sense! So when we buy packaged food, we check the ingredients. We’re happy if it doesn’t have artificial colors, flavors, etc. and even happier if we can actually identify all of the ingredients. Check out our Healthier Packaged Food page for a list of ingredients we avoid and some of our favorite brands of packaged food. And don’t forget to check our Food Product Reviews. We are continually adding new posts about healthier packaged food products.
Eating More Whole Food
By default, our whole food intake increased as we limited processed food. Whole food is the opposite of processed food. It is food in its natural state (vegetables, fruit, meat, etc.).
There are many reasons we wanted to increase our whole food intake but we’ll just tell you about one of them. A few paragraphs ago we were discussing how nutrients work together in our body (the calcium and vitamin D example). With whole food, we don’t have to worry about which nutrients work together and how much of one is needed for the other. Whole food is complete. A piece of fruit, for example, has all the nutrients we need to be able to absorb all the goodness it has to offer. And to continue with the calcium example, good quality milk naturally contains vitamin D, which enables our body to absorb the calcium it offers. Pretty cool, huh? Just one more reason (not that we needed one!) to eat whole food.
So that covers how we got started. We’re not going to lie – it wasn’t easy. It was a huge change from how we had been eating. We never considered ourselves unhealthy eaters by any means, but we definitely relied on processed food a lot more than we do now. And that change was tough! So if you’re thinking about trying it, take it slow and remind yourself – you’re more informed and making better choices than you were before. That’s all you can ask of yourself.
And please learn from our mistakes! We originally set unrealistic goals and ended up really stressed out. We had to take a step back and re-prioritize. We found a balance by making healthy choices our norm and everything else the exception. But we give ourselves exceptions!
If you want to read more about our journey to find cleaner, healthier food, check out Eat Healthy: Dig Deeper.
If you are wondering why “organic” food wasn’t mentioned, wonder no longer. We discuss “organic” processed food on our Healthier Packaged Food page and “organic” whole food on our Eat Healthy: Dig Deeper page.