Okay, eating health‘ier’ doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, I agree that health is an investment. I’ve heard over and over that fresh fruits and vegetables only stay in good condition for about a week or two after you buy them from the grocery store - and who is going to go running back every week for a bag of spinach or navel oranges? I mean, me, probably, but I am one freakish health junky.
There definitely has to be a happy medium when deciding what to buy and how often to buy it. It’s so easy to tell ourselves to buy that bag of chips because it’ll last longer than any fresh produce will; and “hey, that means I save a trip to the store, right?” That actually may be further from the truth, and here’s why…
Check out these 5 easy-to-use principles when grocery shopping that will save your wallet while also saving your health.
1. Processed food thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, processed foods like chips, cereals, cookies, etc. do not always last longer than fresh produce. Although they last forever on A shelf, they will not last forever on YOUR shelf. See what I did there? Food companies process these “foods” with sugar and other savory chemicals to make you keep coming back to it. It’s addictive. It’s easy to stop eating a bag of grapes when your full, but do notice how hard it is to stop eating that savory bag of chips? I bet you that bag of chips would be gone before those grapes would…
2. Storage. Have you properly stored fresh produce? Potatoes need to be kept in a cool, dry, dark place. Berries should have some ventilation while being refrigerated. Bananas should be left out at room temperature to ripen, but then placed in the refrigerator to keep that ripeness longer.
3. Freeze fruits. Freeze those bananas that you left in the refrigerator too long (this is how I make my oatmeal when I am out of the fresh stuff…)
4. Buy frozen or canned. Here’s the general rule of thumb: Fresh > Frozen > Canned > none. This goes by the nutrients left in the produce when they hit the shelves at the supermarket. Always stock up on frozen vegetables - always. They are so easy to make and throw on the side, in a casserole, or even in your lunch bag. Although they may not be the best nutrient wise, they are the best when it comes to convenience. Some is better than none.
Side note: Make sure to wash/strain your canned fruits or vegetables, especially if they come in fruit juice or high sodium sauces. Otherwise buy canned items that are labeled with “in water” and “no-to-low sodium”.
5. Where are you shopping? Aldi’s can be great for saving money; however, the fresh fruits and vegetables can be a hit or miss. I have seen some not-so-fresh foods there before, but that’s not the case with everyone. It truly depends on when you go. If you can, pick your grocery shopping date on the day when the new shipment of fresh fruits and veggies comes in (if you can figure that out)!
If you have a family, Costco or Sam’s Club is a great store! Buy in bulk for a cheaper per item price. It’s a bigger sum at the cash register, but it’s a money saver in the long run. Plus you can order online and potentially get money back at the end of the year.
For those of you who have watched the news as of late, you may have seen the story on spinach and kale? Well, if you haven’t, let’s recap:
USA reports, “The leafy greens are ranked second and third, respectively, on Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen, a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue.”
"'Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues,' the EWG said in its 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which analyzes U.S. Department of Agriculture test data."
This is a huge problem.
More and more research is coming out linking toxins in our food, such as pesticides, to cancer and infertility. Not to mention the health impacts it has on our children as well. A study done by the National Institute of Health, found that there were higher incidences of birth defects in children born on [Minnesota] farms in the 90’s - particularly in those infants who were conceived in the spring when herbicide use was at its peak. Although this is just a correlation and not causation, there are other various studies with similar observations and skeptical conclusions.
So what to do?
Check out the Dirty Dozenlist! The EWG updates a list of toxin-ridden foods every year, which lets you know what to buy ORGANIC. Here it is:
Note:Even when purchasing organic, that does not necessarily mean cross contamination didn’t occur. Wash these puppies in a vinegar or baking soda bath! Instructions on that here. This can (and should) be applied to non-organic fruits and vegetables as well, as rinsing these under running water only decreases the chemical load by 25%. The great thing about vinegar is that it has multiple purposes! So buy it in bulk and use it for cleaning too! Yes, vinegar is one of thee BEST cleaning agents around and should be used instead of all other all-purpose cleaners. More on the "why" to come. Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post on "toxins outside our foods" to learn more.
When it comes to health many people think "exercise and nutrition", but there is SO much more to it than that. Here are some other factors to consider and implement into your life.
1. Sleep - How many hours a night do you get? According to the Gallup Poll, the average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep a night. Although close to the recommended 7-8 hours (sometimes more depending on activity level and age), this means majority of Americans are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can lead to many avoidable health problems including insulin resistance (hallmark sign of type II diabetes), infertility, and the decreased ability to recover after intense exercise.
Sleep is a vital time for hormone production, like progesterone, and without the proper ratio of estrogen to progesterone the body cannot complete the normal menstrual cycle and ovulation may be compromised. Insulin sensitivity is also compromised due to cortisol, the stress hormone, that is elevated during waking hours. Elevated cortisol levels reduces the ability of glucose to be taken up by your cells; therefore, blood sugar rises. You DO NOT want glucose to stay in your blood for an extended period of time - this leads to damaged nerves, blood vessels, and organs. It can also cause weight gain as the cells of the body that take up glucose, but aren't, are perceived as starving. So, you eat. And eat. And eat. Fatigue and irritability are also symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol levels.
The repair of muscle tissue after intense exercise is also a major process that occurs during sleep. Without the proper muscle repair process, the body will have a hard time functioning optimally and performing at it's highest ability level. This is an especially important factor for athletes to consider.
2. Stress Management - I know, I know; easier said than done BUT uncontrolled stress also increases cortisol levels. Therefore, when combined with sleep deprivation, this can really heighten cortisol levels and make them even more pronounced and prolonged.
In the busy world we live in now, it's OK to slow down and make time for ourselves. Did you know that in other cultures the state of doing 'nothing' means you are successful, happy, and fulfilled? Doing nothing doesn't mean you are lazy (unless, of course, you do it 24 hours of the day), it means you are content fulfilling the needs of yourself (eating, sleeping, working, etc.) and minimizing the things that are unnecessary and making background noise (expensive car payments, screen time, toxic relationships/friendships, etc.). How we choose to preoccupy our time is up to ultimately up to us.
2. Being in Nature/Outdoors - is the sun our friend or is it a foe? With the rise in skin cancer, is it safe to be outside? The answer is yes, but in moderation and in amounts coinciding to your skin type. The rise in skin cancer is because of prolonged un-exposure to sudden prolonged exposure. Meaning, being mainly indoors to repeated bouts of outdoor activity that extend to longer than your skin is used to. Repeated exposure that produces burning is the problem. We do not allow our skin to work up to those prolonged amounts, and instead bask in it (but who can blame us northern hemisphere folks who don't get to see the sun that often). It takes diligence and discipline during those sunny, warm days, but it's definitely worth being intuitive about..
Vitamin D is produced when the body is exposed to the sun. There is some in foods, but not anything like the sun has to offer. Light, fare skinned individuals need just a minimum of 15-30 minutes (depending on if you reside in the northern or southern hemisphere) to get the required about of Vitamin D. The darker your skin is, the longer the recommended exposure time. Cautionary Note: Because this is a fat soluble vitamin that can lead to toxicity when consumed in high amounts, please talk to your doctor before starting any dosage of Vitamin D.
Besides the sun, being outdoors has the potential to stimulate those feel good hormones and relax the mind. Studies done in workplaces with cubicles or enclosed office spaces indicate that moods are elevated and employees are more productive when there is just one window or plant in their working environment.
On a final note, I would like to add that weight is not always a factor in health. GET RID OF THE SCALE. There IS a "health at every size" and your weight doesn't determine that. A "skinnier" person than yourself does not mean they are healthier than you internally, and it definitely DOES NOT mean they are better than you. Curvy is sexy. A little fat around the edges is OK and probably more healthy than those bodies of Victoria's secret models that torture you on TV or in the shopping malls. For those of you who know me, I don't fit the curvy mold at all, but that's because I tortured my body into the skinny mold years ago. It's something I regret for sure, but it's not something I can't change. And for those of you who are naturally thin, who can't gain a pound even if they tried - that's okay too! If your health is present then there is no need to try to fit that curvy figure all these health advocates praise. Where ever you are comfortable in your kitchen, in your relationships, in your skin, is where you should stay.
Now, I am not much of a baker AT ALL, but I DO know what I would be making my pies, cakes and cupcakes with if I could. Below is a little snippet of some tips (and food links) I had sent a client whose mother was an “over-achiever” in the baking area, and wanted to sneak something that was a bit healthier into her mother list of ingredients.
REAL Butter (Gheeis actually an Irish butter that is much higher in omega 3 fatty acids - good for brain functioning and joint mobility, among other things).
Yogurt - used to replace butter or oil (in whole or in part), as well as to add protein and probiotics. Make sure this is UNFLAVORED and contains little sugar (my personal favorites are full-fat Chobani, Fage, and Kirklands Greek Yogurt from Costco).
Bananas - as with yogurt, it is used to replace butter or oil, but can add some healthy carbohydrates, fiber and other nutrients, like potassium, to the baked good. These are the cheapest at Kwik Trip or Aldi's.
Black beans - ever heard of black bean brownies? They are a personal favorite of mine and taste WAY better than the original brownie recipe made by Grandma Blanch - which is hard to beat.
Stevia - a no-calorie sweetener that is derived from a plant; however, proceed with caution using any sugar alternative. Studies are not yet conclusive on the health risks or benefits of consuming this in large amounts (not that sugar or any sweetener should be consumed in large amounts anyways...Organic Stevia Powder: https://amzn.to/2UBTErQ ).
Too much Butter (happy medium between fat, proteins, and carbohydrates; however, your mother would benefit from a lower carbohydrate diet)
Whole Wheat, Rye, or other gluten-containing flour
White, refined sugar
White, bleached flour
Vegetable derived type of Butters (i.e. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter)
How many times have you heard from a friend, colleague, or parent - "I am trying this new diet"? Or seeing people on social media posting their before and after body images and you think, "Wow, I want to look like that!". Did you ever consider that it just not might work for you and your body? That is might actually hurt you?
"A diet is not a verb, it's a noun". A great quote from an RD I listened to on my way to work this morning (yes, I am kind of a podcast junky). She couldn't be more right - we HAVE to stop thinking of a diet as an action, but rather a thing in our lives. It isn't something that needs to be continually acted upon or changed. It isn't something that should be considered restrictive or unpleasant. Because THAT, my friends, isn't realistic for the long - haul.
Eating should be a relatively stable thing in our lives. It should fit within our current lifestyle routine, culture, and environment. Yes, some tweaks and principles need to be added, I am sure, but are those tweaks sustainable? Are they something you can stick to for eternity?
Dieting does have its purposes in special cases.
For instance, the ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb, moderate protein) has been seen to improve Alzheimers disease and those with metabolic syndrome. Type II diabetics actually see major improvements when they stick to a diet such as this. SO don't get me wrong, these "diets" can work, but they tend to be used and abused by the general, healthy public. These people see the word "diet" as a verb - it is something we start and stop - and usually contains restricting behaviors to lose weight. Although that is probably never the initial intention of the individual, it is happens 9 times out of 10. We see foods as "good" or "bad" and spiral down a path of negative thoughts about how we look and social outings.
It shouldn't be the act of starting and stopping various eating philosophies and habits.
Diets do not work because they actually make you GAIN weight. This is a term referred to as "yo-yo dieting" (characterized by starting and stopping eating habits in short time spans, multiple times). This is a vicious cycle that ultimately f***s up your metabolism. Why? Well for one a diet is usually, like I said, restrictive. Under eating usually accompanies any diet and actually leads your body to hold onto whatever it can to avoid, what it thinks is, a famine. It's a protective mechanism for survival.
Now you may be one of the lucky few who actually lose weight! Hooray! This was what I had actually experienced in college (not proud of it, by the way). However, I was also a collegiate runner who ran 50-55 miles in a week- this was more than the miles I put on my car at the time. I lost weight because I put a whole different demand on my body. This demand was one that told my body it needed to be small in order to efficiently carry me to these long distance places without tiring. AND I was exhausting all carbohydrate and fat stores, and even protein stores from my muscles, to do this highly demanding job.
Most Americans are not exercising at these high intensities, and do not sustain that type of activity and low caloric eating habits for more than a years time (I did for 4-5 years, making this a MUCH longer time for my body to adapt to the stressors and not fit the "yo-yo diet" phenomenon). Was this a fun time in my life? Heck NO. I was always tired, cold, and fantasized about food. Which is why many people cannot sustain a caloric deficit within their diet plans - so they binge, feel guilty, restrict more, and the cycle goes on and on. The more this happens, the more your body will resist losing weight.
Dieting has only been in existence since Americans have experienced a major rise in obesity over the last decade. The only reason this has happened was because of a flawed study done in the late 1960's by Ancel Keys, a physiologist, who hypothesized that the fat content of foods was the cause of weight/fat gain. Which we now know is so-not-true, but at the time the food industry started taking out the fat content in their products and marketing them as "low-fat foods". This ultimately ruined Americans because when the fat is taken out of a product, sugar is put in it's place. So many people started eating highly processed, low fat, high sugar foods. And guess what? More fat people.
Fat does NOT cause weight gain. Sugar does.
Sugar is absolutely, 110% addictive (some studies claim it is even more addictive than cocaine!). When it's added to food it makes the body crave more. It quite literally shuts down leptin, the hormone that is responsible for appetite and energy expenditure, and produces more ghrelin, your hunger hormone. This makes certain food companies very happy and wealthy because it makes you buy more. Why do you think the food industry hasn't taken it out of their products? OH, and be careful of those "sugar-free" packages that these same companies create - they more than likely contain artificial sweeteners that will still get you hooked and over indulge.
It's time to stop looking at the quantity of our food and instead the quality of it. When you eat quality foods, your body responds in the way it was designed. It won't trick you into thinking your still hungry. It will let you now when it's honest to god full. You won't have to worry about your calories because your body will tell you what it needs when it needs it. What if it doesn't? What if your metabolism and habits are THAT off from years of confusing diets that you don't know whats normal for you? Then track it for awhile! You'll be amazed at the amount you should be eating compared to what you actually are eating...
Stop seeing food as the enemy. Eat quality foods. Eat fat. Throw the scale away. Be happy with your healthy self.
Adopt an eating routine that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle, and instead call it eating - do not call it a diet - because... Diets DO NOT work (long-term). Period.