Yesterday we talked about making a resolution to eat more plants this year. Next up in the Michael-Pollan-program for health and wellness? Eat real food.
This goal may seem a bit silly at first, but really a lot of what we as Americans eat cannot be identified as real food.
Processed foods are loaded with chemical additives and industry byproducts. If you can’t visualize what an ingredient looks like without consulting a chemistry text book (high-fructose corn syrup? carrageenan? ethoxylated diglycerides? soy lecithin? natural flavor?), you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
Whole foods are the key to losing weight and improving your health. Switching from processed foods to a diet based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts will also increase your energy level and make you more motivated to exercise.
Of course, eating real food usually involves cooking, and that can sometimes feel like a roadblock to inexperienced cooks. But the only way to learn how to cook is to get in the kitchen and cook. Try following a few simple recipes. You’ll be surprised by how quick and easy it can be to whip up a healthful meal from real ingredients. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out these three basic recipes by Marc Bittman.
Ironically, many of my health-conscious vegan and vegetarian friends seem to be among the most addicted to processed foods. Veggie burgers, Tofurkey, soy chorizo – these kinds of processed foods are all too often mainstays of the meatless diet. In addition to being loaded with chemicals, processed vegetarian food has been shown to have just as large of a carbon footprint as industrial meat. Vegan and vegetarian diets are only beneficial from a health and environmental perspective if you eat actual plants, not artificial animal products.
I too was once a vegan-processed-food-junkie. But once I switched to a diet based on farm-fresh produce, I completely lost my taste for fake food. Vegan cheese, chicken-less nuggets, and soy ice cream all taste way too chemically for me now. Eating more plants can help you lose your cravings for artificial meat and dairy (and also help you save money, because these processed specialty items are often very expensive!).
One great way to eat more real food is to take time on the weekends to make meals ahead-of-time. We often reach for processed foods when there’s no time to cook, so making big batches of food when you do have time can help you avoid processed foods later.
Sure, we all occasionally need that quick energy-fix when things get hectic. But instead of reaching for a power bar, try to get in the habit of stashing bags of almonds in your purse or car. Or look for packaged foods that are not overly processed, such as Larabars, which have no unrecognizable ingredients.
Check back tomorrow for part 3 of the Michael Pollan Diet: Eat Less. To see part 1, click here.