How to Make Better Food Choices for your Health

Make Better Food Choices for your Health

Let’s Start with a Story about Purple Cabbage…

When I was in the grocery store the other day I picked up a purple cabbage and my 6 year old son says “mommy I love purple cabbage!”

Me: You do? Since when? (He’s never shown interest in it at home).

Gabriel: Since trying it in health class at school!

Me: Plain? Without dressing or anything on it?

Gabriel: Yup, just plain.

Purple Cabbage

It Starts with Awareness and Education

This moment was a big win as my passion is to help people make better food choices for their health.

My son is already a pretty good eater and likes most vegetables. But like any kid in the grocery store he’s always asking for the greatly marketed processed cookies and junk food. And yes I do give in at times, but only after reading numerous labels and submitting to the less benign. 

So when he happily expressed his love of purple cabbage, my heart sang for a number of reasons.

For the Love of Cabbage

It sang because my son was just as enthusiastic about cabbage as he was about a cookie. He didn’t view the cabbage as something he had to eat because I said so, but instead because he liked it. That is the change I’d like to see in more of our children, as well as adults.

Making Better Food Choices

Secondly, my heart sang because my hard work to instill healthy eating habits with my son was paying off. I know the powerful impact food and nutrition has on our health. It’s become a core value of how I live my life and how I raise my son.

Changing my diet years ago helped me tremendously in my healing process. I continue to support my health today by making healthy food choices.

A Step in the Right Direction

Thirdly, most of our school systems have a long way to go when it comes to offering healthier food choices. So when Gabriel told me he was trying vegetables in his health class, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful. Definitely a step in the right direction!

Our Health and Food Choices

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease years ago. My health was down in the dumps and my whole life felt like it was falling apart. That period of time was life changing but also one of the most educational of my life. Making better food choices not only helped me heal, but it opened my eyes to the unfortunate reality of our food system in this country. 

Chronic Disease Continues to Rise

The rate at which chronic disease is rising is alarming. The most recent statistic states that at least 60% of Americans are battling some sort of chronic disease. About 75% have metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. And now we’re seeing obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes in our children.

There are many factors that contribute to health and disease. What you put in your body is one of the biggest contributing factors.

Processed Foods

Processed Foods

I have worked hard to steer my son towards healthy eating habits since he was born. The challenge isn’t so much at home but the world around us. We are surrounded by big corporations that think it’s okay to market and feed our children processed foods.

Foods loaded with pesticides and cancer causing chemicals. Not to mention they have low nutritional value and are loaded with added sodium, sugar and carbs. You put all these together and you have a perfect setup for a disrupted microbiome and metabolic syndrome.

Both of these are precursors to chronic disease.

Monocrops in Processed Food

Monocrops in Processed Food

So many processed foods are made from wheat, corn, or soy and often a combination thereof. These are also the 3 most altered and pesticide ridden foods in the US. What does that mean and why is it a problem? 

  1. Most of these crops are grown  mostly for mass production for processed foods. They are mono crops meaning they are not rotated year after year and grown in nutrient poor soil for production. The nutrient density of a fruit, grain or vegetable comes from the richness of the soil it’s grown in.
  2. These crops have been genetically modified (GMO) to resist pesticide damage. Most European countries have banned GMOS’s because they are concerned about potential risks and harm to human health. Alarmingly, some crops are now being modified to grow with pesticides in them. The jury is still out on the effects of GMO crops and our health. However, it makes you wonder why so many countries have banned them.
  3. Since these crops are resistant to pesticides, the farmer is able to spray as much pesticide as needed on them.

Pesticides and our Health

Pesticides have been shown to alter our gut microbiome and hinder our metabolic detox pathways, imperative for keeping us healthy. When we can’t detox properly, these chemicals block our cells from receiving the nutrients they need. In addition, they alter our DNA. Research has shown that disruptions in our microbiome and detoxification pathways are linked to chronic disease and even cancer.

More and more articles are being published about the rise and mortality rate of colon cancer in younger adults. Scientists are correlating this with the overconsumption of processed foods. Published just recently in NPR:

“At a time when Americans consume more than half of their daily calories from ultra processed foods, there is increasing evidence that eating too many of these foods can make us sick.”

The Gluten Issue

The Gluten Issue

Unless a product is labeled gluten free, most processed foods have wheat in them.

So many people wonder why wheat has become such an issue for people. Why is wheat so bad now when it wasn’t years ago?

I would argue that it’s not wheat that has become bad for us but what we’ve done to it. AND, it’s in so much of the food we’re consuming on a daily basis. 

Chemically Altered

Wheat has been chemically altered over the past 100 years to make it cheaper to produce in large quantities and more pesticide resistant. Studies also indicate major changes in the protein content and an increase in gluten, the part of the plant that disrupts our health.

I believe it’s a combination of all of these factors. The plant is so stripped down and altered from its original form and laden with a plethora of pesticides. It’s also being consumed much too heavily in the American diet. 

When we consume too much of 1 food, we are at greater risk of developing sensitivities to that food. Food sensitivities lead to poor gut health, increased inflammation, skin issues and autoimmune disease, to name a few.

Harmful Food Additives and Chemicals

Harmful Food Additives and Chemicals

A food activist I’ve followed for years, Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe has made it her mission to expose companies who knowingly put harmful preservatives in food for longer shelf life.

Food Dyes and BHT

Food dyes made from petroleum and additives like BHT are found in so many kids snacks and cereals. These chemicals have been shown to have negative health effects and are banned in other countries. Kelloggs and General Mills have been forced to replace these chemicals with healthier alternatives but not in the US. 

Chemicals and our Children’s Health

Food dyes have been shown to hinder a child’s ability to learn and are strongly linked to hyperactivity. These are especially detrimental to children with ADHD, which has been exponentially on the rise. Yet these companies are still allowed to add these dyes along with BHT, a known carcinogen to these cereals. These include cereals such as fruit loops and lucky charms, which are solely marketed to our children. In fact I won’t even go down the cereal isle with my son at the store.

We’re seeing the impact of these food choices in adults and now children too. At what point do we collectively put our foot down and stop this madness?

An Uphill Battle

A client told me the other day she home schooled her kids MAINLY for nutritional reasons. How did we end up in a place where trying to make healthy food choices is more the rarity than the norm? And so challenging for mother’s like she and I?

Easier said than done I know. I don’t think we all need to homeschool our kids. Some days it’s tempting for this issue alone but shielding our kids isn’t the answer either.

And we can’t change the grocery store shelves or big agro overnight. But we can learn, ask questions and educate ourselves as much as possible. And from that place make informed decision for ourselves and our loved ones health.

Healthier Food Choices – Where Do We Start?

It all begins with awareness and making better daily food choices.

Healthier Food Choices - Apple Slices

Start Simple

Reducing or eliminating processed foods while adding in more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables is a great start. If you’re struggling on how to do that try experimenting with some of the snack options below:

1. A mix of nuts with dried cranberries and dark chocolate is a great snack to have on hand. 

Nuts are a good source of protein, healthy fats, and minerals. This is a great snack combination for satisfying salt and sweet cravings. Plus dark chocolate is a natural mood enhancer and full of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant.

2. Apple slices with cinnamon. Adding peanut, almond, or cashew butter is a favorite.

Apples are great for supporting the liver and a good source of fiber. Cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar, along with the nut butters as they’re a good source of protein. Plus apples are loaded with gut and immune boosting phytochemicals.

3. Add a handful of blueberries or raspberries to a salad or at breakfast. 

Berries are full of flavonoids that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Frozen blueberries also make a great snack. Blueberries are considered a brain superfood, specifically linked to helping blood flow to key areas of the brain. Raspberries contain one of the highest natural sources of melatonin.

4. If you’re not a fan of berries or fruit, try a snack of sliced carrots and red pepper with hummus.

Carrots are a good source of fiber and beta carotene, great for immune health. Red pepper is loaded with carotenoids, antioxidants that are beneficial for the eyes.

Healthier Food Choices - Bowl of Berries

How to Eat More Veggies

We all know vegetables are one of the healthiest foods for us. They are full of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals that keep us healthy. One way to get more vegetables into your diet is by roasting a big tray of assorted vegetables.

Tasty Cruciferous Vegetables

Two of my favorites are roasted broccoli and cauliflower. These veggies are part of the cruciferous family. They help detoxify the body and are known for their cancer fighting phytochemicals.

The recipes I use are quite simple. For the roast broccoli, I mix chopped broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic powder in a bowl. I roast it at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. You can roast longer if you like it more well done with crispier edges. 

I follow the same recipe with chopped cauliflower, except that I add sliced onion and curry powder to taste. Roast for about the same amount of time or a little longer.

Both of these dishes are so easy and tasty, and make great side dishes. They can be easily reheated during the week.

Roasted Variations

I’ve used versions of the recipes above to roast a myriad of other vegetables as well.

Another favorite is using the base cauliflower recipe but substitute sliced carrots and beets. Carrots are rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, great for the eyes, skin, and overall health. Beets help detoxify the liver and are great at cleansing the blood. Sometimes I’ll add chopped butternut squash as well and fresh chopped garlic.

Try experimenting with different veggies. You can’t go wrong. And I find the curry and garlic powder add a great layer of taste!

Food Awareness

Food Awareness 

The time has come where we can’t turn a blind eye when it comes to our food. Including how it’s processed and where it’s coming from. Our food system, laden with chemicals and pesticides is catching up with humanity. We are seeing it in the exponential rise of chronic disease and cancer.

I see my autoimmune crises as a blessing in many ways. I was forced to examine our food and its impact on our health. It was eye opening but also empowering. Through education and awareness we DO have the power to make better food choices for our health.

I encourage everyone to inquire about where your food is coming from, where it’s grown, and how it’s processed. Especially if you’re battling any sort of chronic disease or illness. 

Always Learning

Even when you think you’re making a great food choice you sometimes find out otherwise. When I was diagnosed with my autoimmune disease I thought I was eating a healthy diet. There were many things I was eating I thought were ‘healthy’ but come to find out weren’t so good for me.

And my learning never ends. I continue to adjust my eating habits as what we discover about our food supply and choices continue to evolve. For example, I recently learned that hydroponically grown produce is nutritionally deficient because it’s grown in water, not soil. As I mentioned above the vitamins and minerals in the plants we eat come from the soil they’re grown in.

Monocrops soil

Better Food Choices Continually Evolve

Fortunately, there are innovative companies coming out with better options for crackers and food bars with limited ingredients. I’ll always advocate eating whole foods over processed ones. However, if you have to grab a bar on the go, it’s better to grab one with 5 ingredients instead of 20. The ones that use dates as a sugar replacement are also better options. One brand I just came across recently is Skout food bars. Simple Mills also makes healthier cracker options with whole food ingredients that taste great. These options do tend to cost more, but it’s an investment in your health.

The more you learn and know the more empowered you’ll be to make better food choices. My education continues to grow on a daily basis as the information on food and nutrition keeps evolving and growing.

Read your labels, question the ingredients, learn about the impact of pesticides, organic labeling, GMO, etc…

Your Local Farm Stand

And most of all buy local – local farms, seasonal fruits and vegetables are almost always the best or better option. Many rotate their crops so the soil is getting replenished with good nutrient. Local farms usually don’t use pesticides or use them minimally, but just don’t have the expensive organic certification.  Many are more than willing to discuss their farming practices. Asking questions will lead to better knowledge and more informed decisions.

Additionally, local produce is always fresher and more nutritious.

Many fruits and vegetables that have traveled across the country or countries to your local grocery store are harvested prematurely. This is to ensure they still look fresh when they reach the store shelves. Picking prematurely shunts their nutritional value. 

Local farms on the other hand are going to pick their produce when it’s ready and nutritionally optimal. And they will often have it on the farm stand that day! 

Healthy Pickled Cabbage

Purple Cabbage Recipe

Since a conversation about purple cabbage is what prompted this piece, I’d like to share a simple but favorite recipe.

Healthy Pickled Cabbage

One of my favorite and simplest ways to eat purple cabbage is to pickle it with apple cider vinegar.

Chop 1/4 of a cabbage into very thin long strips. Place the strips in a glass bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. You can add more if needed.

Mix well, cover and let sit in the fridge for day or two. It tastes great on it’s own, or added to grilled or barbecue chicken, salads, or almost any type of sandwich.

It can be kept in the fridge for 5-7 days to use as desired.

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Looking for support in making sustainable food changes for your health, click on the link below to schedule a free consult!

Heidi Botnick O’Hare, L.Ac
Rumney Acupuncturist