A bunch of friends of mine have told me how they struggle to find time for self-care. Good food, enough sleep, moving more - that kind of thing. Since I've explored this question quite extensively, I felt I do have something to share here.
My answer to them: In my experience and from what I studied, I believe the easiest and most efficient ways to improve how you feel is to
cut down on processed foods
cut down on foods high in animal fat (or animal products as much as you can)
walk or bike to work/school,...
take the stairs instead of the elevator and
find things that are fun and feel good.
I wished I could have gone a bit more into depth with each of my friends. I wanted to tell them why I see such important problems with processed foods. So here you go, dear friends - and strangers - this is why I believe you should make as much as you can of what you eat from scratch. Let's start with:
What are processed foods?
Processed foods are any kind of food that is not it's natural state. So strictly, cooked broccoli, frozen grapes or milled oats are all processed foods. When we speak of "processed foods", in general, we refer to "high processed foods" - think canned tortellini in tomato sauce, frozen ready-made-meals, potato chips, spreadable cheese, sausages or your breakfast cereal.
Why should I avoid them?
1) You don't know what's in it
With a list of 20+ ingredients on the packaging - how often do we actually read all the ingredients? And even if: how many of the words on the list do you actually understand? E.... and similar codes, chemical names & co make it very difficult to actually know what I am putting into my body. Eating out, buying a snack at the bakery or an ice-cream at the gelatteria usually means not having any clue at all about the ingredients as there are (still) no food-labels available.
2) There is lots of sh*t in them
High-processed foods often contain chemicals to increase the longevity of the product or improve it's "looks". With ingredient lists so long, you will easily find a handful of ingredients you would never put in your home-cooked food (think corn syrup, palm oil, aspartame,...). Another issue is that high processed foods also tend to be high in sugar, salt and (saturated) fat, often without the consumer realizing so. Check out a nutritional label of your favorite cookies, cream-cheese or even bread, and compare it to an apple, home-made hummus or simply whole grain wheat - you'll be surprised what you are actually putting in your body as you "treat" yourself.
3) They are low in vitamins and minerals
Since storage and processing decrease the amount of many minerals and vitamins, high-processed foods are in general lower in vitamins and minerals than if you ate the included ingredients by themselves. Also, fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables are often peeled in the process. That takes away not only many vitamins and minerals, but also fibres, which are super important for our gut and overall health. In short: Jam has less nutrients than fresh apricots (and not even talking about #1 & #2 here..).
4) They are not made to heal or nourish you.
Let's face it, they are just not. They are made to sell. And sadly, the food industry seems to want to please over-stimulated taste-buds of humans who are getting trained to like more and more salty, more sugary, more greasy foods (while our lifestyles have decreased in moderate activity movement - aka we eat more energy than the generations before, while actually using less energy in our daily lives). If processed foods were made to support your body's constant self-repairing and re-building, you would feel strong, energized and nourished after a high-processed meal/snack. But chances are, after a "portion" (whatever that is - the most arbitrary measure anyone could put on a food label....) of your processed food, you might feel a strong - but short - high, before you feel more tired, drained of energy and potentially even pain.
5) They are expensive
"I can't afford to eat healthy" is a sentence I come across quite a lot. But eating healthy doesn't have to be advanced, nor expensive. Buy seasonal, regional and preferably organic fresh produce, get some staples (brown rice, whole grain pasta, lentils, beans, healthy oils, spices) - and the world of foods is yours at a few Euro per meal. Be creative, combine, play with food. Cook bigger portions and freeze them individually for days when you don't have time to cook. The limit is the sky.
High-proccessed foods, on the other hand, might seems like a cheap choice when you are hungry at the store, but when you look at the price per meal, you will find that high processed foods are usually more expensive than if you cooked yourself. And they will probably make you feel not good at best.
(Special brownie points for cooking a bigger portion and inviting your friends. They sure can use some yum, healing food too <3 )
6) They make you overeat
Since we don't know what's in it, it's easy to induldge on high-processed foods. Ever ate a whole bag of nachos, a bar of chocolate, or drank a whole bottle of juice/smoothie in one go? Well, yeah, that happens when we don't get the whole experience of food. When my dad asked me for a simple advice to manage his blood pressure, I said: keep eating what you like! But make everything from sctratch. If you like cookies while you're watching TV: eat cookies! But bake them yourself. I am convinced that
a) you will be shocked to see how much butter, sugar,... actually goes into a batch of cookies - so you will eat less
b) it takes time to make them - so you will probably pace yourself not to have to bake every other day, and
c) you are in charge of what you put into your cookies. Substitute apple-sauce or smashed bananas for a part of the fats, use dry fruit instead of sugar (to increase the nutritional value and lower "empty" calories), and/or use whole grains instead of white flour. Be creative and just give it a try!
Well, that's what I can think of for now, dear amigos and amigas. I hope this was interesting and useful to you. If you have any additions or comments, please do get in touch :)
My 5 last cent on how I treat processed foods:
- I do eat some high-processed foods. But I try to be smart about it and keep them to the very minimum. (And making more and more by myself :))
- Share with friends/family! To not get overwhelmed by the equipment/knowledge/time you need to "make everything yourself", start by making 1 or 2 products yourself. How about nut-butter, or baking your own bread? And get a friend to make something else and swap! :)
- When you buy ready-made products in the store, compare and chose the one with fewer overall ingredients, more ingredients you recognize and judge as "good" (nutritiously valuable) foods.
- Try to make as much as you can from scratch. Maybe that means eating a more simple diet for a start. Give it a try and see how it makes you feel! Fresh produce has the most vitamins and minerals right after picking. Get your veggies/fruit fresh and turn them into your favorite form <3
- Aim to eat a plentiful and diverse WOW diet: Whole grain, organic & with peel (you want the fabulous fibre and the most possible vitamins, but without pesticides and herbicides please).
Some inspirations how I cook/eat/shop: <3
Enjoy your food. Eat well. Eat enough. Not too much, not too little. Eat in best company. Share. Taste every bite. Eat what you love. Try new foods. Cook with friends. Cook for friends. Cook for your mum! And your dad! Eat slowly.
And listen to your body <3