What’s in Your Food?

SSCN5004So, I don’t dwell too terribly often on the food that’s on our grocery store shelves (although I admit that I do bring it up occasionally), but for the past couple of days it’s been on my mind as I replay the events of this past weekend. Rick and I were at the store with our son, and we passed a food sample display counter. They were serving up protein bars; you know, the granola-type bars with the chocolate covering? Our son asked if he could have one, we said yes, and he reached for the chocolate-y delight. We don’t buy these things for our pantry, partly because they don’t fit in with our frugal grocery budget of $400 a month to feed our family of six, and partly because we do try and eat mostly whole foods. Sam was excited to have this treat, but when he ate it, his demeanor changed.

“Yuck. Mom, this thing tastes like cat poop mixed in with cat litter and covered in fake chocolate. Can you get me something to get this taste out of my  mouth before I puke?” (Boys are SO much different than girls. I’m still in awe of this revelation. The girls would’ve said something like, “Mom, this wasn’t very good. Can I have some water or something?)

All around us, people were raving about the yummy snack and grabbing boxes off the display to put into their carts. Confused by this (and unwilling to try the cat-poo flavored bars myself), I grabbed a box and read the ingredient list.

Yep, just as I thought – pretty much nothing recognizable on there.

As I pondered the difference between our son’s reaction and the reactions of the other customers in the store, it occurred to me that since we rarely buy this type of stuff, Sam’s taste buds are totally conditioned (yes, our taste buds do get “conditioned” to what we feed them) to whole foods like fresh fruit, veggies and organic brown rice, while the average consumer’s taste buds are conditioned to processed foods, which would explain why they were grabbing boxes off the shelf and Sam was desperately pleading for something – anything – to get the horrid taste out of his mouth.

I’m not sharing this story to judge anyone on what they eat: for my birthday earlier this month I was wolfing down a store bought cake just like everyone else does (after all, my mom brought it over, and I couldn’t hurt her feelings now, could I? 🙂 )

What’s in Your Food?

But I think we need to start asking ourselves and paying more attention to what’s in our food. Would the paleo society of yester-century have come near most of the food we eat today? I’d be willing to bet they’d get sick immediately from it, IF they dared to try it.

Recommended reading: Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

When our son was struggling the worst with his intolerance to high fructose corn syrup (and before we knew the cause), he’d throw up and break out in a rash every time he had it.  When we had finally diagnosed the cause and shared the info and our son’s reaction to HFCS with our chiropractor, his response was pretty blase, as if my “Eureka!” moment about what was causing Sam’s problems should’ve been something I’d known all along’:

“Of course he’s throwing up; our bodies were never meant to have the stuff. Sam’s body is doing what it was meant to do when we eat stuff we’re not supposed to eat; the rest of our bodies aren’t. They don’t react that way because we have conditioned them to accept HFCS as food, but it’s really not food at all.” 

As I watch disease run rampant in this country, I can’t help but wonder if part of the cause is that we’re eating so much food that’s not really food at all – ingesting things our bodies were never meant to ingest. I have more than one friend whose kid struggles with reactions when they eat certain food dies, the symptoms ranging from erratic emotional behavior to weird physical symptoms when they ingest certain food colorings in processed foods.

I myself, when I was working to recover from oldest daughter’s traumatic birth, went on a 30-day whole foods diet as a last desperate attempt to recover from the immense pain, fatigue and other symptoms I was suffering from but that the doctor couldn’t diagnose.

After the 30 days on whole foods (at which point 80% of my symptoms had disappeared), I tried to go back to eating cereal and the like, but found myself experiencing joint pain within 15 minutes of eating any kind of cereal, no matter how “healthy” it was touted to be. The clinical diagnosis was arthritis, but the arthritis disappeared within two weeks of going back off of processed grains. Now, 15 years later, I suffer no physical symptoms of arthritis – as long as I stay away from processed grains and stick to the likes of organic brown rice.

Last week as we perused Aldi to pick up some fresh fruit specials, the guy next to me, also stocking up on fresh fruit, explained that he had been diagnosed as having allergies and intolerances to the hormones in our meat and dairy products. For that reason he’d stopped eating meat and dairy, with the exception of 100% grass fed meat and dairy product deriving from totally grass-fed cows. The result? He lost 85 pounds and was hoping to lose even more. And he’d never felt healthier in his life.

I too can count on a 1-2 pound weight gain if my calories from the day before consist largely of bread or dairy products. The added hormones/antibiotics in so much of our milk, cheese, butter and meat are wreaking havoc on our bodies.

Don’t believe me? Spend a couple of weeks avoiding dairy, meat and processed grains, and focus on a diet rich in fresh or steamed veggies, raw fruits, and organic brown rice. I’d be surprised if you didn’t see a dramatic difference in how you feel.

My hope for readers of this post (if you haven’t already jumped on the whole foods/raw foods bandwagon that is) is that you’ll consider what you’ve read here today and think about giving a whole foods diet a try. It truly doesn’t have to be expensive if you grow your own veggies, shop the sales and get quality meat from a local meat farmer. Even with our superbly healthy diet, we manage to keep our grocery costs around $400 a month for the six of us.

Eating healthier doesn’t have to mean avoiding all treats. We still occasionally eat sugary treats, but when we do, we bake homemade treats, like my “secret” chocolate chip cookie recipe, using organic butter, sugars and flour. There are ways to have your cake occasionally and eat it too.

The thought of people suffering from reactions to the pseudo-food we eat so much of these days, like my son did, like the guy at Aldi did, and like I did, pulls thoroughly at my heart strings. I know people aren’t feeling well, and I think the pseudo-food on our store shelves can take much of the blame for that. So, what’s in your food?  Would you consider trying a whole foods diet, just for a bit? Do it for you, because you deserve the best.

37 comments

  1. This is a great topic because there is a myth circulating that eating healthy is too expensive. So it’s great to hear that you can eat a mostly whole foods diet on $400 a month for a family of 6! Raising our own chickens & garden have definitely cut our grocery costs and taught me a lot about where food comes from.

    • Laurie says:

      Glad you’re finding the same great benefits, Kalie!! I think the “it’s too expensive” myth is largely promoted by the fake food industry. 🙂

  2. I completely agree. We have pretty much switched to organic whole foods as much as possible, and we really feel a lot different from the days when we ate a lot of processed foods. The hardest part is dealing with my inlaws, who think organic is just “fancy expensive food.” for the most part I don’t care what anyone else eats, but i would really prefer that our daughter eat healthy foods. It makes it a challenge on days when they babysit, but we are working on it :-). Great post!!

    • Laurie says:

      I hear you, Dee! Being different, especially in the arena of food, is difficult! So glad you are teaching your daughter your new, healthy living ways. I grew up in a processed food household, and it took years to re-set my taste buds. Luckily, the kids in general are really quite fine with whole foods. Yesterday we were sitting out front in the garden, munching on fresh kale, blueberries and black raspberries. What a delight!

  3. Tara says:

    I couldn’t agree with this post more. I am very sensitive to carbohydrates, probably from 29 years of eating too many pretzels, desserts, sandwiches, bready-products, etc. As a result, I really can’t eat high starch foods because Ican feel blood sugar spikes as soon as I eat desserts, pizza, etc. (so I avoid them now). I just read Wheat Belly and I figure I probably did a lot of damage to my pancreas with all the bread/sugar filled diet I lived on previously. I know not everyone has the same sensitivity to carbohydrates that I have but for me, I no longer can eat those high sugar “health-food” bars that your son ran into in the grocery store, nor can I eat any of the whole-grain foods that are recommended by the nutrition establishment. At least I have learned early enough to change my ways so that I hopefully avoid the onset of Type 2 diabetes. If you want another book that’s pretty eye-opening, Big Fat Surprise is another nutrition book I recommend.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Tara! Your story mimics mine so closely! It took me a long time to recover from needing/craving/wanting those processed goodies. Now I largely avoid them, and feel SO much better each day. I have heard of Wheat Belly but not Big Fat Surprise. Thanks so much for the recommendation! Feel free to write a (anonymous if you’d like) guest post any time on your personal experience with food, Tara. I’d love to share your story!

  4. Laura Harris says:

    I usually don’t gravitate toward this topic because the information circulating out there is so overwhelming. But I’m really glad I read your post because so much of what you talked about was directly from personal experience, and not that far off from what we’re doing. I love the idea of eating fresher, less processed versions of the foods we’re already eating. My only question is what else is there besides organic brown rice in the grain department? Quinoa? Semolina?

    Thanks!

    • Laurie says:

      Great question, Laura! We do eat organic ( I prefer red) quinoa, which I absolutely love. Haven’t tried semolina, though. We do make sweet treats with organic white flour too. It’s not as healthy as the whole wheat organic flour, but it tastes delicious, and lots of the research I’ve read says it’s not the flour or gluten that’s causing health issues for many, but the chemicals sprayed on the grains. I notice that when we eat organic white flour we don’t have nearly the adverse health effects that we have when we eat regular white flour. Here in MN, the white flour is pretty reasonably priced at the local Walmart.

  5. We’re on Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet (basically, it’s no carb with a cheat day & some exercises/rules for the cheat day) and have seen good results. We’ll cheat a bit more outside of our Saturday cheat day (it’s hard to avoid carbs when eating over at your friends’ houses) without derailing our progress.

    No fruit or rice for us, unfortunately, which I do miss. But lots of carb substitutes. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Glad to hear you’re having good results!!!! Yeah, we do little on the fruit side too, focusing mostly on the veggies and brown organic rice. Honestly, I don’t miss the sweets much anymore, but I still have a bit of temptation when I walk by the Oreo stand at Walmart, LOL. 🙂

  6. I need to reevaluate my eating and start focusing on my “real” foods. I get off and on the wagons for various reasons but I agree that “real” food not only tastes better, but is much healthier too. Something I need to recommit to, especially since I will soon be the big 4-0. 🙂 Although I plan on enjoying birthday cake on my bday and probably not worrying about how good or bad I eat at all that day!

    • Laurie says:

      Good for you, Tanya!! Birthdays are meant to be enjoyed! It’s okay to take some detours from healthy eating occasionally. 🙂

  7. Rachel says:

    I grew up not directly on a farm, but not far from the culture if that makes sense. I then started college out as an animal science major and have raised my own livestock. From the standpoint of meat, I am a huge advocate of eating what you raise or knowing where it comes from at minimum. My husband recently had health issues, that relate to this post. We had been super awesome about whole foods and food from scratch and fell away from it for a couple months. It didn’t take long to have an adverse effect on his health. But it also didn’t take long to return make to feeling better once we changed our eating habits. And I totally understand our taste buds adjusting to what we eat. Thanks for posting that it’s possible to eat whole foods on a budget!

    • Laurie says:

      Rachel, that is so interesting! I’ve totally found now that we’re eating so much better that falling off the wagon affects us much more quickly than it used to. Either that, or we just were so used to feeling crummy that we didn’t notice the food correlation before.

  8. I have a client who is a doctor who focuses more on “curing” health issues with food rather than medicines after she realized that changing her diet helped her deal with her MS symptoms, and after spending a bunch of time with her I realized I needed to change some of what we consume in our home. It can certainly get expensive, but there are certain ways to keep your costs under control while eating better and you have to remember that it’s an investment in your health which will likely save you money on healthcare expenses down the road.

    • Laurie says:

      So true about it being an investment in your health too, Shannon. Even if one does spend more on organic foods, it’s worth the money to eat well, IMHO. We haven’t found it to be any more expensive, however.

  9. Ever read the book “Wheat Belly” it’s an eye opener. A slice of wheat bread raises your blood sugar more than a candy bar. Just look at our history go back 50-60 years, what was the percentage of over weight people than? All about how food is prepared these days.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Brian – that’s amazing – the slice of bread vs the candy bar. And the incidence of diabetes, etc. We are ruining our bodies with today’s food!

  10. Kirsten says:

    (Yay, I am at a REAL computer for once)

    I notice this same thing with my girls, although it’s a slightly different take. We do buy a number of things that are pre-processed, including a frozen VEGAN macaroni and cheese. I look at the ingredient list and know what all of those things are, but some of it is on the outskirts of food…

    Anyway, my daughter has eaten that for years. We went out to eat with friends, at a vegan friendly cafe. The children’s menu didn’t have anything super vegan friendly and I allowed my daughter to chose from something on that list or to share my plate. She chose macaroni and cheese.

    While she normally inhales the vegan version, she took a few bites of the dish and then just sat there, picking at my broccoli and olives 😉 Turns out, dairy tastes funny to her!

    • Laurie says:

      Hallelujah! Glad to hear she preferred the broccoli and olives over the processed mac and cheese, Kirsten!! It’s working, my friend. We ARE teaching our kids to love real food!

  11. I agree with you Laurie. There are now ways in getting healthier while still enjoying those food we love eating. There is the organic way and some diet plan such as Paleto diet. With proper exercise, healthy diet can result in living well and living longer.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Jayson! I love my sweet treats, which these days is a full pint of fresh blueberries. And it feels SO much better than downing a bowl of ice cream. 🙂

  12. Mr. SSC says:

    Great article and good reading suggestions I need to follow up on. I guess I am going to have to give it a 30 day challenge and see what all the fuss is about. 🙂 We tend to eat pretty healthy, but I bet we’re still loaded up with a lot of processed foods and ingredients.
    It will be nice to get to garden and grow our own veggies and the like in a few years, but there is no reason to wait until then to start making changes!

    • Laurie says:

      Mr. SSC, I’d be SO curious to see if you noticed a difference. And it’s farmer’s market season so there should be an abundance of fresh veggie and fruit choices for you. We love Reboot with Joe’s mean green juice. I call it my daily glass of “wine”. Smooth, calming and oh so delicious! 🙂

  13. Hannah says:

    I did a Whole30 and I ate Paleo for several months, but I found that I was always hungry on these diets. I ultimately decided that I am not as sensitive to grains as many people. However, if I eat too much refined carbs/sugars I’ve found that my sleep suffers. I try to strike a good balance on these things.

    • Laurie says:

      I know for myself, Hannah, that I have to have a little bit of fruit in my diet. If I cut out sugars completely, I crave them like crazy. Everyone’s body is different. It’s all about doing what works best for you!

  14. My wife said that she noticed back in the day when she stopped using sugar and salt that she could instantly taste it in something she ate. She was actually very turned off by the tastes so yes what we eat or don’t eat really can affect the tastes of food we buy.

    I read the other day again that it’s expensive to eat healthy. I disagree however there are some places in this world where food costs an absolute fortune.

    In Ontario where we are I can safely say that we eat healthy on our $235 Grocery Budget every month (plus $25 stockpile. We eat raw foods too but not exclusively and your recent guest post on CBB really opened my eyes to the raw food diet.

    • Laurie says:

      I love the raw foods stuff. The nuts, the veggies, the juices, like the Mean Green Juice we eat. All SO delicious. I still have my days where I eat processed foods, but I always find myself veering back toward whole/raw foods quickly. 🙂

  15. Even Steven says:

    I can totally relate to this. I was having Achilles pain for quite some time and chalked it up to playing a lot of sports and never tying my shoes for most of my life. Then I really got into Paleo and eating whole foods as much as physically possible, within a few weeks I did not have any pain in my Achilles and it has not been back since. I don’t eat Paleo as an every day lifestyle but I do my best 80/20 to stick with it.

    It’s crazy what can happen when you change your style of eating and what goes in your body.

    • Laurie says:

      WOW, Steven – that is amazing!!! I would’ve totally chalked it up to sports as well! I’m with you on the 80/20 plan – about 80% of the time I stick with my unprocessed foods, and then occasionally I break, like today when my mom took us all out to Dairy Queen. I avoided the sugar (which wreaks serious havoc on me) but I did have an order of onion rings. Dinner, of course, will be a glass of mean green juice and some fresh blueberries. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Food IS medicine – you are so right, Tonya! We can eat foods that destroy our bodies, or eat foods that promote good health. It’s not always easy to take the healthy route, and it’s okay to go “junk food” once in a while, but taking the high road definitely reaps its benefits in the long run.

  16. I love that you’re busting the myth that healthy eating is expensive! We also eat primarily whole foods and we cook just about everything from scratch. This has the double bonus of being cheaper, but also, we know exactly what’s in our food. We often have the same reaction your son did to weird, processed foods. Even something like pasta sauce from a jar tastes pretty bad to us. It’s just better if you make it yourself!

    • Laurie says:

      Mrs. FW, I just got in the house from picking fresh, homegrown (I should say “wildgrown on our property) black raspberries. What a delight. No pesticides, and totally free. When we lived in the ‘burbs, we’d often go walking along the paths in the local parks and stock up on the wild black raspberries growing in the woods – also free. It’s amazing how cheaply you can eat organic whole foods if you put some research and effort into it.

  17. Mackenzie says:

    Some days are better than others, but I am trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my diet. I feel better on the days where every meal has some sort of this component! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Mackenzie! Good to see you, my friend. 🙂 I hear you on this food stuff – it can be tough. I binged big time yesterday, but luckily it was all whole foods, LOL, and I don’t feel too badly today. 🙂

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