I used to be a junk food junkie. Among my favorites:
True Story. Yuck.
After I had my second son, I began to care about working out and being in shape. Before long, I began to care about what I put into my body. However, I was still so clueless! First, I simply began to consider the calories I was consuming and how long it might take to burn off that many calories. It took a long time before I fully understood the importance of being mindful of WHAT I ate and not how much. I wish I had known then all that I know now, more than two years later. So, you may be wondering how you can really get started yourself without being completely overwhelmed.
First, start reading ingredient labels. You might say “but I don’t know what any of those ingredients are/mean.” Exactly. My rules for food labels are 1. The fewer the ingredients, the better, and 2. If you can’t pronounce it/don’t know what it is, you probably don’t want to eat it! Now, the best way to avoid harmful ingredients is to avoid pre-packaged foods altogether in favor of fresh ingredients. However, I know that step takes a while to achieve (heck, I’m still in progress!).
So, what are the most important ingredients to avoid? I’m going to list a few of the most harmful ingredients to start avoiding:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)- this highly unhealthy additive serves as a sweetener in tons of food products, from sweet treats to things you might not expect, like crackers and even whole grain breads! HFCS is one of the top sources of sugar consumption in the US, and has a multitude of poor effects on your health, including weight gain, inflamation within the body leading to heart disease and auto-immune disorders, and diabetes. It is made from corn (obviously), which in and of itself is a problem, considering that most corn grown in the US is now genetically modified (we’ll get into that later).
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)- another food additive, primarily used to enhance flavor. It is often found in powdered products and soups. MSG has been linked to a plethora of health problems, including migraines, nausea and long-term weight gain, among others. It also hides under a number of names: hydrolyzed protein, gelatin, monopotassium glutamate, and lots more. Avoid labels containing the words protein, hydrolyzed, and glutamate, because they likely contain some form of MSG.
Hydrogenated Oils– hydrogenated oils are created by a process of forcing hydrogen gas into oil at high pressure and temperature. These oils are in, dare I say, MOST conventional packaged products: crackers, cookies, granola bars, breads, peanut butter, etc. They are also known as trans fats and are similar to mono/ diglycerides as well. And partially hydrogenated oils are actually worse for you than hydrogenated oils, because the incomplete hydrogenation leaves more toxins in the oil. Consumption of hydrogenated oils leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and auto immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
In my opinion, those are the biggies you want to start avoiding. There are a TON of food additives (flavorings, colors and preservatives) to avoid, but we’ll get to that. If you can just start with baby steps, you will be less overwhelmed. If you need to choose just one of the above additives (HFCS, MSG or Hydrogenated Oils) to removed from your diet at a time, start with that! Make it manageable and set attainable goals for yourself.
As you start removing packaged and junk foods from your diet, start introducing more fresh fruits and vegetables. If you already eat fresh fruits and vegetables, start switching out some of your conventional produce for organic. Use the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists as your guides.
Finally, goal to make one thing from scratch this week. Start with something simple like a sauce or spice mixture, something you would normally buy packaged. Just try making one thing that you wouldn’t normally.
If you want to really set some lofty goals, try to watch one food documentary this week. I suggest Food, Inc. 🙂
Comment below to let us know where you are at in your “real food” journey!