Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Towards eating a healthier diet.(a green lifestyle with organic foods and healthy eating).

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I have noticed two major themes as I journey into greener ways of eating: one, eating well involves making food a central part of life and, two, which I will get into below and in future articles, there is a great deal of contradictory information out there about how to eat healthily.

I could spend an article or more describing the philosophies behind the first theme, but as a result of paying more attention to food, this "slow food" attitude just happened to us. I didn't read up on it or have an intention to try it. We just started doing it because it is not possible to eat well and healthily in the "fast" ways that many of us do. I didn't even hear about the slow food movement until after we'd already started eating that way! So, instead of elaborating on something that happens inevitably, I will discuss the practicalities of theme number two: Eating well in today's world is confusing.

Attempting to eat healthily when you don't know how can be challenging, frustrating and overwhelming. Should you eat margarine or butter? Dairy or no dairy? Vegan or carnivore? Refined or unrefined? Raw or pasteurized? Low-fat or full-fat? Without doing extensive reading (and even then), these decisions are difficult.

My first exploration into alternative ways of eating was with my six-month old son and jarred organic baby food. I must have read somewhere that conventional foods contain harmful substances and I couldn't justify feeding his perfect little body foods that I knew contain pesticides, additives and the like, so we went organic. This decision seemed simple at first, but knowing what not to do did not mean I knew what to do. By the time baby number two came along, knowing that fresh is better, we made our own baby food.

We were transitioning gradually, however. At this point, my partner and I were cooking two kinds of meals--organic for our kids, conventional for us. Reason: My partner believed organic was a scam and did not believe there was enough proof to justify doubling our grocery bill.

The switch to all of us eating organically came when our first son started wanting to eat the conventional foods off our plates. In all honesty, my partner didn't have much of a choice in the debate. I'd done the reading and educated myself on the issues. If Trey wanted to eat our food, our food was going to be organic. By this point, however, my partner had done enough reading to know organic was better. He was just not happy (as the sole financial provider) with the cost.

From there, our journey into better eating turned from a trickle into a waterfall. It was like a dam had broken, with the changes coming quickly and from all directions. Part of the change was to begin to eat fresh foods.

At first it seemed simple: Buy and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables. Easy. Then, I read a magazine article about grinding your own flour and making your own bread, which mentioned that flour has lost forty-five percent of its nutrients within twenty-four hours of being ground and, within seventy-two hours, ninety percent of its nutrients are gone. Not so fresh... Although alarmed, I did nothing with this information for a couple of years because the thought of grinding my own grain was too much.

It's also been a slow process getting rid of food in jars and cans. Cans, as you probably know, contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound that has received much media attention recently from studies that have linked it to developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity and cancer. Canned foods also lack enzymes and vitamins. Until I learned this, we had been used to eating canned tuna, coconut milk, beans, tomatoes and occasional soups. It was easy to reduce the number of canned foods we used and we did that fairly quickly, but getting rid of them altogether took longer.

If I existed in my own perfect utopia, getting rid of cans would have been easy (as would everything else to do with seriously greening our life). All I needed to do was throw them out! However, two things stopped me from doing that: pressure from others and lack of alternatives. Since Trey was born and I started making these changes, I have been told repeatedly and often that I need to relax about my food and health conscious "issues." As a result, and ignoring my intuition, I have many times paused on the road to green and healthy living.

What always brings me back onto the path is a new article, book, conference or conversation with someone who lives the way I want to. Six months ago, for instance, I attended a "Baby Purity" conference where I was able to meet Nena Baker, author of The Body Toxic and Lisa Frack, who works for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the U.S., and to speak with many activist mothers. After this conference, I went home and threw out the rest of our cans and much, much more. Researching and touching up on my knowledge for this column has also helped. Fear, love and the fight I have in me always brings me back into line with my intuition.

Another thing that makes all of these changes difficult to make and adhere to is the overall lack of knowledge within the larger culture, which really means that for some products, there are few or no healthy options. For example, I have yet to find uncanned tomato paste (if you know of any, please let me know!). It was a long search to find uncanned coconut products and, as of yesterday, we are off store-bought teriyaki sauce, capers, soy sauce and all refined oils until I can find suitable replacements. Reason: the teriyaki sauce contains xanthan gum (an additive made from corn that's acceptable in mainstream additive circles, but I'm not convinced). The capers contain citric acid (which may contain MSG). The soy sauce contains alcohol (which is an additive I'm not convinced is necessary or healthy). And refined oils are heated to high temperatures, which damages vitamin content and turns unsaturated fatty acids into harmful trans-fatty acids. Also, they are often full of free radicals and most refined oils are solvent-extracted with chemicals such as hexane and are bleached and chemically treated to prolong shelf life.

Unless I know exactly what the product is, what every single ingredient is about, what every word on the label means, how it is prepared and how that preparation affects the food, or unless it is literally from the ground, I don't use it.

That's pretty much how we've made this journey to organic and beyond, balancing my partner's concern with money and my concern with how toxic I believe the offending ingredient to be. Then I either source out a healthy local version of what we got rid of or I start thinking about what it would take to make it at home.

This has been time consuming and frustrating, but I don't see any alternative. We have made lot of changes to how and what we eat, but doing it this way gives me peace of mind and doesn't make me completely insane. At least my kids are eating healthily!

Learn More

The Body Toxic by Nena Baker (North

Point Press, 2008)

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael

Pollan (Penguin, 2007)

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

(Penguin, 2008)

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

(New Trends Publishing, 1999)

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul

Pitchford (North Atlantic Books, 2003)

Environmental Working Group


Baby Purity Conference


Weston Price Foundation


Pasture to Plate


Real Milk


Slow Food


Deb Purcell is an unschooling mother of three children, from Vancouver, British Columbia. When she is not spending time with her family, you can find her advocating for rare disease care (visit the website www.treypurcell.com for more info), healthy living, the environment and non-compulsory schooling. She invites reader questions about her path to a healthier, greener lifestyl for her family. Email her at dcehak@telus.net

Source Citation:Purcell, Deb. "Towards eating a healthier diet.(a green lifestyle with organic foods and healthy eating)." Natural Life (July-August 2009): 36(2). General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 15 Sept. 2009

Gale Document Number:A204318376

Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

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