Our Food Philosophy: Part I

A few weeks ago a friend of ours asked Bryan and I, “What’s your philosophy of eating?” At the time I had no idea how to answer her, but ever since that moment I’ve been thinking a bit about how we eat and our approach to eating. So, my husband and I talked a little about this question and we realized that we already have an unspoken philosophy on food in our house. It began just after we got married almost five years ago. I had always struggled with allergies and some health issues and about that time I began really delving into researching. I started to learn about Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and various chemicals that can be found naturally and unnaturally in food produces. I realized then that I reacted to most (if not all) chemicals, preservatives, food additives and dyes. I also reacted to some natural foods – mostly those high in salicylates, such as cinnamon for example.

The research I did led us to clean out our pantries and change the way we ate. But, avoiding preservatives and food dyes was not the only thing that started to change. Without really realizing it we developed a whole slew of unspoken food “rules” in our house. I definitely think that these rules have improved our overall health. I feel good about the ways that we have eaten over the past 4+ years and thankful for how much better I feel now than I did before.

So, here are some of the unspoken food “rules” we’ve had for the past few years: 1. You can eat anything you want as long as you make it yourself.

This accomplishes two things. First, it means that you know exactly what you are eating. Second, if you have to make something yourself then there are going to be quite a few things that you aren’t likely to make very often. Let’s talk about doughnuts as a practical example so you can see how this plays out. Doughnuts are something that neither Bryan nor I would normally buy (in fact I think in the almost five years that we have been married we haven’t bought doughnuts once). Doughnuts are definitely not that healthy, but if we make them ourselves then the worst things in them will be the refined flour and sugar (which we don’t necessarily have to use) and the “fat” (which I will address in one of the following points). Because we made them ourselves I’ll know that they don’t have any preservatives, additives, food coloring, or anything else questionable in them. Also, making doughnuts from scratch is a bit time intensive which means that even though we might make them and enjoy them thoroughly, we won’t be making them every week; in fact it will probably be quite some time before we make them again.

2. Eat whole/real foods as much as is possible.

For years we have shopped almost excessively on the outside aisles at the grocery store without even really thinking about it. We particularly use a good amount of vegetables in our cooking.  As much as possible we try to use real food instead of man-made or processed foods. We buy real butter instead of margarine or butter substitutes. We use real sugar instead splenda or other sugar substitutes (although we do still use refined sugar, which is something I’ll be addressing in tomorrow’s post). With a very, very few exceptions we don’t buy boxed or packaged pre-made foods. This is mainly because we have wanted to avoid preservatives, additives and food dyes which are found in almost all boxed/packaged foods.

3. When buying packaged foods understand what the ingredients are.

As I already talked about we don’t buy a lot of packaged food. But, we do regularly buy pasta, couscous, cheese, yogurt, and a few other things like that. Very occasionally we’ll buy chips, crackers, or boxed cereal. Our general rule though is that if we don’t understand the ingredients in something (or if we understand them and know the health risks they pose) we won’t buy it. This has made buying packaged food in Prague something we do even more rarely than in America. My Czech is very basic and that means that even if something only had natural whole ingredients in it, I wouldn’t always be able to tell, so I won’t buy it.

4. Don’t be scared of Fat and use whole, unrefined natural fats as much as you want.

Ok, so this one will be a bit of a stretch for some people, but for Bryan and I this has been a way of thinking for a long time now. Especially in America fat is sort of a dirty word and everyone tries to avoid it. People buy fat-free and low-fat everything thinking that those things are better for them. But, here’s the thing, if you take fat out of something then you usually have to put something else in it in order for it to still taste good. Usually what they are putting in it is some sort of manmade additive or filler and not natural, so I say,”Stay Away!” We avoid eating things that are labeled low-fat or fat-free.

But, we don’t just stay clear of low-fat or fat-free items, we often use fat liberally in our cooking. We buy whole milk and whole yogurt and full fat cheeses. And I’ve even started cooking with lard . Why?? Because, fat is GOOD FOR YOU! Your body needs fat! Just one example of this is that your body needs fat in order to fully absorb some of the nutrients in your foods. If you start doing some research you will see that there is a LOT of good that fat does in the body and fat is needed for a lot of the body’s healthy processes. Hum… in fact I may have to look into writing a whole blog just all about fat… we’ll see.

5. Don’t be scared of Salt either and use as much unrefined salt as your taste buds desire.

Here’s another thing that many American nutritionists seem to tell you to avoid: salt. Well, we personally choose to ignore that, but for good reason.  Your body needs salt. For starters, you can’t stay hydrated without salt. Salt and water work together in an intricate balance in the body to keep you hydrated, to keep your muscles relaxed, to balance your pH, and to keep your blood pressure balanced. Salt can also help with the absorption of B complex vitamins. Here’s the deal though, salt can be a problem if you aren’t drinking enough water, or if you are only consuming highly processed refined salts. If you are eating a lot of packaged, processed foods then you are probably getting too much refined salt in your diet and the advice to lower your salt intake is probably good advice. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone should limit or lower their salt intake and in my own research it seems to me that if you are using unrefined salts then there is no need to limit your intake at all.

There is a huge difference between refined salt and unrefined salt. Unrefined sea salts contain a number of very nutritious minerals and nutrients that our bodies need, while refined salt has been stripped of all that goodness. Refined salts are also bleached to give them that nice white color, and they retain some of the chemicals used to bleach them. So, I am usually selective in what salts we use. My all time favorite salt for the few years has been Celtic Sea Salt. Sadly, I’ve run out of Celtic Sea Salt and I’m not sure where to find it here (anyone know??). This will definitely be the first thing I buy next time we are in the states.

6. For the most part avoid soy.

When Bryan and I first got married I loved soy – soy milk, tofu, etc. Bryan’s response to these purchases was to completely avoid them, claiming that soy contains a substance that mimics estrogen in our bodies. He jokingly added that he didn’t want to “develop man boobs”. I sort of laughed at him at first, but turns out he was right.

When I started researching my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity it seemed that one thing that came up was hormone imbalances and particularly estrogen imbalances. So, we started avoiding soy. Now, after a bit more research on soy, I know that there are other reasons to avoid soy. One example is that soy has been linked with thyroid disorders (this was another good personal motivator for me to avoid soy since I have had borderline thyroid issues off and on for years). Soy also contains a remarkably high amount of phytic acid, which blocks the body’s ability to absorb zinc, as well as magnesium, calcium, and iron.

Avoiding soy isn’t as easy as it sounds though since soy is added to a number of packaged and processed foods. Because we don’t eat all that many packaged foods it hasn’t been as hard, but if you do eat a lot of packaged foods and want to avoid soy you need to do your research and read the labels carefully as a number of common food additives contain soy.

So, those have been the key points to our food philosophy for the past few years. I am realizing lately that we still have a long way to go. As we’ve started to discuss what our current food guidelines are we have also started to discuss ways in which we would like to change our eating habits and new food guidelines that we would like to implement. So, tomorrow I’ll share about the direction we are heading with our food philosophy.

I hope you enjoy this little mini-series on food. It’s definitely helpful for me to process through all this in writing and figure out where our family is at in regards to health and our approach to food and where I would like us to be at in regards to these things.

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany