Our Food Philosophy: Part II
Yesterday I talked about what guidelines we’ve had for our eating habits for the past year or so. Today I want to tell you what guidelines I want to incorporate into our lives now. Most of these have to do with moving more and more towards eating only real and traditional foods. I just started reading the book Nourishing Traditions so it is shaping a lot of what I’m thinking about food right now. Interestingly I’m realizing that what I eat really effects how fussy Thaddeus is and how much he sleeps. I know a lot of people say that what you eat while nursing really doesn’t make that much of a difference on your baby and that most babies don’t react or have allergies to things that the mom eats. But, I’m starting to really disagree with that.
We do muscle testing and have used it for a while to figure out what things I’m reacting to, but lately we have used it on Thad a bit and it’s been amazing to discover that he IS reacting to certain things in my diet. Since cutting out those things I’ve seen marked improvement in his sleeping habits, in how much he spits up, and in how fussy he is. The most remarkable change happened when I cut out sugar and most refined grains. At the same time I also cut out completely all refined salt (which I had been using a little since I ran out of Celtic Salt) and started soaking the oatmeal that I’ve been eating in yogurt or kefir for 12-24 hours. Oh, and started drinking a little Kefir every day. The first two days after making these changes Thad only woke up twice during the night (before he was waking up and crying like he was in pain 5-10 times a night), the third and fourth night he only woke up once. Not only that, but he also wasn’t as fussy during the day and by the second day he was taking wonderful naps during the day too (which is something he’s never done before).
As I’ve witnessed how eating better has affected my son and as I’ve studied and done more research on food I’ve realized that even though we eat relatively healthy already there are still more steps we can take to improve all of our health. So, here are the next steps I’d like to implement in our family:
1. Switch to using whole unrefined grains and, as much as possible, only grains that have not been ground yet – like wheat berries, whole buckwheat, etc.
We all know that white refined grains aren’t good for us. But, giving them up is something that I’ve never really been fully motivated to do… until recently. Why the change? Well, when it’s just me (or even just me and Bryan) and feel like we are responsible adults and we can make the decision for ourselves – I mean I know that refined white flour isn’t good for me, but if I want to eat it then that is my choice and I can make that choice as an informed adult. But, now I have to feed someone else; someone who isn’t informed, who can’t make the decision for himself and whose health is almost entirely my responsibility. All parents want to do what’s best for their child and each parent has to figure out what that is for themselves and their child. For me and my child I know that we will be healthier and able to feel better if we avoid refined grains so that is a choice that I am willing to make for my sake and his.
But, I recognize that this might be the hardest change we make to our diet. We love bread, pasta, white rice and homemade fresh baked goods. Who doesn’t right? I have gone without wheat before and in cutting out wheat I naturally cut out refined white flour, so I know that it gets easier over time, but the first little bit is always hard. For the past year we have tried to incorporate at least some whole wheat flour and spelt flour into our baking, but we still regularly make bread with white flour and eat pasta made with white flour. And we have never even really tried to switch to brown rice.
I don’t anticipate this change happening overnight. I’m not going to throw out and waste the 5kg of white rice I have stocked in the cupboard. We just can’t afford that right now. But, I will buy brown rice and start mixing it with the white rice. I will stop buying white flour and only buy whole wheat flours instead. And when possible I will buy un-ground whole grains and soak or sprout them (see the next point) and MAYBE grind them to flour myself after sprouting – I guess we’ll just see how far I go. Maybe we’ll even try to eliminate grains all together… hum… probably not, but we’ll see. Baby steps.
2. Start soaking, souring, and sprouting
I will start soaking, souring, and sprouting my grains, seeds, and beans. So, I’ve always heard that soaking beans makes them more digestible and I knew that there were some health benefits to sourdough, but I had no idea about soaking/souring grains and seeds and sprouting is something I just learned about in the past few days.
So, why go through the trouble? Why soak or sprout? Well, first, grains, seeds and beans contain something called Phytic Acid, which is especially prevalent in whole grains. Phytic Acid blocks the absorption of a number of essential nutrients, particularly zinc. When you soak, sour or sprout grains it neutralizes the phytic acid and allows for better absorption of nutrients. But, that’s not all that soaking/sprouting does it also releases enzymes that then help break down gluten and other difficult to digest substances in the grain making them easier for your body to process. Some say that people with gluten intolerances can tolerate grains that have been adequately sprouted. In addition, sprouting also increases the vitamin content of the grains, particularly B vitamins. Also, according to Nourished Kitchen “sprouted grain contains more protein and fewer starches than unsprouted grain and is lower on the glycemic index than its unsprouted counterpart.” Clearly, there are a lot of health benefits to soaking/souring and sprouting your grains. To me, it seems that the benefits are worth the extra effort they require.
3. Switch to natural unrefined sweeteners
Ok, so this is another one that will be hard for me. It’s something I’ve known I should do for a long time, but just haven’t wanted to do, because I LOVE sugar. I don’t eat candy or the normal sources of sugar found in the American diet and probably don’t consume as much as the average American (who supposedly consumes 175 pounds of sugar per year). I do have a deep sweet tooth though. I often put a spoon full of sugar in warm milk, I regularly mix sugar into my plain yogurt, and I love making cookies and other baked goods. But, I know that this tasty sweet is linked to a number of different health problems. As we all know it really has absolutely NO benefit and it can seriously damage your health.
I’ve known for a long time that I should switch to unrefined natural sweeteners, but honestly, it scared me. I mean it’s easy to buy a package of processed sugar in the store and use it in recipes. It takes a bit more effort to learn the ins and outs of all the different kinds of natural sweeteners and how to best use them. It overwhelmed me and in the past I though “OH NO! If I cut out processed sugars then I will never eat sweets again!!!” (said with hand across forehead and faint expression on face) – Yes, I can be a little melodramatic at times. But, the fact of the matter is that is NOT true. There are a lot of natural unrefined sweeteners that actually have some nutritional value (although they should still be limited and not consumed in abundance). I’m not just talking about honey, or maple syrup either. I had no idea that there were so many kinds of natural sweeteners and some of them are fascinating. For example have you ever heard of Coconut Sugar? Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut flowers and contains a number of essential vitamins and amino acids while also having a low Glycemic Index. Or have you heard of Sorghum? Which is rich in B vitamins, iron, and calcium and phosphorous. There are TONS of other natural, traditionally made sweeteners out there and I’m giving myself a personal assignment to figure out where to find them and try out these different sources for satisfying my sweet tooth.
4. Learn how to cook new types of foods and be even more adventurous with what we eat.
Variety is the spice of life, but I think it is also the miracle tonic of health. The more variety you are eating the more different nutrients your body is absorbing. I have a tendency to stick with the vegetables that I’m familiar with – carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, cucumber, tomato, potato – these are the veggies that you can almost constantly find in my house. It’s time we branch out and explore things like Kohlrabi, rutabaga, black turnip, mustard greens, and tat soi. But, I want to get adventurous not just in trying new vegetables. I also want to try things like Quinoa (which I bought today), Millet, and currents for example.
In the past few weeks we have already started branching out with our exploration. We recently started eating celery root and I love it. We also made liver and onions for the first time, which although not the best meal I’ve made it was pretty tasty and liver is hard to beat when it comes to a good source for B vitamins, folic acid, and iron. I also made hot buckwheat cereal for our breakfast a few days ago. I have loved trying these things and I want to try more things that I haven’t normally used in the past.
5. Eat more fermented food, like Kefir.
We have all heard that yogurt is good for you because of the probiotics it contains, but yogurt isn’t the only food containing probiotics. And probiotics aren’t the only benefit of fermented foods. Dairy products that have been fermented also contain higher levels of folic acid, B vitamins and other macro- and micronutrients. Vegetables that are fermented (for example sauerkraut) often have higher levels of vitamin C and vitamin A. Lactic acid fermentation can also increase the bioavailability of various amino acids. These are just a few benefits of fermentation.
Over the past four days I have had one small glass of Kefir a day and occasionally also some plain yogurt. I want to continue this and also start to eat other fermented food. Maybe I’ll even try making my own pickles or sauerkraut… we’ll see. Ok, with all that being said there is one more thing to say. It’s something that is a key value to me as I think about how I want to eat and how I want my family to eat…
Health matters. I value my health and the health of my family. But, people matter too. I never want my health consciousness and my own food choices to make someone else uncomfortable. I value shared meals with people and if someone serves me something I’ll eat it (as long as it’s not a known allergen or sensitivity for me or my family). Personally I feel that if it’s not going to put us in immediate danger or severe discomfort then even if it is not good for our long term health it is still worth eating. I never want to turn a snub nose at what someone else has offered me, or make someone else feel uncomfortable with the extremity of many of my own food choices.
Well, I’m looking forward to many of the changes that we’re making in our diet and I’m excited to see how we all feel after implementing them. Maybe I’ll write more after trying these things for a while and let you know how we are doing with incorporating these five guidelines into our lives.
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman