Cleaning up your diet after years (or decades) of industrial, processed foods is a challenging endeavor. It won’t happen overnight and sometimes you won’t know how to navigate your way. These are five of the things I found really useful in getting started on this journey.
1. Switch your Salt. Table salt has nothing but sodium chloride and iodine. It’s refined, gives no health benefits and even though it’s salt, it’s bland!! Salt is supposed to contain a variety of minerals, many of which are important for health but are lacking in the Western Diet (zinc, iron or magnesium anyone?). Switch to a raw sea salt and you’ll immediately notice a difference in the flavour of your food.
2. Give in to your weakness. I used to have a huge struggle with every winter grocery trip. I wanted to eat good whole foods AND I wanted to eat local foods but, being Canadian, there’s only so much available in the winter. And being a foodie, I can only take so many nights of turnips. I found I was buying the “boring” winter vegetables but I’d put off including them in a meal until the end of the week, then I’d talk my husband into ordering pizza because “there’s nothing in the fridge.” When I got pregnant with Little Man, I realized I had to put my own health first and the planet’s second. And then I had an epiphany – in terms of environmental impact, I’m positive that it’s better to eat the completely unprocessed peruvian asparagus than to eat the frozen pizza filled with manufactured chemicals that’s still topped with Californian tomatoes, and Chinese pepperoni. The moral of the story: buy and eat the real foods you want, when you want them. Get used to real first. You can tackle the rest later.
3. Make hay while the sun shines. When it’s asparagus season in Canada, I eat it DAILY! Maybe even twice a day. Even at the office though I knew the consequences for my next trip to the ladies room! (Or is that TMI?!) By filling up when it’s there, I’m less likely to miss it in November when the Peruvian stuff comes out, thus helping me with point #2.
4. Ditch the dressing. A clean diet is sure to include a lot of green salads, so don’t go and ruin it by pouring xanthan gum, hydrolized soybean oil and diglycerides all over it. It’s ridiculously easy to make your own salad dressing. Here’s how: Olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt – all in proportions to taste (Jamie Oliver says 2 parts oil to 1 part acid… I prefer a 1:1 ratio). Want some variety? Switch the vinegar flavour. Throw in some oregano. Add a clove of garlic. Or half a shallot. Or mustard. Or mustard AND garlic. You’ll never think salad is boring again.
5. Chew the fat, literally. If you’ve tried to be healthy (or to diet) within an industrialized system, then you’re probably used to skimping on natural fats only to replace them with artificial flavour enhancers. If you try to switch to a clean diet while keeping your industrialized ideas that chickens are walking breasts without skin or bones, you’ll be disappointed by a seemingly flavourless menu. So while you get the hang of it, you should taste the flavour that nature has to offer. Try a chicken thigh instead of a breast. Switch up a fat level (or three) in your milk. You might find that if you do, you won’t want the ketchup for your (homemade) nuggets or the sugar for your cereal. And then you won’t be as tempted to go back to the corn-starched, salted, fake-fragranced products. Trust me.
These little changes really helped me to let go of some of my old food habits and to get the ball rolling. They worked because they were EASY for me and I think that’s very important. I firmly believe in starting with the little steps and building up when it comes to such a major undertaking.
I’d love to know how others tackle this task. Where did you start? What was the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in your processed diet?