3 Small Changes for a Big Impact in Your Health

I think at some point in our lives we've all had the desire to "be healthier". While everyone's perspective of health might be different, I don't think any of us want to be sick or not feel well. The problem becomes an over abundance of information available at our fingertips. We can quickly become lost in cyber space and the thousands of schools of thought around health after an innocent Google search of "healthy eating".

Who would have thought eating healthy would be so confusing?

The truth is, it can be downright overwhelming when you want to clean up your diet in the name of health. Luckily there are a few things you can do right now that will make a big impact on your overall picture of health, regardless of your gender, size, or age.

1. Ditch the Processed Foods (and Sugar!)

First let's start by defining what processed food is. Processed food can really be summed up as anything that comes in a package and has an ingredient list beyond a handful of recognizable items. Now, one can argue that there are foods that fall into this camp that are totally healthy. This is true. I definitely have some staples in my pantry and fridge that are packaged foods. The difference between a food in a package and truly processed food comes down to the actual ingredients and the method of preparation.

Processed foods will often have long ingredient lists or have ingredients that you either can't pronounce or have no idea what they are. If you don't know what an ingredient is or you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it because your body doesn't know what it is either. Processed foods are often manufactured, rather than grown or raised like real food from a garden or an animal that roamed a pasture.

Sugar hides in processed foods under many different names so you can unknowingly be consuming far more sugar than you realize. Some of the many forms of sugar include agave nectar, barley malt syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, corn syrup, lactose, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, and fruit juice concentrate but there are several more names sugar can hide behind. If you focus on a diet derived from mostly whole foods with limited packaged foods, you should be avoiding those tricky sugars

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Another way to think about it is to do your grocery shopping on the outskirts of the store. The majority of the foods on the shelves or in the freezer aisle are bound to be processed and full of chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and sodium. Think produce, meat and some dairy, or things that need refrigeration and don't have a shelf life of several years.

So why ditch the processed foods? These foods have been denatured and are no longer in their natural state. They're also full of additives like preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, all kinds of sugar, hydrogenated oils, and sodium. Our body doesn't recognize these modified "fake" foods and they wreak havoc on our digestive system, spike our blood sugar, deplete our nutrients and burden our liver and our body's detoxification pathways.

Think about what your ancestors ate. If your great, great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, you're better off not eating it.

2. Eat More Vegetables

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you are (probably) not eating enough vegetables. This includes both quantity and variety. Vegetables provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals and are a great source of fiber. This is especially important since our modern diet is seriously lacking in all three.

Eat as many vegetables in as many varieties as you can. Keep the saying "eat the rainbow" in mind when you grocery shop (and no I'm not talking about Skittles!). Eating a variety of colors ensures you're getting a variety of phytonutrients, which may help prevent disease.

Different colors are associated with different phytonutrients. For example, red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids, which are antioxidants that are beneficial in attacking free radicals in our body. Lutein is found in green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collards, and may prevent the formation of cataracts and other degenerative eye diseases.

vegetables

Prioritize leafy greens (think spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard greens and bok choy) plus an abundance of my personal favorites, cruciferous vegetables, which include things like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. These guys are known to help the body detoxify and are great when roasted. Finally, add some color with bell peppers, tomatoes, beets and radishes. 

Don't be afraid to get creative with your veggies either! There's so much more you can do than just steam them. Roast them with a good doll-up of butter and spices, saute' them with some garlic, or chop them all up and toss them in a salad with a piece of meat and a drizzle of olive oil for a complete meal.

3. Forget the Frankenfats

What is a frankenfat you might ask? A frankenfat, or an adultered fat,  is a fat or oil that has been refined and manufactured. Frankenfats include vegetable oils like canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and "PAM" cooking spray, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, and trans fats.

Vegetable oils are typically found in the supermarket in big clear plastic containers and are suspiciously cheap. They have been marketed as "heart healthy" but in reality this couldn't be further from the truth. Due to heavy processing and oxidation, these oils are often rancid. Vegetable oils are highly sensitive to heat and light and can become easily damaged when exposed to either. Ironically, they spend months sitting on the supermarket shelf under florescent lighting and then are often used in roasting and cooking, hence being exposed to both heat and light and therefore becoming damaged. 

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Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils  are most often found in packaged foods like chips, crackers, breads, cookies, and other baked goods. These oils get their name from the chemical hydrogenation process they undergo. Hydrogenating an oil makes it more closely resemble a saturated fat like butter, which gives baked goods and crackers that buttery crumb we all love. Unfortunately, the hydrogenation process produces trans-fats and leaves us with a highly toxic oil that's been linked to inflammation, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. 

Never in human history has our physiology been exposed to such amounts of chemically altered vegetable oils as in these last few decades, thanks to the diet-heart hypothesis. (Put Your Heart In Your Mouth)

Fats are the building blocks of our cells and our cells quite literally embody everything that we are as humans. So when we consume toxic, crappy fats, we're going to get crappy cells as a result. Unhealthy cells ultimately means unhealthy us!

Throw out your vegetable oils, your margarine and your PAM spray, and read labels for hydrogenated oils. You'd be surprised, they hide in so many foods you wouldn't suspect like bottled salad dressings, condiments, and marinara sauces.  Instead, use grass fed butter (or ghee if you're lactose intolerant), avocado oil, coconut oil, or lard for cooking and sautéing and drizzle your salads with cold pressed olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Can it really be that simple?

Sure, there are many more things we can consider on our journey to obtain optimal health but the idea is to give you a few key takeaways you can implement right now that will go a long way. I understand the frustration with the massive amounts of information you can come across when you're trying to eat healthy.

Start today by eliminating processed foods, adding more vegetables to your diet, and pitching the vegetable oils in your cabinet in favor of grass fed butter, avocado, coconut, and olive oils. I I think you'll find these three steps will go a long way on your road to health.