Shortly after we rang in the New Year I mentioned that I’d be taking some time in January to talk about some of my habits as they relate to diet, exercise, maintaining balance and so forth. Today I want to talk about diet – and not even really that, more so how we eat. Before I dive in here I want to say it is no way my role to tell you exactly how to eat. Everyone has different dietary needs, preferences, and beliefs and my sole goal for sharing mine is to simply say what works for me, perhaps impart some wisdom, and hopefully spark a dialogue.
So! Real talk? Every time I hear someone say they’re changing the way they eat, whether that means going vegan, paleo, vegetarian, gluten free- you name it, in my head their reasoning for doing so often boils down to one key reason and goal. And that is eating less processed food. More whole and fresh ingredients. I totally believe in that kind of eating, and there are a variety of ways to go about it- so yeah, good stuff, totally on board.
The problem I see though – and why I think we latch on to the confines of these strict diets- is that our definition of what processed food is, is completely out of whack. Things that boast whole grains, needed nutrients, fiber and the like are often really processed and don’t necessarily constitute real food. And we’d be much better off eating a vegetable or whole food to get those nutrients rather than something that’s been “injected” with them.
I’m starting with cereal because they can be the biggest offenders when it comes to processed food posing as good for you, real food. Now don’t get me wrong. I love me some Honey Nut Cheerios and will indulge in them from time to time, but please. Full of good for you grains? Ok maybe but add in 20+ preservatives your body doesn’t need. Yes, some cereals are much better than others but the best thing you can do is make your own! And homemade granola is oh so delicious. Most big brand granola is really high in sugar, making it not so good for you, but when you make it at home you can control everything that goes into it- specifically the sugar. I loved dried cherries and the buttery texture of walnuts, so I put the two together. But certainly feel free to just use my proportions and cooking method, and make it your own way.
Back to this real food bit. I realize everything is processed to a certain extent. I’m also not saying to never indulge because I definitely do so- most frequently in the form of boxed mac and cheese and once in a blue moon, a bag of Doritos which is gone in five seconds in our house. But it’s the everyday stuff where we can make better choices- like buying real lemons instead of bottled lemon juice, buying bread from a local bakery, using real parmesan cheese, cooking with fresh vegetables instead of canned, eating eggs instead of the liquid whatever it is, and don’t even get me started on margarine. I really could go on. And I’m kind of holding back here because I don’t want to offend anyone, but this stuff drives me insane, and simultaneously breaks my heart. The best thing we can do for our bodies is to nourish it with fresh and whole ingredients, and while I realize people have been forced into these low carb, no sugar, low fat, etc crazes, the best thing we can do is the following (said so eloquently by Michael Pollan)- “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s that simple.
I’ll leave you with one more excerpt from Mr. Pollan which really summarizes my frustrations, and hopefully gives you something to think about the next time you go to the grocery store:
Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Sorry for the novel, friends! Now go make that granola, ok?
Tart Cherry & Walnut Granola
Makes about 9 cups
- 4 cups rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/3 cup wheat bran
- 1/3 cup ground flax seeds
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp salt (do not skimp!)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg white, beaten (optional- but produces bigger clusters)
Preheat your oven to 300°.
Mix together all dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the oil and maple syrup, pour over dry mixture and stir well to combine and evenly coat all ingredients. In a separate bowl beat an egg white until it’s white and foamy, pour over granola mixture and stir well.
Line a deep, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pack in the granola. Bake for 1 hour, stirring oats every 15 minutes. Once granola is finished baking, remove from oven, let cool, then cover and let sit for several hours (preferably overnight), so the oat clusters form. Note- it is perfectly acceptable to eat the granola right away and not wait a few hours, the clusters just won’t be as big. Enjoy!