This is a working guide, it is periodically updated. Last Updated 07/09/10.
Eating a healthy and natural diet can be extremely difficult in America. The typical supermarket carries 50,000 products, which is triple the number in 1980. However, the vast majority of those products would not meet our standards for health and natural content. This is reflected in the fact that America is now facing an obesity and diabetes epidemic. According to the Journal of American Medicine, 1 in 3 Americans are obese. Furthermore, the CDC predicts that the number of people living with diabetes in the U.S. will triple to 48.5 million by year 2050. That is about 1 out of every 10 people based on future population estimates. Now is also a period where for the first time in our history, the children born today are not expected to live as long as those already alive. This speaks volumes to what we have done to ourselves and what the culture of a mass-production food system has done to us.
Luckily, we have begun to recognize and remedy the problems we face. Consumers are becoming more educated about food and are now demanding healthier alternatives. This has led to the health food industry experiencing aggressive growth to the tune of 20% annually. Now is the time for everyone to re-examine their habits and knowledge about food. We must begin to make positive changes in our diets, not for a few weeks or months, but for life. Consumers like you and me are the ultimate determinant of what ends up on the food shelves, if we only choose healthy options, only those healthy options will be produced. We truly vote every time we reach the grocery checkout counter. If you are ready to make a change for the better, below you will find a simplified guide to eating a natural and healthy diet.
Before we get started, there are many critics out there who may argue that certain ingredients or chemicals are safe/healthy in our foods. However, before you listen to their advice, find out if they have certain industry ties and also review scientific studies that may counter their claims. In the age of Google, information on these topics is readily available. One specific example is commercials airing nationally that claim high fructose corn syrup is a natural and healthy product. These ads are paid for by the industry who produces the product, and cites evidence from industry funded research. The truth of the matter is that some independent researchers have found adverse effects of high fructose corn syrup on the body when compared to other sweeteners, but that is a whole other discussion. The point here is always do your own research and find trustworthy sources of information. All of our advice is based on over 4 years of buying and researching every natural/health product we could get our hands on. Everything is backed up with peer reviewed, journal published scientific research or articles from reputable sources, which you can find in the footnotes, just like on our regular articles.
Now lets get started:
As we guide you through the process, remember: Start small, slowly integrate healthy foods into your diet, and slowly replace items in your cabinets for better substitutes. Aim for two replaced products per week.
Generally there are three main stages on the quest to eat healthy and natural:
1. Beginner: Starting to add healthier items into your diet and eliminating the most unhealthy ones.
- Adding more fruits and vegetables into diet
- Eliminating sweets, fried foods, ect…
- Focusing on nutriton facts such as saturated and trans fat, sodium, and sugar.
2. Intermediate: Eating a healthy and nutritious diet but now refining it to contain all-natural, chemical free products.
- Eliminating processed and refined foods
- Choosing products free of preservatives
- Moving away from non-natural ingredients
3. Advanced: Moving from all-natural products to organic ones, and further refining what one considers acceptable.
- More concern over pesticides and manufacturing methods
- Environmental concerns over runoff, general pollution, and sustainability
- Added nutritional value from alternatives such as cage free eggs and grass fed beef
- Moving to vegetarian, vegan, only white meat, non-dairy, or other specialized diets based on personalized needs and goals
- Avoiding meat from producers who use antibiotics or do not practice humane treatments
During all three of the above steps, the following rules should be followed:
Rule #1: Focus on Nutritional Value
Always start off by making sure your diet includes proper amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats (monounsaturated, Omega-3) and carbs. So for simplicity, instead of buying fried potato chips or breaded buffalo chicken tenders, aim for things like fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, brown or wild rice, fish, white meats, and olive oil. Here are a few key points to remember:
- Get at least 20 grams of fiber per day
- Monounsaturated fats are very GOOD for you
- Avoid saturated and trans fats
- Cut down on sugar
- Limit sodium whenever possible (2500mg per day max)
- Always use olive oil when cooking
- Canola oil is ok for baking or salad dressings
- Eat a wide range of colors in you diet (ie. red, yellow & orange pepers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc..)
- Eat fish and shrimp
- Leafy greens are always great
Rule #2: Read the Ingredients Label
For simplicity, if you cannot pronounce items on the label, do not buy the product. Ingredients with long, scientific sounding names, are usually just that, preservatives or scientifically formulated items that serve certain cost-cutting purposes. All too many times these cost-cutting ingredients are at the sole benefit of the manufacturer, while leaving health risks to the consumer over the long term. Make sure you have a relative idea of what everything is on the label. Always avoid the following:
- Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats)
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats)
- Benzoates (ex. sodium benzoate)
- Color Additives (ex. Yellow 5, Red 40)
- Calcium Propionate
- Dough Conditioners
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
Rule #3: Just Because Something is Organic or All-Natural Does NOT Mean it is Healthy
Don’t get us wrong, organic and all-natural is what you should be striving for, however, organic and all-natural products can sometimes contain high levels of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium just like their conventional counterparts. This is why it is always important to read labels. All-natural products do not contain any synthetic ingredients, however things like sugar and saturated fat are all-natural but are not good for your health in high amounts. The same goes for organic products, organic only insures that no pesticides were used to grow the ingredients, so still keep a look out for nutritional contents.
Rule #4: Consider the Packaging
- Avoid canned products
- Avoid plastics in general (if possible), especially plastic #7
- Glass is always best
Organic and all-natural products can come in packaging that contains chemicals such as BPA. Spending the extra money for organic food when the packaging is contaminating the integrity of the product is kind of silly in our opinion. Therefore, always avoid cans unless they are specifically marked to be BPA free. (The popular Eden Organic brand beans and rice products are canned in BPA free cans)
Rule #5: Buy From Companies You Trust
In the past there have been instances of foods not actually containing what they claim, especially with imports. To avoid fraud and insure products are safely prepared, buy from companies you trust. The last thing you want to do is buy a product that is mislabeled or claims to be organic when it is not. Also, if you can afford to, shopping at your local natural food store, or Whole Foods, will definitely set you in the right direction. There you will have much wider options of products that are healthy, compared to conventional supermarkets.
“CDC: Diabetes Cases Will Triple to 48.3 Million by 2050 – Diabetes | Symptoms | Diet | Type 2 – FOXNews.com.” Fox News. 12 Sept. 2006. Web. 19 June 2010. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,213499,00.html>.
Flegal, Katherine M. “JAMA — Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008, January 20, 2010, Flegal Et Al. 303 (3): 235.” JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a Weekly Peer-reviewed Medical Journal Published by AMA. 13 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 June 2010. <http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/303/3/235?ijkey=ijKHq6YbJn3Oo&keytype=ref&siteid=amajnls>.
“Statistic Required on How Many Items on an Average Supermarket Shelf.” Google Answers. Web. 19 June 2010. <http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=762490>.
“US Population Projections: 1998-2050.” Negative Population Growth. Web. 19 June 2010. <http://www.npg.org/facts/us_pop_projections.htm>.