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Health, Home, and Happiness: Standard American Diet to Real Food- What I did

Monday, December 14, 2009

Standard American Diet to Real Food- What I did

I have always been health conscious, but following the 'healthy' diet seemed like a constant life of deprivation, which just wasn't very fun. I swam for exercise (at one point twice a day 5 days a week), and yet was always exhausted. Now that I've found real food that works with my body rather than just the calorie in/calorie out idea, I feel so much healthier!

I started slow. This is the order that I changed things. Nothing in here is very difficult, I promise. I walk for exercise, it's easy to do with my kiddos. I don't make it a chore, but something we look forward to. If we don't get out all week, no guilt trips! But because it makes us feel so good, we want to get out the next week.

Here are the steps I took to get where I am at the moment, and as I try to convey on my blog, I'm always learning and changing. I'd encourage you to do the same, start slow. I'll put boxes by them so you can print this out and stick it on your kitchen cork board and check things off if you'd like. Seeing it out on paper might inspire your family to take interest as well! I know my husband doesn't want to read nutritional books, but if he glances at something I'm reading on a blog he likes to learn more about it in snippets. Kids will surprise you with how much they're interested in health as well.

"Supposing is good, but finding out is better."
- Mark Twain in Eruption; Mark Twain's Autobiography

Vegan/Vegetarian: All those reasons why you've heard that the vegetarian lifestyle is healthier? Here are 49 Reasons to be a Vegetarian: A Rebuttal, at Nourished Kitchen. I think a lot of us who are interested in health fall into the vegetarian trap. It sounds really healthy on the surface, but I know that I never thrived on it. I would encourage you to be informed about vegetarianism, since it will help clarify why we eat what we eat.

Swimming: I swam for exercise, which really is a nice full body workout. I'm not sure that swimming in chemicals is healthy, though, so I don't think I'll encourage this with my children. Public pools are heavily chlorinated, so I take my kids swimming in lakes and slow-moving streams

Milk Allergy: One benefit of going vegan for a couple years was that when I reintroduced milk (cheese pizza at Round Table, I can still remember it) I broke out in hives immediately. That was a good sign that I was allergic to milk products. I had always had really bad seasonal allergies and chronic sinus infections before going vegan, and now that I know to avoid dairy, I don't. Until my teens, we had no idea that I had a diary allergy, since I had become somewhat used to it, so it just manifested in chronic conditions rather than acute (hives) ones. Have chronic infections, eczema, or other problems? An elimination diet might be worth trying.

Water Filter: I grew up on well water, so when we got married and moved to the city, we immediately got a filter to filter out chlorine. Like the milk allergy above, if you've been on city water for a while, you might not notice the chlorine in your drinking water, but I would highly recommend filtering it out anyway. We just use PUR FM-9500 Water Filtration System. I'd love a reverse osmosis one, but for now this is better than nothing.

Childbirth: I have a collection of childbirth and baby links up here. Once again, there's a lot more to it than you'll learn in mainstream childbirth education classes. Reading birth stories, statistics, and talking to a variety of birth professionals (doulas, midwives, and doctors) can help you to have a well-rounded perspective when it comes time to make decisions for your and your baby. We chose to homebirth, so I felt like it was my responsibility to learn all I could. Now I see that wherever you choose to birth, it really is a parent's responsibility to learn the pros and cons of everything, since not everything done by a birth attendant is automatically evidence based.

Switch to regular soda from diet: I was surprised at how hard this is, since caffeine is often blamed for soda addiction. I just wanted to get the artificial sweeteners out of my diet before conceiving, and it was hard, I'm guessing aspartame is addictive to some people. Much easier for me to drop soda all together (later down the list). When I stopped drinking diet soda, I was usually drinking 4 Diet Pepsi a day.

Vaccinations: Again, please be informed of the statistics associated with vaccines, both the benefits and risks. There are also ingredients in vaccines that many of us are not comfortable giving our children.

Butter: Kitchen Stewardship has a great overview of all the reasons why you need to stop buying margarine and start buying real butter at the store. No more tubs of Country Crock (yes, that was a regular in my fridge 4+ years ago). No need to jump ahead to buying local grass-fed organic butter. Just start with replacing those cubes and tubs with real cow-milk butter. Now we use more coconut oil, but when we were mostly eating butter as our fat we went through 16 lbs a month.

Buy Nourishing Traditions and just look through it. I bought it when I was pregnant with my daughter and I think it was a good 6 months before I made any significant changes to our diet. The excerpts in the side bars of the pages and the overview at the beginning of each chapter are nice places to start. Skip the recipes for fermented fish sauce and brains, we won't start there ~smile~. (more recommended reading here, but digest Nourishing Traditions for a while before building a whole library)

Get rid of Crisco: I had been holding onto Crisco for cookies (Betty Crocker's recipe) but I finally let that go and switched to butter. So do that now. If you're using it to fry, switch to coconut oil.

Bought a wheat grinder, started making whole wheat bread: I read some articles on the importance of freshly ground whole wheat flour, and was interested. I bought my grain mill used (I love buying things used). Now I'll occasionally use Wheat Montana's whole wheat flour, but I usually just buy a 5-pound bucket of their wheat berries. They're easier to store and don't go bad like already ground flour does. I'm okay with buying whole wheat flour already ground, though, since it's local and pretty fresh. I keep it in my freezer at home. I didn't know about soaked wheat bread (see below) yet. I like my electric mill, but I'd also like to get the hand crank mill from Nova Natural to use with the kids.

Bought a natural crib mattress for my daughter. I did the same for my son when he moved to a crib for his naps (ahem, or when I thought he would. He is napping in our bed as I type this)

Stop buying corn dogs: Or other convenience food of choice ~smile~. Corn dogs were my personal favorite. Now I usually do quesodillas as fast I-forgot-to-figure-out-dinner food.

Switch to natural peanutbutter: I know it's different, but the natural stuff is good. Think of the hydrogenated peanut butter as more of a junk food, not something nourishing. I liked to spread the natural stuff on toast first, so it would melt a little bit.

Cut out food dye: I was intrigued by the book Why Your Child Is Hyperactive at this point in my 'real foods' journey. Reading it convinced me to not let any products containing food dye ever enter my child's mouth. We messed up a few times (marshmallows have blue dye in them, not being able to get dye-free medicine), but overall we've stuck to this. And it works well to keep junk out of the house, or at least out of little ones' mouths.

Detour: Baby food. As my little one was getting close to the 'eating stage' I did a cram session on this.

Soaked wheat bread: It isn't hard, I promise.

Good quality prenatal: I really wish I had figured out the value in a good quality foods-derived vitamin with my first pregnancy, but I didn't figure it out til my second.

Lactoferments: I was wary of these at first, but now I love them. I can feel that digestion is easier then I add some to each meal. We generally just add sauerkraut to everything, even hubby has it on his sandwich instead of lettuce.

Soaked nuts: Seriously easy, and it takes the bitter 'bite' out of them. You can use them to make honey nut brittle too- easy! and a real food!

Stop with sodas: We still drank rootbeer and coke after stopping with the diet verstions. Corn syrup, artificial flavoring, no thanks. Now we don't even like them any more.

Switch to real salt
: It's easy, I just didn't get my act together and buy a grinder until way down here on the list.

Humidifier with essential oils: I was surprised how this cheap and easy fix can prevent sickness and help prevent it as well.

Lots of shuffling with the budget: Every once in a while I have to really examine how I can juggle the money around to afford things like organic foods. Cutting out the junk helps a lot.

Watched the Future of Food: Hulu has it for free, I highly recommend watching it. I wasn't very informed about GMOs until I watched this, and it's a movie that both hubby and I enjoyed.

Diligent about avoiding GMOs: It seemed overwhelming at first, but now that I'd gotten most of the junk out of our diet and was eating mostly whole foods, I just made sure that all corn, soy, and canola were organic if they were in our food. As far as I know 'organic' still isn't genetically modified. Some slips in every once in a while for us adults (corn syrup!), but I'm usually able to be strict enough with the kids.

Homemade Lunch Meat: See, none of this stuff is too complicated. Put a chicken in the crock pot. Take the chicken out of the crock pot. Take meat off. There ya go ~smile~

Chicken stock makes really good soup: I used chicken stock in things like rice for a long time before I even bothered to make soup with chicken stock. It's really good! It's filling and satisfying, whereas soup made with water just doesn't really cut it for our family.

Homemade refried beans: Cans are lined with questionable material, and canned refried beans are either made with questionable ingredients (msg, 'natural flavors') or are super expensive. Making them in the crockpot makes them taste better and they're super cheap.

Brown Rice: Around this time I finally finished up the bulk package of white (jasmine) rice that I had, and I switched to brown. Our Costco had a bulk bag of organic brown for pennies a pound. I cook my brown rice a long time, a couple hours, and soak it the night before. It softens this way and isn't tough/dry.

organic beef: Finally I got my finances in line here to be able do this on a regular basis. If I try and cook regular beef, I can taste the chemicals in it now. Gross.

Tooth soap: I know, weird. But it works so well, you won't want to switch back.

Cut out corn syrup: There's nothing good in corn syrup. In addition to containing GMOs (in non organic) it's much more processed than sugar. Jam, fake syrup, and ketchup are some sources of corn syrup that were the last to leave my house. It still makes its way in every once in a while, but I'm generally not the one bringing it in ~grin~

Natural deodorant: This surprised me, it works better than any deodorant I've ever tried, natural or not.

Natural shampoo, conditioner
: Super easy. Most of the time I just use baking soda in my hair (I just rub about 1 tablespoon in dry hair before showering now) and I always do a vinegar rinse to condition. About once every few weeks I use Burt's Bees Shampoo, but still with the vinegar rinse. I've used an egg yolk as shampoo before too, but it's more of a hassle to do that. It works well though. If you're nervous about it, just try on a Saturday when you can wear a hat or you're not going out :)

Natural household cleaners: Baking soda to scrub, vinegar for everything else. Essential oil added to make it all smell nice. I got a steam mop that I love, I'll add a couple drops of lemon essential oil to the pad before I mop my floors. I know this is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a mop, but with the steam I feel like I can sanitize the floor my kids play on without chemicals. I'll go around and squirt any spots with vinegar before mopping and it comes right up. I'm still working on this (Cascade in my dishwasher, Oxyclean on the clothes, somewhat natural laundry detergent that could be better)

Natural cosmetics: I'm not a big makeup wearer, so all this consists of is a natural mineral mascara, and Burt's Bees lip gloss. I tossed my conventional versions.

GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome is a book about clearing up many chronic conditions (from eczema to allergies to autism to depression) through healing the gut. I find it fascinating, and it's worth looking into if you struggle with any chronic condition. I'm trying it mostly just as a gentle cleanse and for allergies. Sometimes people ask me about diets and cleanses, and this is what I would recommend. I think it would be beneficial, even if for a month. And I'd personally feel comfortable doing it even while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Buying Local: As I become more interested in real whole foods, I'm slowly finding local farmers to shop from. Most of them rely on word-of-mouth, so they're not super easy to find. We enjoy local honey and squash now, for a fraction of the supermarket price. I just was able to buy organic grass fed beef for a discount by going in on a share of a cow too.

Juicing: I consider juicing more of a supplement than a necessity. But in certain circumstances it's a good idea to look into.

Next up:

Learning more about herbal medicine: Stephanie of Keeper of the Home has a lot of posts about herbal medicine. I'm starting to use herbs for some things, but I still have a long way to go in this area.

Get a shower filter: When we were in the country on well water I didn't think about it, but now that our water is chlorinated I really need to get it together and buy a shower filter. I'll just get one for the shower and then fill up the kids' bath with the shower. Or skin does let things through, so we're getting chlorine in our bloodstream every time we're in chlorinated water. I didn't even realize how cheap they were til I looked them up for this list here.

Finish replacing chemical products with natural ones (Cascade, Kirkland 'natural' laundry detergent, Oxyclean)

I know there's lots more I want to learn I'll add to the list as time goes on

(part of Works for Me Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, and Fight Back Friday)

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Blogger Nadine said... changed the lay out of your blog...pretty cool...I like fist I though I pressed on the wrong blogger...but no it was

I guess I should write on my blog all the changes I have done over the years and the changes that I should do in this new year...

May be not today..."it's bed day here...and that means I wash all the bedding from all the beds" my big boy has a sore to the dentist we go!

December 14, 2009 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

Thanks! I still have more tweaking to do, I'm not really sure what I'm doing (and very open to suggestions!)

I love reading these kinds of posts, so I thought I'd do one too. It took me forever and there's probably lots that I forgot to include LOL!

December 14, 2009 at 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home said...

Thanks for the links, Cara!

It's great to see how many changes you've made- amazing! I love to hear how other people have taken baby steps in their own journey, and I imagine you are just reaping so many rewards from these changes!

December 14, 2009 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger TurtleOak said...

Love this post - shows how it's all part of a continuum and that little/big changes add up!

Love the new layout too :)

December 14, 2009 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Briana said...

Great post. You reminded me of some things I was going to improve.

December 14, 2009 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Stewardship said...

I love seeing how others have made their baby steps! Thanks for the link love to KS's butter post. Oxyclean may not be as unnatural as you think, as it's based on oxygen bleach. You can just buy regular oxygen bleach and use it for soaking - it works just the same as Oxyclean! I'd rec. Biokleen's DW detergent as an excellent choice. Believe me - I tried a bunch of homemade versions, and they just don't cut it.

On water filters: Any particular brand of rev osmosis that you would buy? Do you know if anything gets out the hormones our water is drowning in from all the artificial birth control being used in this country? That's my new concern and our next "big" step.


December 14, 2009 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Wow, what a great list. I love the steps you have taken. We are on the same path as you, but are not as far along. What an inspiration!

December 14, 2009 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Tracey, In Word Adorning said...

Way to go! This is great advice! Books like Nourishing Traditions and even list like this can be overwhelming. A herbalist friend told me to pick one thing at time to learn and add to our diet. Once you add one change, get comfortable with it and make a habit it's not so hard to go on the next one.

December 14, 2009 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Raine Saunders said...

Hi Cara, love this article, thank you for sharing what works for you! I think it's so invaluable to have personal stories, because that's what people can relate to best, and I think it inspires people to want to make changes to really boost their health. I posted this on my Agriculture Society Facebook page...

Please come visit and join my page!



December 15, 2009 at 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cara, This is a great overview for people new to a Real Foods diet. The only thing I would add is on the butter. You want to make sure it is grass fed but also from an A2 cow. Here is the link on that.

This is something America really needs to know. I have read about it several places.


December 16, 2009 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

Katie, I think my blog ate the first comment I wrote to you... I thought the filter from Mercola looked pretty good, it's around $200, but we're not planning on doing a real good filter til we own since we move so often while renting.

Tracey, I agree, little steps!

Thanks Raine, I just became a fan! :)

Jessica, I'm going to have to add that to my 'need to do' list since cost is prohibiting me from buying grass fed good butter ($7/pound is all I've been able to find), but I agree, it's important to look into!

December 16, 2009 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Jendeis said...

Loving this list! I think that the move to Real Food and a "Nourishing Traditions" lifestyle can be so overwhelming. This is a wonderful set of steps to follow!

December 16, 2009 at 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cara, When we can't get raw grass fed cream from a jersey cow that has A2 milk to make our own butter...we use coconut oil for everything instead.


December 16, 2009 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Cara said...

That sounds good, Jessica. I have been using more and more coconut oil, since I figure high quality coconut oil is much better for us than low quality butter. It's a balance, I guess, between what is idea and what is realistic!

December 16, 2009 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

awesome list.

in regards to replacing crisco; leaf lard frompasture raisedpigsis the perfect substitute. it is what criscois designed to work similarly to. butter is not 100%fat, its usually 80%, so it acts differently then crisco or lard.

December 16, 2009 at 3:17 PM  
Blogger Christy said...

Great list, I love to read others journey to a healthier lifestyle.

December 16, 2009 at 8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On our last coconut order I ordered through your code, so you should get some more coconut oil soon... :) I have never ordered from that site. We usually use another, but thought we would give it a try.

December 16, 2009 at 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Just bought Nourishing Traditions. So great, thank you... I need to set some time to read more now. I love your blog.


December 16, 2009 at 10:19 PM  
Anonymous said...

If you're looking for a laundry detergent, consider Charlie's Soap Powder. A 2.64 lb Bag does 80 Loads and costs about $13 on Amazon. We like it because it's seriously cheap, you use hardly any (like a tablespoon) per load, it leaves no residue, hypoallergenic with no perfumes (so safe for babies), non-toxic, biodegradable, and I think (but need to check) that it also doesn't have any phosphates.

Frankly, we also love it because it WORKS! I tried all the more "green" options - from Trader Joe's to Seventh Generation stuff, and they just don't cut it with our stains/messes.

Because there's no residue, I stopped having to use fabric softener as well. I do miss having some smell to the laundry (but not the chemicals!) so I'm debating adding a washcloth with a few drops of essential oils to the dryer. Lots of people recommend that, but putting a flammable substance near heat concerns me.

December 17, 2009 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Cara said...

I'm going to look into Charlie's, that sounds really good. Sometimes I feel like natural stuff is overpriced and doesn't work, so it's good to have real recommendations

December 18, 2009 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Kelly the Kitchen Kop said...

Great info, Cara, and I loved reading the comments, too.

Thanks for joining in on Real Food Wednesdays!


December 23, 2009 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Popular Reads! said...

Great information! Thank you for this wonderful post.

December 24, 2009 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Stewardship said...

I noticed the convo about laundry detergent, and I have to say that I've tried both Charlie's Soap and NaturOli soap nuts, and I prefer the latter. It gets the stink out better! Tough to measure the stain factor for me - I always get some stains, no matter what I use! I'll be giving away Charlie's sometime soon, so keep an eye out for a freebie to try. ;)
(My review of soapnuts is here, if interested:
:) Katie

January 1, 2010 at 2:18 AM  
Blogger EllaJac said...

Wow..! I'm *almost* right with you! We don't have the filter issues (well water) and we use Charlie's soap as well as some borax/washing soda. I want to learn more about herbs/medicinals but I've not done GAPS or anything similar. But NT cooking, soaked bread, wheat mill, whole grains, homebirth - love it. We raise our own chickens/turkeys and eggs too. Other than that, I'm so excited to find your blog (TT giveaway brought me here)!

January 27, 2010 at 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Lauren @ Just Add Lauren said...

Great post! I love all the suggestions, and am really trying to move in that direction with my family. We don't have any children yet, so I would like to be in these habits before they come along so that I can bring children up in as clean of an environment as is possible in this world. I love the list, and am working on reading through many of the things you linked to. Thanks again!

April 12, 2010 at 10:19 AM  

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