Happy National Nutrition Month! Yes, that time of the year is here again. Naturally it seems appropriate to write on the topic, so earlier this week I sat down and thought about what “National Nutrition Month” means to me.
There are many nutrition themes that will be discussed this month, but I narrowed it down to three main messages that I think are important and worth re-educating yourself on. These might seem common sense, but they are lessons that most of us so often forget with the constant feed of “new” nutrition information bombarding us every time we get on the web or open a magazine. Clean all that junk out of your mind, have a read through, and reset your mind on basic nutrition. I believe that is the spirit of National Nutrition Month.
1. Beware of Nutrition Claims
I have to start here because, if my subset of clients are any indication of the population as a whole, many of you are confused about what healthy even means anymore. Much of this is due to infomercials, fad diet books, and a glut of cheap supplements being promoted by popular “experts”. This drives me crazy to NO end. No, not crazy, angry. Furious in fact. Deep breaths, Danielle. I get so upset when these so-called experts sell products and promote diets to the general public to capture those who are desperate for a fix to their problems. It’s dishonest and it’s downright harmful. People end up more confused and frustrated than before. Let me break it down for you real quick. Fad diets don’t work. Do not buy that latest book. Your $20 will be gone and the book will be on its way to the Goodwill before you know it. Also, DO NOT buy the supplements that Dr. Oz and others report on, especially for weight loss. The research is usually limited at best, and I have never, ever, ever had a client report to me that a weight loss pill worked. They never work. And you know what? If they did work, it would be all over the news, the chat rooms, Facebook, you name it. If something actually works, you will know. The price will skyrocket at the same time. And infomercials? I think you already get the point. See previous points.
2. Eat Whole Foods
I know, I know. I say this all the time. Yawn, you say. But the fact is, people aren’t doing this. All of us are resorting to processed, packaged, or fast foods, and it’s not healthy. I firmly believe we need to get back to old fashioned (sad that the word old fashioned seems appropriate here), whole foods as they are found in nature, or the occasional ready-made food that is prepared from whole foods. Does this way of eating take time? YES! I have so many clients tell me, after embarking on such a plan, that they are sick of being in the kitchen. You know what, me too! That’s life folks. I also don’t like doing laundry and I don’t like cleaning my house. Apart from outsourcing these tasks, you have to do them. Grocery shopping, food prep, and cooking is part of that too. There is no getting around it without sacrificing your health, just as if you don’t do your laundry you stink. Yes we make compromises from time to time, but you will still be in the kitchen way more than you want to. It’s just life. Get used to it.
3. Eat From the “Rainbow”
Along with eating whole foods, a bit of color in our diet is an important thing as well. It’s easy to let our diet get a little bland. The more color on your plate, the more antioxidants and phytochemicals you are consuming. These are important for warding off disease, especially heart disease. Examples? Colorful fruits like berries, pomegranates, red grapes, or bright red apples. Vibrant veggies like tomatoes, dark leafy greens, eggplants, crispy orange carrots, and purple cabbage. Don’t forget our legume friends with their colorful pigments, including red kidney beans, brown pinto beans, and lentils of various varieties. Whole grains also have a variety of antioxidants packed in. These are just a few of the many examples of where we get these bright and colorful foods. If you see a variety of pigments on your plate (that aren’t from food dyes!), you know you are on the right track.
So look at that, three easy messages that sum up basic nutrition. Yay for National Nutrition Month!
But then the question is, how do you implement this practically? We live in a fast paced world where nowadays two people in the household work. The days of the housewife at home taking care of these tasks are gone. I get it. All this is way easier said than done, says the woman hauling multiple packages of frozen foods out of Costco today. Yeah, that was me. Hypocrite, I know. It was mostly organic I swear, but I digress.
The first step? Learn to Cook. Sounds easy, and mostly it is, but it just takes a little time. Many of us are lacking some basic kitchen skills and utensils. Do you have a sharp knife? Do you know how to cut an onion or a red pepper without massacring it? The wonders of YouTube can teach you in five minutes or less. Alternatively there are often classes at local organic grocers, such as PCC or Whole Foods here in Seattle, or even more proper classes at local culinary schools. Better yet? Ask a friend! However you do it, learn a few skills to make the tedious task of cooking easier and maybe even fun.
After you do learn to cook, you will notice you are spending more money on food. Recipes with multiple healthy ingredients require a few more purchases. This leads us to the next important point. You have to Spend more money on food. Don’t whine and moan about this. I’ve heard it all before. I know you “can’t afford it,” but the truth is you can. If you have a monthly cable bill, a monthly cell phone bill, a full time job, and the leisure time to be reading this article right now, you can.
According to statistics, American households in 2013 spent 5.6 percent of their disposable income on food. Does that seem like a lot? No, it doesn’t, does it. For comparison, the average American household back in 1960 spent roughly 17% of their disposable income on food. In 2007 that figure was 9.6.% (1). The numbers continue to decline as we find ways to make cheaper and arguably less healthy food. Or may be I should say, the numbers continue to decline as we place less and less value on food. When you look at other parts of the world, the numbers change very quickly. In some low-income countries they spend close to 50% of their disposable income on food. Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia all fall in that category. Think of that, nearly 50%. Can you imagine? Others may not spend quite that much but still spend significantly more than we do. In 2008 Mexicans spent 24% of their income on food, and South Africans spent 20%. The Chinese spent 33% while Indians spend 35% (2). I find this fascinating. There is an understanding in those countries that food is an expensive part of existence. Food is life, and they spend time and thought on it accordingly.
Unfortunately nowadays in our country food is not given such priority. It should be cheap, quick, and require as little inconvenience as possible. This has led us to cheap commodities, processed foods, fast food, and a host of other ways to make food inexpensive and at the same time convenient. Sadly the true cost of decent food now seems high by comparison which makes those watching their budgets (which is all of us, really) think organic and other quality food is “too expensive.” Rubbish I say. The worst part? If we don’t pay for food with our dollar, then we pay for it with our health.
On the subject of paying, where we spend our money is also important. I’m sure you have heard it before, but voting with your dollar makes a difference in the economy. If you don’t agree with the way Walmart, for example, treats their employees and the type of products they sell, then don’t spend your money there, not a single penny. Spend your hard earned money with vendors who do the right thing by supporting health and supporting our environment. The percentage of money you do spend on food, spend it wisely.
All this rambling has been just to make a few key points. To recap: Don’t listen to bogus nutrition claims. Eat real food. Eat a variety of colorful real foods. Learn to cook so you can prepare healthy and nutritious foods at home. Be willing to pay a few more percentage points of your income on wholesome ingredients to fuel your body and ward off disease. Spend your food dollars on places where you support their values and the way they conduct business.
That’s it. Happy National Nutrition Month! Be sure to spread the love about healthy food and healthy lifestyles. ‘Tis the month!