My Top 3

Three chocolates

Imagine taking a chocolate-loving woman (so, that would be pretty much any woman) to some incredible chocolate store, perhaps in, say, Belgium. The shelves and counters are lined with incredibly decadent, melt in your mouth, sweet perfection and goodness. Chocolate truffles, chocolate covered cherries, chocolate toffee, hazelnut chocolate pralines, chocolate ganache.

As she stands there, taking it all in and salivating at the delicate smell wafting through the air, she is bluntly told, “Alright lady, take your pick. You get 3. That’s it. No more, no less. Just 3.” Can you feel her agony as I do?

So that’s sort of how I felt when Judy so graciously asked me this:

I love all these posts on nutrition and healthy eating — but I am SO overwhelmed of where to begin. I guess I must unlearn 45 years of grocery shopping and food preparation. I do some of the obvious — 100% pure juices — some organic grains sprinkled in here and there. I used to think Soy Milk was good but then I thought somewhere you might have said it isn’t. What would be your top three areas that I could begin to focus on? and/or eliminate from our diet.

Three?!? I can only choose three?

Ok, calm down. Stop shaking. You can handle this. It’s a simple question really, and all it needs is a simple answer. She’s not asking you to never post about anything important ever again, she’s just asking for a starting place. You can do this.

Deep breath. Here goes:

1) Move away from processed foods, towards a whole foods diet

I say this, knowing that it is a large step, but it starts in small ways, and that is all that I’m suggesting. Really, truly. It starts by choosing 1 or 2 processed foods that you regularly buy, and starting to learn to make them from scratch or to substitute a whole food in it’s place. Don’t even worry yet about whole grain, organic or natural, pasture-fed, etc, etc. Just concentrate on foods that are as close to their original state as possible.

This can be as simple as forgoing the pasta mix (like Lipton side noodles, Kraft dinner, or even a Prego sauce) that you like to purchase, and try making your own sauce to pour over some noodles. It could be attempting to make some homemade bread or muffins instead of buying them from the grocery bakery. It could be learning to make homemade white sauce or trying out some new soup recipes in lieu of canned soups. Chopping and steaming your own fresh veggies instead of the usual canned or frozen ones. Try battering and baking or simply seasoning your own chicken or fish, instead of buying frozen, deep-fried chicken strips or fish sticks.

2) Switch over from a reliance on vegetable oils and margarine, to truly good-for-you fats

What goes: Margarine or any half-half mix or imitation butter spread or spray, canola oil, sunflower oil (this one can still be used minimally, but really, keep it minimal), safflower oil, corn oil, generic vegetable oils, Crisco, Pam, all hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils (look in the ingredients on many packaged foods to find these)

What to add: Honest-to-goodness butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, palm oil, flax oil (not for cooking), and even animal lard or tallow

(For more on this, see these posts, Part 1 and Part 2, for more on cooking oils, and this post on butter)

3) Start to decrease and move towards eliminating refined sugars from your diet

There are just so many good reasons to cut out refined sugars entirely:

  • They contribute to weight gain and obesity
  • They contribute to blood sugar imbalances and Type II diabetes
  • They are empty calories and actually rob your body of needed nutrients
  • They damage your teeth
  • They are addictive (I kid you not!)
  • They are a major cause of hyperactivity and an inability to focus and learn well in children
  • They cause your body to be highly acid, rather than slightly alkaline as it should be, which contributes to disease
  • They feed cancer cells (did you know that one of the most effective cancer scans looks for cells that are uptaking glucose at a fast rate?)

Do we really need any more reasons to get rid of them? Work towards this by slowly finding replacement snacks and foods for the more sugary things you have a habit of eating (pops, store-bought baking, sugary beverages, candy, cereals, granola bars and many other processed foods- look at the ingredients!). Try having one or two days a week where you don’t have any refined sugar at all, and gradually cut it down more and more. Learn to use natural sweeteners in your own baking and treat-making at home.

(And if you really want to know, the other suggestion that I really strongly considered was to add in a Cod Liver Oil supplement- it gives you crucial essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA, plus high amounts of Vitamin A and D, which most North Americans are lacking in but are vitally important to good health. So if you’re struggling with one of the above suggestions, consider Cod Liver Oil another good step to take instead.)

Phew! That wasn’t so hard… 🙂 Think I’ll go have a piece of chocolate now. (See, there’s that addictive thing I told you about!)

Aren’t you proud of me for not mentioning soaking and sprouting your grains? And working to avoid food preservatives, dyes, MSG and other such chemicals? And adding more fermented and cultured foods to your diet? And drinking raw, not pasteurized, milk? And trying to buy more organic or unsprayed produce and learning to wash and peel to avoid pesticides? And finding a good source of…

I could have mentioned all of those things, but aren’t you glad I didn’t?

Truthfully, I don’t know that it matters where you begin. The point is simply to start somewhere. Anywhere! These are just my suggestions, to give you a few points to focus on, and I hope you find it helpful! Blessings as you begin to make these positive changes for you and your family!

For those who have a long ways to come yet, do these 3 suggestions sound possible? Could you begin to implement these 3 things, and allow yourself to not feel guilty or stressed out or overwhelmed by the other things that you aren’t doing? What are some of the simple, beginning steps that some of you have already been taking?

What are some of the small, baby steps that you have begun taking in the area of nutrition? Do these 3 things sound like something that you could do?

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  1. I am so thrilled to see that I picked the same Big 3 as a starting point for my famliy! After reading through your Nutritional Foundations series over the last few days, I made the commitment to get serious about feeding my family a truly nutritious diet. I have, in the past, bought into low-fat, low-carb, powdered shakes, you name it. Your whole food, natural, organic school of thought makes so much more sense.

    I have ordered several natural sweeteners for WFN, thanks to your link. Purchased free-range eggs, and nothing but whole foods (organic when I could find it)….and I shopped at Walmart!! My grocery bill was actually lower than last week, my kitchen is filled with yummy, nutritious foods, and we are on our way to better health!

    Thank-you for taking the time to bless us all with your blog.

  2. Great post, Stephanie!

    I am realizing that I am further along in number 1 than I thought. Still working on it.

    Number 2 surprised me a tiny bit. I use mostly olive oil, but I do use canola oil – what would be a better substitute in baked goods? Also, I thought that Palm oil was bad for you and bad environmentally?? I am so confused…

    Number 3 is my bad, bad spot. Definitely the one to work on.

  3. Stephanie — You answered my question!!!! thanks so much! The 3 you chose, are exactly the areas I have been moving towards!! It requires alot more personal discipline of planning and making the most of time. I bet I can post while making sauce :). I have used stevia in homemade applesauce and apple butter this fall — it was awesome and completely got away from the artificial sweetners.

    A more simple question — my family rebels against wheat pasta — is spelt a good stepping stone towards changing tastebuds and texture-sensitive mouths?

    Thank you so, so much!!! Blessings,

  4. P.S. Not sure I can give up my new discovery of cake balls 🙁 which uses prepackaged cake mix and frosting. Although, if we can move in a healthier direction for 364 days a year — one moment of cake balls shouldn’t do too much harm . . .

  5. When my mom asked me where to start on her road to being healthier – I said start with Cod Liver Oil and Coconut Oil. That way, she is giving her body something great while she is learning. She happily agreed – said it didn’t take any thought at all to make that a new part of her routine. Now, she is slowly learning about how to eat grains, lots of good animal fats, and cutting out refined sugars.

  6. We have stepped up the healthy eating since my spouse was diagnosed with cancer for a second time (in 3 years).

    Judy, keep plugging away with the whole wheat pasta. It’s all we eat now – to the point that regular pasta tastes like glue to us now. Catelli makes a good pasta that looks and tastes white but has 3 times the fibre as regular pasta. (Not sure if it’s processed in some hideous way that actually makes it unhealthy!)

    Good luck everyone!

  7. Very good post Stephanie! I have started with some wee baby steps too, but it is tough, especially #3.

    I think what makes it difficult is that I’ve been things a certain way for my 9 years of marriage and I’ve become in a sense ‘good’ at cooking and baking. (It tastes good and I get the occasional compliment…) It feels like I will have to relearn everything and I’m not sure I have the energy or willpower to do so. Anyone else feel this way?

  8. The first thing we did (mostly because we didn’t know much about any of the other things) was to cut out MSG and partially hydrogenated oils out of our foods. That meant that we read labels and either found foods that didn’t have them, made them ourselves or did without.

    We made that step when our son was born 2 years ago… now we are soaking grains (in the early stages of learning it), cutting refined sugars, and a slew of other things. Thanks for your lead! And for your help!

  9. Thanks for the list! I already do step 1, and am sort-of working on step 3 (using less sugar, and some unrefined stuff). I haven’t paid much attention at all just yet to step 2, but I’m starting to think about it. And I do take fish oil daily. So the kids. 🙂 I’ll give step 2 some more thought, and work toward making changes there soon. Thank you!

  10. This was so imformative! Last month I started doing all of the above listed items! (my good friend Lisa recently referred me to your blog when I asked for some tips on how to eat healthy and not kill our budget!)It is funny too…I just wrote on my blog how overwhelmed and discouraged I have felt lately as I just changed everything I am eating because of some major thyroid problems. Changing all my habits has been hard, but I immediatly started feeling better!
    I still have LOTS to learn, and it is also going to take awhile to convince my hubby to eat this way too (I’ll just keep praying!), but I know that it will be so beneficial for me and our family.
    Just trying to change our family tree, one choice at a time!
    Blesssings to you as you help others along on this new journey!
    (ps. feel free to stop by our blog anytime!

  11. Excellent, excellent post, Stephanie. VERY helpful and makes it seem very managable. love your baby steps approach. Thank you for braving this question and writing up such wonderful encouragement!

  12. Two of them I am totally great with, its the oil thing that I am working on lately.

    I use oils like sunflower oil to bake with at times, or in homemade bread, so that it is dairy free. Sometimes I do use butter (although I can’t afford organic so I am not sure if it would be better to use the oil in that case) if its only for my husband. I have tried using coconut oil a few times but it is SO much money and I can’t afford to buy it in bulk so that it is a bit cheaper. Plus, I really don’t like the taste of coconut. I checked out the links you gave me before on coconut oil and tried some expeller pressed stuff that doesn’t have a taste (or smell that makes me want to throw up) but then I read its not a healthy choice and I need the non-expeller pressed one. I am confused. For cooking I always use olive oil (can only get the extra virgin one, try to get it cold pressed, and in tinted glass etc) but for homemade bread, muffins, tea biscuits etc. I am still using sunflower oil or safflower oil. Its so cheap and its pretty much one of the only “bad” things we have around here…not sure how to conquer this one with my problems.

    As for simple, beginning steps, the first step I took many years back now was eliminating refined sugars, and trying to eat more balanced meals rather than the same thing all the time, as well as eating what I call whole foods- as close to their natural state as possible (at the time even ANY organic wasn’t even an option even if I had the money as it wasn’t available where I lived at all). Then I went from there, replacing things as I could. I am well on my way to having things the way I want them but it has been many simple steps added up over the past 10 years, most of those steps were taken in the last 6 years after I was on my own and then married. It takes time. I definately do get overwhelmed about the things I am not doing (like trying to learn that soaking thing…which I have put off until I have more brain space to think about it). I think your first 3 steps are good.

  13. I cut out the majority of processed foods a couple of years ago when I took a nutrition class on whole foods. The main thing I have stopped using are canned soups and prepakaged meals in dried or frozen form. I also upped our veggie intake. The second and third are hard for me, but I do have a deep desire to elimiate refined sugars and use more natural ones. On the issue of fats, I’m still mulling things over. I have studied a lot of information that actually goes contrary to a lot of what Nourishing Traditions teaches. I would prefer to eliminate fats/oils altogether from our diet and use more plant-based sources to provide the fats our body needs. However, I have a husband who has not necessarily supported me in some of my nutritional ideas, predominantly in the areas of fats and sugars. Any suggestions for me on how to move our family toward a more healthy diet and still honor my husband? My other big challenge is that of cost as I don’t have the grocery budget I would need to buy some of the less common or organic food items.

    I am also considerate of MSG, artificial dyes/ingredients and preservatives, though I admit that I don’t always remember to read the labels! I have also recently started in on soaking my grains, but just the oatmeal my daughter eats.

    I will say this as far as my health and my daughter’s health- my daughter is 20 months old and has yet to be sick. My health has been greatly improved over the last two years. I’ve had only minor colds (usually during the transition from fall to winter) and one episode of the stomach flu. Additionally, my acne-prone, oily skin has improved dramatically (finally! at the age of 28!) I think due to the elimination of processed foods and the increase of veggies. Excellent top 3!

  14. I am curious about the suggestion of cod liver oil. I take a vegetarian source of Omega 3 fatty acid offered by Martek as life’s DHA. It is made from algae and is free from unwanted ocean-borne contaminants such as PCBs and dioxins. You might look at it as an alternative to fish oil with many of the healthy benefits.

  15. Thank you so much for this. I can start with these three steps and work from here 🙂
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  16. Those are wonderful suggestions! Cutting out sugar from my diet has transformed my life.

    What do you think about the importance of switching to organic meat and dairy? Seems like grassfed meat and hormone and antibiotic free dairy is so much more nutrient dense.

  17. these are things I’m working on, along with trying to cut my shopping budget. :0) But I have a question for you regarding milk – you drink raw milk. I am wanting to switch from cow milk (I’ve been reading a lot lately about it and feel I will feel better), but I was thinking of going the rice milk or almond milk route. I wonder what your thought are on that. If this is something you’ve discussed before, I’m sorry. I’m new to your blog, but really liking what I’m learning. Thanks for your help!

  18. I am still on the learning/beginning phase of natural living, but I don’t feel quite as overwhelmed anymore. It has been like starting a new term of school–it feels overwhelming at first, but it always seems to work out once I have some time to wrap my mind around everything. Just gotta dive in and get started!

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