Living in Northern California makes eating healthy pretty easy. There are year-round farmer’s markets and it just seems like this whole area is designed to make you healthy. There is natural beauty so you want to get out in it and there are shops popping up all over with the latest health-food trend.

I didn’t always live in this little slice of heaven so I know what it’s like to have only the options available at the grocery store. I grew up in western New York in the 70’s where fresh produce consisted of iceberg lettuce and some green peppers.

Get out of the box

Food companies have made feeding ourselves so easy we could probably go our entire life without chopping vegetables or firing up the stove. Anything we want we can get out of a box. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ingredients in the box that aren’t necessarily good for us.

One is what I like to call crappy fats which are made up two kinds of fat.

The first is partially hydrogenated oil, also referred to as trans-fats and the other are fats high in Omega-6 that are easily spoiled and can cause inflammation.

Fat was given a very bad reputation years ago and we thought the cure for our weight ills was to cut it out of the diet. We can see it’s a more complicated issue than just getting rid of the fat if we look around at the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions. Part of the problem is that we lumped all fats into one category and labeled it bad. The truth is, our bodies need fat to produce the hormones that regulate the body systems and our brain uses fat as a source of energy.

All Fats Are Not Created Equal

Healthy fats are those like butter from cows raised on grass, coconut oil, avocado, nuts, and olive oil. Minimally processed and not easily oxidized (spoiled).

Sickly fats are those like margarine, canola oil, corn oil and other crop oils (often called vegetable oils but they come more from grains than vegetables.) These types of oils are high in Omega-6, which can lead to inflammation in the body. These oils can easily turn rotten especially when exposed to high heat, like cooking. Eating rancid oil also causes inflammation and chronic inflammation can lead the lifestyle diseases that we see everywhere theses days.

Replace those sickly fats with healthy fats and see if you have a clearer mind or more energy.

Corn is in everything and hard to avoid

The other ingredient to avoid like a landmine is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This stuff is likely in anything you buy in a box unless you are actively avoiding it. I’ve seen ads where the HFCS manufacturers say that it’s just like sugar. I disagree. Fructose can’t be used for energy like glucose can. It doesn’t trigger signals in your body to let you know you’ve just eaten something and tell you you’re full so you always think you’re hungry. HFCS is processed in the liver similar to alcohol. We’re even seeing cases of children with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because of all the sweet drinks and treats they consume. It’s scary and if you wouldn’t give your kid a beer you might want to think twice about giving Jonnie or Suzie a soda. We’ll go into artificial sweeteners another time but stay away from those as well.

Read the Labels

How do you know if what you’re eating has that junk in there? You have to start reading the labels of everything you buy. No really, I mean it, I’m not joking. Turn the package over (I still forget to do this sometimes) and look at the nutrition label and the ingredients. The junk isn’t always easy to spot so you have to read both if you don’t want to get fooled.

The governments says if the product contains less than .5 grams of trans-fats it can list it as 0% on the nutrition label. But the partially hydrogenated fat is listed in the ingredients so if you’re savvy you won’t be tricked. The sickly fats will be listed in the ingredients but you have to know them by name. A few of the most common ones are safflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, “vegetable” oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and anything listed as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated.

Sickly oils

Once you start cutting back on HFCS and sickly fats you’re going to drastically change what you buy at the grocery store. We are fortunate to live in a time where consumers are demanding cleaner ingredients in our food so it’s easier than ever to find substitutes for our  favorites. Are the replacements going to cost more than what you used to buy? Most likely, yes. HFCS and sickly fats  are really cheap (mostly because of government subsidies), which is why they are in everything. But I find it worth it in the long run to avoid them like the plague they are. Eventually, you may even stop eating those packaged foods altogether. I don’t eat much that comes out of a box these days.

Eat for Energy

Learning to eat for energy and changing how you feed yourself is a process. While throwing everything in your pantry away and starting fresh is one approach, you can also just start buying higher quality food when you’ve run out of something and need to make a run to the grocery store.

Building these habits slowly, over time is more sustainable than making a drastic change. As I started eating healthier, I just wasn’t interested in unhealthy food as much. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then I eat some food that I’d be embarrassed to admit (like the stuff from the bag of Halloween candy someone brought into the office and left laying around so I just had to eat 4 pieces) but it doesn’t taste as good as I remember, which makes it easier not to go back again.

Remember, you are creating a new lifestyle not just going on a “diet”.

Have you created healthy habits that you’ve been able to stick with and not give up faster than a New Year’s resolution? If so, share it in the comments. We can all use some help in this area.

If you like this kind of thing, head on over to the Eat Breathe Move private Facebook group where I share all kinds of interesting tidbits.

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