I've been asked by a few readers to provide them with a small list for switching over their cooking to a more whole-foods based diet. And while our “system” is not perfect, it is none-the-less a work in progress. Our current cooking-state has been acquired over years…it was by no-means an overnight change. If you are overwhelmed, I hope you find encouragement in the fact that even small, simple changes can have an overall positive affect on the health of your home. As I try to often remind you, whole-foods cooking is a journey…a walk, if you will. You just have to remember to put one foot in front of the other.
So, here are a few of my tips for those looking to make some changes:
1. Soak your grains.
Honestly, I think this one can be the most difficult because it requires proper planning. For example, if I want to make pancakes on Saturday morning, I need to mix up the batter and let it soak overnight on Friday. But don't fret – there are going to be times when soaking just doesn't happen. The point is not to be perfect, but rather to make a habit of planning ahead. Quinoa, lentils, beans, rice, barely, wheat, oats, etc. all benefit greatly from soaking. Phytates are broken down and without them, more minerals are able to be absorbed by your body. Your getting more nutritional value out of the same food – talk about a free lunch! Primarily, we soak all our breads, biscuits, rolls, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, and even cookie batter.
Which leads me to my next tip…
2. Make your own bread products.
Sandwich bread from whole wheat flour. Biscuits, scones, waffles, pancakes, cake mixes, pizza crust, tortillas and more! It may take some time to establish in your home which ones are worth making for you and which recipes you prefer. Not only is the nutritional content much higher in homemade bread products, but it is also free of all the additional bogus ingredients. Refined flour used in commercial bread provides your body with almost no nutritional value – plus, when you make these products at home, you are free to soak and ferment the dough as you wish! Start with one product, then gradually work your way through your pantry, learned to make another….and then another…
3. Learn to make kefir. And drink it!
Making kefir at home takes almost no-energy. It sits. In a mason jar on the counter for a day. Then, you strain out the grains and put fresh milk on them. The liquid strained off from the grains is your kefir, which you can drink to your delight. Nothing will jump-start your inner eco-system quite like kefir. You can read my detailed post about kefir HERE. Not only is it delightful in smoothies, but it is also an optimal liquid to use when you soak your grains (see #1 and #2 above!). Kefir works as a great acid medium, so it's very handy to have in your fridge.
4. Substitute olive oil and/or coconut oil and/or real butter for vegetable oil and margarine.
From a whole-foods standpoint, olive oil, butter and coconut oil are both a better alternative to vegetable oil and margarine. Olive oil comes from the squishing of olives – that's it. Coconut oil comes from the meat of the coconut – that's it. Butter comes from the cream of cow's milk – that's it. Vegetable oil and margarine both come from some serious Frankenstein-type chemistry and processes, yielding a product that is (some would argue) nutritionally toxic to our bodies.
5. Eat fats.
But the good kind. Avocado, soaked nuts, high-quality oils, high-quality butter, high-quality meats, wild caught fish, and raw milk are all great sources for fat. I think one of the worst things one can do while trying to eat “healthier” is to avoid these wonderful fats. Our bodies needs fat to function and when we supply it with the quality fat it needs, it can continue to build strong bones and muscles. Depriving your body of fat ain't leading your anywhere good – trust me.
6. Drink raw milk.
From a dairy that you know and trust. Raw milk is truly liquid gold – rich in fats, vitamins, minerals, and goodness. It helps to build strong bones and build your immune system! Cup for cup, your body will absorb many more nutrition from raw milk then it will from pasteurized milk (especially ultra-pasteurized which renders calcium un-usable!). Yes, it can be inconvenient to find. Yes, it's expensive. But it's worth it, especially for the little ones. If you find that you're family goes through it too quickly, try watering it down a little to help to stretch further. See my ‘Resources' Page for a website that will direct you to a dairy near you!
7. Switch to natural sweeteners.
We've talked about this a little before – making the switch from refined white sugar to natural alternatives, including rapadura, raw honey, maple syrup, and more. This step tends to take some time, as it is a process to slowly weed out all of the products on your shelves that contain refined sugar. Look at it like this: the goal is to replace a nutritionally dead product (white sugar) with a product that is rich in nutrients. Start small. Start with one thing (cookies, maybe?…or sweetening oatmeal?) and slowly but surely, you will be able to all but eliminate it from your diet.
8. Cook at home.
This can also be a difficult step, as many of us are in the habit of eating out for multiple meals a day even. By cooking at home, you are able to have control over which ingredients you use, as well as how much of them (sodium, anyone?) you use. One of the easiest ways to make a positive change to your eating habits is to get in the habit of cooking things yourself. Come on, I know you've got that inner Martha Stewart in you somewhere!
9. Acquire a taste for all things vegetable.
Vegetables eliminate nasties from your body. That is their role – detox. Get them into your system by any means necessary. Raw, cooked, blanched, sauteed, grilled, mashed…whatever. Just eat them. And a lot of them. I know this sounds cliche, but do as your mother taught you, my dear, and eat your peas. I'm still trying to convince my husband to do this one.
10. Choose high-quality meats.
This is different for each species – chicken are best when they free range, beef is best when it's primarily been grass fed, and fish is best when it's been caught in the wild. The logic is simple – what the animal eats, we eat. If the animal eats poo, we eat poo. And I for one do not want to eat poo. I shan't. And thus, I primarily choose meat that has been locally raised (where there is still the accountability factor), humanly treated, and properly fed. You know why almost all commercially-raised animals are fed corn? Because it makes them fatten quickly. Perhaps it is not such a great idea for us to do this as well…I'm just sayin'. See my ‘Resources' page for the nearby ranch we order our beef from. Also, if you'd like to read why we eat meat, you can find that HERE. And if you'd like to ask me specific questions as to what I learned and saw while working on a 40,000 head feedlot after college, I'd happily entertain you.
11. Enjoy the journey.
If you don't enjoy the whole-foods journey, trust me, it's going to be a loooong road. Learn to love the seasons and the bounty that they bring. Learn to enjoy some freshly cooked, wholesome food and learn to get excited at things like freshly baked bread…
…and kefir smoothies…
…and a box full of fresh pears…
…and soaking lentils…
…and a stash of butternut squash…
…and an amazingly good balsamic…
…because that is where the joy of the journey is! Celebrate it!