I've heard conflicting reports in regards to what's actually healthy and what's not. Here are the types of questions that we have:
-Is all bread bad?
-Are all potatoes bad?
-How much sugar is a safe daily allowance?
-Organic dairy products vs. raw? Pros and cons.
-What foods to stay away from when eating in restaraunts?
These are just a few from the top of my head. There's a lot of information out there that can't be trusted and we don't know enough to discern the good from the bad. I know that you all can't give me all the answers in a few minutes of your time. What I'd like to get are links to videos, names of DVD's, classes, and books if all else fails. We both hate to read and if we tried to tackle a 500 page book, it probably wouldn't get completed.
It also complicates things further because there are very few foods that we eat. For example, in an average week, I usually consume some chicken, pork, and beef at some point. In the same week, I'll probably only eat 4-5 different vegetables(potatoes, peas, green beans, pinto beans, sweet corn, macaroni and cheese are 90% of my vegetable intake). Pretty much, if it's good for me, I don't like it or have never tried it. My wife and kids eat a little more variety than I do. I'd appreciate any help you all are willing to give.
If it comes in a box, don't eat it. (I'm not 100% on that, but especially things with ingredients that take a chemistry degree to pronounce must go.)
If they spend more on advertising than ingredients, don't eat.
Get at least 5 different fruits and vegetables every day. Strive for 7. Eat some raw.
My area to improve on right now is more probiotics like in yogurt and sauerkraut.
Maybe get a cookbook oriented toward cooking with kids and make some food exploration a family adventure. If your kids help cook it, they will be more likely to like it. And if you grow it yourself (anything) you will look for ways to use it. 7 is old enough to make a salad with a parent's help. Your kids might be thrilled to help make 30 minute mozzarella for their own pizzas. Cook foods from your family's heritage, around the world, alphabetically. Food is fun!
PS Mac & cheese don't count as a veg. Sorry, it's one of my comfort foods too.
PSS: here's a quick recipe we like: bake sweet potatoes like regular baked potatoes (even in the microwave). Slice open and top with chili. Add avocado or guacamole if you like it. Or cheese.
Eat as little sugar as you can. This includes honey and real maple syrup. (I'm still working on this one.)
Do as much from scratch as possible.
Decide if your family needs to change things gradually or all at once. Different things will work for different people.
What worked for me sounds pretty radical, but my problems were pretty radical too. Based on a couple of persuasive books, I eliminated a bunch of stuff from my diet:
1) animal products of all sorts -- chiefly because they are inseparable from their saturated fats
2) processed food of all sorts, including refined grains (white flour) and refined sugars (I still cheat a tiny bit with sugar)
3) added oils (plant oils in whole foods are OK within reason, gotta watch the avocados and the nuts)
Two years on that and my diabetes went completely away. It has subsequently stayed away, no more diabetes meds for me. The black patch on my leg is gone too. I lost more than 200 pounds, although about 50 of that has crept back as I got more comfortable with cooking and eating whole plant foods. My cardiologist says my heart valve issues stabilized as soon as I stopped taking the bad drug and eating healthy. All my lipids numbers are good now, though I still take a statin to keep my doctor sweet. I'm still way too heavy, but that's because I eat too much food no matter what I'm eating.
Eating this way, I'd answer your questions like so:
1) Whole wheat bread made without oil or sugar is fine. Eat lots. You can't really buy this. You have to make it yourself (flour, yeast, water, salt) although there are a few commercial brands that have very small amounts of oil and sugar and are (IMO) "good enough". Toufoyan makes a very nice whole wheat pita bread that Walmart carries, too.
2) Potatoes are fine. Very healthy, very safe, don't even spike my blood sugar. However, potatoes cooked or served with any kind of *grease* (butter, sour cream, cheese, fry oil) are not so good. I eat mine with salt or mustard or hot sauce or soy sauce, typically.
3) Sugar I allow myself in very small amounts. I've given up on artificial sweeteners experimentally, and I don't think the *kind* of refined sugar matters very much. But I seem to tolerate a teaspoon here or there as a flavoring ingredient. I try not to buy anything that has sugar as an added ingredient (which pretty much excludes all processed foods, even the ones from health food stores). I sometimes eat a few pieces of candy, because bad willpower.
4) No dairy for me. Some of the plant foods advocates I read think dairy proteins are carcinogenic. I'm not convinced by the science on that, but it turns out to be irrelevant, because it's impossible to strip enough of the fats out of any dairy product to satisfy me. My target is less than 10% calories from fat in any food (except for a few oily whole plant foods, in moderation) and there isn't a dairy product out there in retail commerce that can meet that standard.
5) When eating in restaurants, the real question is what whole plant foods without added oils are available? And the answer, typically, is "none". The most consistently available item is a plain baked potato, which I then load up with salsa (if I can get it) or sugary catsup and barbecue sauce (if that's my best alternative). Sometimes I can find tasty vegetarian dishes and will eat them, even though they are sauteed in oil (as they usually are).
All this is my thing, tailored to my problems, and visibly solving them; it might not be sensible for anybody else. I got my info from books, especially:
Prevent And Reverse Heart Disease -- Caldwell B. Esselstyn
The Starch Solution - John McDougall << -- this website also has a very friendly and helpful forum
There's also a pretty accessible movie, available various places, here is the free trailer:
Forks Over Knives - movie trailer
For what it's worth I am not a philosophical vegan, even though I currently eat a more restrictive diet than most vegans. I grew up eating lots of wild game meat and I think that a lot of the nutritional dangers of animal products in our modern diet are due to their agribusiness methods of raising. I would cheerfully eat wild game and good home-raised eggs, meat, and dairy, if I had them and could do so in moderation; but I haven't started hunting or raising any of that myself (yet) and am not in a hurry to start because I don't need extra calorie-dense foods in my pantry until I am slimmer. The deer and rabbits on our land are safe from me for the time being. But if wild turkeys move into my forest as I improve its food crop densities, I reserve the right to change my mind!
That pretty much covers it for me. I read that by 'food' he means real food, stuff that's in its original form-"here, drink this raw milk",
or only a step or two away- "here, eat this cheese I just made it by adding lemon juice to the raw milk".
You get the picture
I've actually just started eating bread again.
Jared Blankenship wrote:-Is all bread bad?
I don't have issues with carbs, although when I say bread I'm talking organic, whole wheat etc-
the old 'white sliced' is definitely bad in my book!
I love potatoes and eat a lot.
Jared Blankenship wrote:-Are all potatoes bad?
I think well grown, organic spuds are awesome-it's what goes on top of them that can be a problem
I don't know. I try to avoid it, but sometimes you just have to eat that birthday cake...
Jared Blankenship wrote:-How much sugar is a safe daily allowance?
I get organic milk from a dedicated raw milk herd, so that's easy!
Jared Blankenship wrote:-Organic dairy products vs. raw? Pros and cons.
I'd be very wary about drinking raw milk that wasn't organic;
over here it's legal for 'conventional' farmers to sell a small amount of their milk at the gate raw,
but conventional farming safety standards allow some scary levels of pathogens in the raw milk-
the assumption is it will be pasteurised, killing the bacteria,
whereas official raw milk herds are held to painfully high standards.
In fancy restaurants, I'd eat anything I felt like-
Jared Blankenship wrote:-What foods to stay away from when eating in restaraunts?
the food is about as 'real' as it gets (although rarely organic), and the bill tells you so
For me, it's not what food to avoid, but what restaurants: takeaways, fast food, chains, all that stuff.
If I want to eat out cheaply, I go to an 'ethnic' place: Indian, Malaysian, Thai...
To echo everyone so far, I think a simple way to look at it might be to try to only eat food that you can recognize
If you have space for a small garden I know that kids are much more adventuresome eating something they have grown.
Make it easy on your family and introduce new foods and ways of eating weekly and not all at once. If you have been eating a lot of processed foods it will take awhile for your taste buds to adjust, but once they do, if you go back to eating something out of a box you will likely taste the chemicals in it.
Maybe in the beginning it would be enough just getting more fresh vegetables and fruit involved and good cuts of meat.
Maybe try substituting masa tortillas for bread sometimes.........
Over the years our diet has changed so i'm not going to prescribe things but the general suggestions others have provided are good. The main thing is real food (unprocessed), 5-7 portions of fruit and veg a day, and variety in the diet. The more colour on the plate the better. To reach the 5-7 number is helps if you have fruit for breakfast or dessert, and at least one green thing with lunch and dinner (and you're already up to 4!). Also fresh juices and smoothies are a great, quick way to get an extra boost of vitamin goodness (boxed juice with added sugar doesn't count, you're looking for something that's basically liquid fruit). Another great way to pack in the nutrients is to grow your own sprouts or microgreens.
Eating healthy means mostly unprocessed which means cooking which means TIME and PLANNING. You need time to shop and cook. If anytime you want to make dinner you have to rush out to the supermarket, it's pricy, inconvenient, demotivating and eats up time. For us, where we fall with unhealthy food is when we're tired and there's nothing in the fridge and we're out of ideas to cook. To avoid that situation, I recommend meal planning. Meal planning can be as detailed or as simple as you want, but it had really helped me to be sure I have a variety of healthy options and I don't buy extra food that goes to waste and drains the wallet. One example of a meal planner is here. It helps if once you've experimented around a bit, you keep a few dishes up your sleeve that healthy family favourites, and then when you shop you can use the ingredients for those dinners as a baseline and have those on hand. Doesn't mean everything has to be meticulously worked out in advance - sometimes just throwing together a dish of healthy grain + protein + 2 veggies is just fine. Last night was one of those nights, we had rice with lentils and green beans, broccoli and spinach with a drizzle of olive oil and it was perfect.
Get to know your local [farmer's] market. See what's in season, try new ingredients, experiment. Seasonal produce is the most nutritional and it's often what's abundant and cheap at the time. You're going to have to give it a shot, but it sounds like you're willing already!
What do your neighbours eat? Maybe that's a place to get some ideas with what's locally available. Have a swap dinner?
Other tips that go in the same vein is to have a well stocked pantry. Soak, cook and freeze dried beans when you have some spare time so they're easy to grab. When you do cook, make two portions and save/freeze the leftovers.
A good starting website to get some ideas for more fruit and veg is Oh My Veggies; it's aimed at vegetarians but doesn't have to be, and they have a great section on 'meal-plans' where they collect recipes for dinner for the week with an accompanying shopping list.
It's a lifelong journey and you've made a great first step. I really liked the comment above about deciding whether you want to go gradual or radical - for us gradual was the answer, just getting more green veg in there, and eventually you're tastes will change too. Enjoy feeding your family!
Edit: For me, the most important is to enjoy the process, the choosing the food, the cooking, the eating dinner together. Don't count calories or get too hung up on hard and fast rules, it turns food into a chore when it's a celebration.
There is no perfect formula. For starters, we are not a bunch of clones and we vary in how we process different foods. For another, we have different activity levels, which impacts what makes for a good diet. Some will tell you to avoid all kinds of sugar - if you follow through on what that actually encompasses, you find it is not a reasonable thing to do. Our systems need sugars to function. But that does not mean just eat all the processed sugar, or honey, or maple syrup, you might ever desire.
There are foods where you have to ask if the benefits outweigh the possible harmful effects - honey would be an excellent example of this.
There are choices where people put forward their beliefs but do not always put forward full information. I am not comfortable with what I see about raw milk, in general, partly because I don't see anyone addressing issues like tuberculosis. Cow's milk was a major source of infection for people in North America in the 19th century, a likely driver for the spread of Pasteurization. Can that risk be avoided? Not if you don't even know it is out there.
Eliminate fats - for me, that is not a good plan. Fats are fast energy and while they can contribute to cholesterol problems, it is much less of an issue if you are active and burning them up rather than letting them hang around. There are people for whom that works.
I dropped about 60 pounds, got back to my college weight almost 40 years later, by reducing carbohydrates. Not eliminating, reducing. The weight loss eliminated my developing blood pressure problem.
I am a strong believer that we each need to pay attention to how our systems respond and work with what works best for us, and in not trusting any source that says their answer applies for everyone.
I will go along with a sort of baseline that industrial food products are just not actually healthy. But you can go too far getting away from them, to the point of eating stuff without proper sanitation steps, or without cooking where some compound in the food really needs to be heat denatured to make the stuff safe to eat...
There is an old saying "Moderation in all things, including moderation"
I'm not a very healthy eater, so I can't add much advice, but I do have one thing to share. My cousin is a ridiculous body builder gym junkie type guy, and my (very obese) brother in law asked him for some advice to lose weight and be healthier. He actually have some very good advice, but my favourite thing he said was "Don't drink anything except water for a few weeks. Then, when you're used to drinking lots of water, you can have a beer and tackle the next thing, and you'll have your new water-drinking habit to back you up".
If you're trying to change your eating habits from junk to good stuff, I think that's an awesome place to start. We all talk a lot about 'healthy eating', but of the junk that we consume slips under the radar because we drink it rather than eat it.