Changing the Way We Eat, Part Two

Part 1 was all about how to eat, changing the way we physically ingest food. Today is a collection of tips and tricks on choosing what to eat. Starting with better ingredients makes all the difference. Again, work on changing things slowly. This list isn’t at all comprehensive, and there’s still a lot of research and debate on what, exactly, is the best to eat, but this is what Mike and I have figured out so far:

  • The most important step is to choose whole foods (ingredients) - fruits, vegetables, and especially grains - over processed/already prepared foods. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that the less processed it is the better it is for you.

    • Cooking your own food is one of the best ways to eat healthier, since you get to control exactly what goes into your meal. As a society, we’ve gotten out of practice using our kitchens, but cooking for yourself doesn’t have to be scary. If you don’t have any cooking experience, search around the internet for “Beginner cooking recipes” or go browse a local bookstore for kid’s cookbooks, which are obviously geared for beginners. Plus, you’ll get fun, bright colored pictures to look at!

    • Mike and I are doing a lot of cooking at home including cooking in bigger batches in order to have leftovers for lunches and freezing meals and ingredients for nights when we’re feeling lazy. Even when there are leftovers in the fridge, I still sometimes forget a lunch and go buy something from the freezer more than I’d like. It’s a work in progress.

  • Pay attention to ingredient labels, if you don't recognize it, don't eat it. I feel like I need to take my friend The Chemistry PhD grocery shopping with me, just so I can figure out what half of the ingredients are. Many of them may not be harmful, but since I don’t have any idea, I try to stay away. You’ll be amazed what you find when you start paying attention. Amanda will talk about this more in her guest post coming next week! (So I don’t have to! n_n)

  • Fiber is really good for you, since it’s very filling and takes the most energy to digest. For vegetables, crunchy is better than mushy (you don't have to eat raw, but you'll get more bang for your buck if it takes a little bit of work for your stomach to digest all those tasty nutrients.)

  • If you don’t like vegetables - I’ve now found several friends that don’t - there are some good ways to up your vegetable intake without eating just a plate of veggies. In no particular order:

    • Ripe avocado makes a good spread and mayo substitute.

    • Guacamole is a great way to get a bunch of tasty veggies, and so is a good salsa (read the label or make your own!). Try to watch the amount of salt that’s included.

    • Try dishes where veggies are mixed in with meat, like a stir fry.

    • If you’re brave, try raw veggies dunked in a sauce or dip. It’s not the healthiest in the long run, but if it gets you eating things you wouldn’t otherwise, go for it! You can cut down on the dip once you’ve gotten used to the taste and texture of veggies.

    • If all else fails, you can literally sneak vegetables in:
    • Pureed raw zucchini is one of my favorite tricks; it’s tasteless but nutrient rich and makes sauces creamier. It’s great in pasta sauce (even added to a jar of pasta sauce) or a stir fry, and you can often use it in place of half of the oil when baking. You can puree a bunch (just stick chunks of washed raw zucchini, skin on, in the blender and have at it) and freeze it in cubes or small Ziploc bags. Instant nutrition! This works well with other pureed vegetables too.

    • Make a fruit smoothie and add a carrot. Blend well and you’ll forget it’s there.
    • We’ve also signed up for a CSA (Whistling Train Farm) so we’ll get a box of fresh, locally grown produce every week from June – January. If we don’t find creative ways to use up everything in the box, we’ll have wasted money. I’m really excited for the challenge. Maybe try buying a new vegetable a week and finding a way to cook with it (AllRecipes!)
  • Lower your meat intake, and up the vegetables and whole grains.

  • Try cutting your piece of meat in half and taking bigger servings of side dishes. This will leave you with leftovers for lunch too.

    • Mike and I are slowly becoming part-time vegetarians by working a lot more vegetarian recipes into our collection. I’ve been really surprised by how tasty and filling some of them are! You don’t even have to like tofu (though we do).
    • I made Asparagus Chicken and Pecan Pasta the other night and it was super tasty and plenty filling. If you're scratching your head on how this is vegetarian, I cut out the chicken and added snap peas (we had frozen asparagus and snap peas on hand, any veggies would work). I also cut down the cheese to 1/2 c, mostly because I wanted to be able to have more to use on other tasty dishes.

    • I use for almost all of my new recipes. It lets you search by what you have in the cupboard and it is popular enough that it has a really strong rating system. There are also always comments about what people changed in order to make it fit with what they had in their pantry. All of the tested recipes (which is most) have a “per serving” breakdown of Calories, Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Carbs, Fiber, and Protein. It's pretty easy to find tasty, healthy recipes.
  • Cut out fast food as much as possible. As tasty as it is in the short term, there are few things that are worse for you than the crap that comes out of fast food joints. This is a really hard one, fast food tastes good, it’s easy and available everywhere you turn. Again, take small steps.

    • Plan ahead one day/week to bring lunch instead of eating out. Once you get that down, increase it to two, and so on. Eventually, you’ll get to the point that you’re hardly eating fast food at all. Then you can have a fun experience like I did a few days ago! We haven’t eaten fast food more than once or twice in a couple of months now, but I forgot to bring lunch and Burger King had been sounding really good (I have to drive past one daily, often when I’m hungry), so I decided to treat myself. It tasted pretty good, but almost immediately afterwards I felt off. It sat really heavy in my stomach and made me feel gross for the rest of the day. Fast food just isn’t worth it anymore, and this is coming from someone who was just about addicted to Chicken McNuggets only half a year ago.

    • Now the only fast food we’ll treat ourselves to is Chipotle Mexican Grill. They use whole and smart ingredients (including non-factory farmed meat!) put together in the same way you would at home. If you aren’t going to cook for yourself, your health is worth the few extra dollars to make sure you’re getting good quality prepared food.

    I think taking control of your eating is a really big struggle for Americans. I don’t watch TV and I still feel constantly bombarded by advertisements for products and diet fads, and by information from ‘experts’ on the ‘only’ healthy way to eat. Spoilers: it generally involves their product. No wonder we can’t keep it straight. My general rule of thumb is to get back to basic ingredients and make it myself. If I’m not making it myself, I try to pay attention to what’s in it. Eating well doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take awareness and a bit of action.

    Changing your diet isn’t about racing the scale. You can lose weight and still be unhealthy about it, but if you start changing how and what you eat you will notice a difference in how you feel, and eventually you should have more energy and less weight.

    Never stop questioning,


    PS. This probably would have fit well in last week’s post, but I forgot it. I’m curious if you all have any suggestions:

    One of my biggest struggles is boredom snacking. Right now, for example, I’m stuffed but I have a very strong urge to go and find something to munch on … and Mike just offered me a cookie. Not fair. I know that this is a really important thing to cut back on, it goes right along with eating without distractions and paying attention to when your body says “I’m full!” but besides just not having anything in the apartment to snack on or sheer willpower, I don’t really know how to go about it. Help?


    1. When looking for less "processed" foods it's helpful to understand what nutritionists mean by the term. In chopping, mixing, and cooking food we are processing it, but eating less processed foods doesn't mean a raw foods diet.

      The kind of processing that is unhealthy is the intentional manipulation of salts and fats in mass produced food. Salts and fats are commonly added to ready-to-eat foods to make it more appealing.

      Of course we need both things in our diet, but not as much as is in fast food, precooked meals, and snack foods. So as Val mentioned, it's better to make homemade lasagna or burgers than get a frozen one or run to McDonald's. It will probably taste better too, because all the fats and salts are added to make up for the fact that the ingredients are not fresh.


      I discovered a while back that green beans are yummy raw, and the crunch is really satisfying. I stopped buying chips, and started keeping washed, topped and tailed green beans in a bowl in the fridge when I was in a snacky mood.

      I also replaced a lot of our high-calorie snacks with something a little healthier. I try not to keep cookies in the house unless it's a special occasion or I feel like I've earned it (because they're gone in like, 2 days. No joke.), but I always keep chocolate chip granola bars in the house. They don't go nearly as fast, and they're super healthy (at least by comparison).

      I also heard that often, when you're in a snacky mood, you're actually just thirsty, and looking for that satisfying quality of crunching/munching on something.... So, chew on ice cubes! I haven't tried it yet (I can often talk myself out of snacking if I'm not truly hungry), but it sounds effective. If you try it, let me know if it works.

    3. Oh, chewing ice cubes! I'm trying to shed some pounds and boredom snacking/thinking I'm hungry when I'm not is my biggest hurdle. I bought a big ole jug so I'll drink water instead, but I'll have to try the ice cube thing too. I used to love snacking on ice cubes when I was a kid. Thanks Amanda!

    4. FWIW, every dentist I've been to (including my uncle) says that chewing ice is bad for your teeth in the long run. They say it's a combination of the temperature shock and hardness. Maybe partially melted ice from a glass of water would be less so. *shrug*

    5. About the boredom snacking thing:
      Whenever I have a craving for something when I'm just sitting around; cookies, chips etc, I pour myself a glass of water. Drink it and when you're done, if you still want the chips or cookie, your body is actually hungry. But 9/10, you'll be fine after that glass of water!

    6. Water a good idea. I've tried it occasionally in the past, but I'll make a more concerted effort to see if it helps.

      I do something similar with naps. Whenever I feel really sleepy when sitting in front of the computer, I try to get up and walk around (preferably outside) before laying down for a nap. Most of the time I don't actually need the nap, I just need my blood moving again.

    7. I'm a huge boredom snacker too but I've tried to diversify my snacks to at least make them better for me. Veggies are my main one but another that you might want to try is baked chickpeas.

      You can find lots of methods of doing this online; I just rinse them, pop them onto a lipped cookie tray and bake at 300 until they're crisp. Before baking, I tend to sprinkle garlic salt or other spices on them for flavor. They're not as crunchy as chips, but they're tasty.

    8. Oh Hai Mike & Val! I'm on ur blog, stealin ur foods. :)
      Also, I would definitely go grocery shopping with you and be your chemistry translator... though even I can only recognize about ~60% of the chemical names I read on ingredient lists.
      (I'm planning to get this up to ~95+% soon, partly because food chemistry is a fun subject).
      I think it's important that people not equate "unnatural" with "unhealthy", or vica verca - it's a handy rule of thumb, but it's good to be able to recognize which chemical additives are benign (or even healthy) and which are practically poison.
      On that note, this site is an amazing guide:

      One of the important things to note: not all "fake sugar" is bad: replacing dietary sugar with sucralose (splenda) can actually result in significant health improvements in the long-run. Sugar is nasty stuff! (Unfortunately, aspartame isn't as benign as splenda, and aspartame is still what's used in most diet sodas...)


    Thank you for your thoughts!

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