Friday, May 20, 2011

Plant-strong Success Tip #6: Re-imagine Food

Letting go of the SAD diet

I know that when a lot of people are first exposed to a plant based diet, they are at a loss for what they would eat if they decided to give it a try. We are so conditioned that our dinner plate must contain 1/3 animal protein, 1/3 cooked vegetable and 1/3 potato or grain.

It's sad that high intakes of red meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods, refined grains, high-fat dairy products, high-sugar drinks and eggs have even become known as "The Standard American Diet." But it's easy to see how if this is our standard diet, 2/3 of us are overweight.

As a society, we need to move on from the SAD. Packaged food, processed food, white bread, fried food, candy, cookies, cake and fast food are not actually food and are making us very sick.

Wouldn't it be incredible if our children could say, I grew up on a diet of soups and stews, smoothies, salads, and sauteed greens?  How about real whole grains like quinoa, millet and amaranth? These low calorie, high volume, nutrient dense foods are the antidote to the SAD.

If you want to take back your health (and who doesn't really) you can and must re-imagine what meals should look like. Breakfast is a big green smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal. Lunch is a thick bowl of bean soup and a salad with a big glass of water. Dinner is a "Hugh Jass" salad (to borrow a term from MamaPea) or a "Shock and Awe Salad" (thanks Rip) with some delicious stew, a wonderful plant based casserole, whole grain dish or veggie wrap.

Once you get over the hump of letting go of the SAD and understanding what plant based eating looks like, it's actually pretty darn easy to be Plant-strong.

Understand "Health Washing"

Have you ever heard the term "green washing"? Professionally, working in the printing industry, it's a term that I have become very familiar with. It is "is the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. People want to know that the products they're choosing are either making a positive impact on the environment, or at least reducing the negative impact. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell what's green washing and what's a real, environmentally sound product.

The same exact thing is going on in the food industry and it has been for years. While "health washing" is not a term falling off people's lips, it just might be in the near future. Why? Because the food industry runs rampant with false statements intended to convince consumers that they are making a healthier choice than they actually are. Health washing is everywhere.

Take a tour around the grocery store, and there is no shortage. Here are some examples:
Vitamin water - also known as "sugar water".
Organic cookies/chips/etc. - Sure, a minimal amount of pesticides may be avoided by choosing organic, but I'd be more worried about the fat and sugar.
Cane sugar - "Cane sugar", "raw sugar", "organic syrup" are ALL sugar! Cane sugar just sounds fancier.
Natural or "made from natural ingredients"- This has got to be one of the worst offenders. "Natural" is not a regulated term. It means nothing. And, aren't all ingredients "natural" at one point in time?
"Made with real fruit" - Example: fruit leather snacks for kids. They may contain a teeny amount of "real fruit", but don't forget about the mass amounts of added sugars in various forms, like sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup (glucose-fructose), corn syrup, etc, that may actually outweigh the amount of "real fruit".
Individual nutrient claims - Junk foods that are naturally high in certain vitamins or minerals (such as calcium in pudding), or adding nutrients to junk food, doesn't make it healthy. There is a difference between having some nutritional value, and being a healthy food. The pudding offers protein and calcium, but also lots of fat and sugar.

Avoid being taken in by these ridiculous claims. Eat real food, the kind that grows in the ground. Nature makes great tasting, healthy foods that don't come in misleading packages. Beware of things that are altered from their natural state-unless you are doing the altering in your own kitchen. Don't be won over by the fancy words or images - be skeptical of the terms like "natural" and "made with". Read labels to make your decisions - a product high in sugar and fat is NOT a good choice, regardless of whether it is made with "cane sugar" and "organic", or made with corn syrup and conventionally produced. Similarly, when a product claims "no trans fat", does not mean it's not high in saturated fat, salt or other not-so-great things.


The Collage Experience said...

omg, SO TRUE!!! We really have to look at the labels and not be fooled by the manufacturers. They pay millions for companies to design labels to attract the consumers and that have no truth. You're right, Wendy: "Natural," "Organic," "Real Fruit," "Healthy," pretty pictures of fruit and veggies, etc. mean NOTHING. We must read the labels

Patti said...

Before... when I imagined "going Vegetarian" my biggest obstacle was what would I eat? What would breakfast look like? I would ask people I knew who were meat free what they ate and they generally said "Um, whatever, I throw together - a salad..." or something like that. Taking the leap, it became clear to me that a meal doesn't have to be "a meal". Breakfast can be a smoothie or fruit or a sandwich with leftovers from last night if I want. The dinner plate doesn't have to be divided the way it was when I was growing up.

I wish someone had articulated this to me as clearly as you have here... Great post.

JL goes Vegan said...

Another great post, Wendy! While I felt I ate fairly "healthy" for the past few years, it wasn't until I started eating vegan that I understood what real, whole foods meant. Sure, I dabble in the processed faux stuff but as I learn more about foods -- and how to prepare them -- I'm far more dazzled by my own attempts to make seitan, or cheese, or homemade dressings and sauces. Fresh flavors always win. That's such a misconception that preparing whole, real foods takes too long and isn't convenient. Give me a couple of hours on the weekend -- and a dehydrator, a rice cooker and a pressure cooker -- and I can eat for a week!

wendy said...

I went to an event sponsored by the Pearl St. Whole Foods where Rip was speaking. They did a great segment on reading labels and I can't remember whose work they quoted, but the gist of it was....Pay no attention to the front of the package ('the claims'), look at the nutrition panel and the number calories/serving, the calories from fat should only be 20% of the total, and the sodium should only be equal to the number of calories. Ignore everything else. This is a quick and dirty way to decide to buy a food or. Your post today is RIGHT ON. Thanks. w

Jen said...

Great post Wendy and a terrific series. It's easy to eat nutritarian and vegan if you cook ethnically. Asian, Indian, Mexican, many cuisines are based on veggies, rice and beans. I've just started this year, and did find that I had trouble shifting my perceptions of what a dinner should be. I was sipping some Vitamix V-8 while getting peppers ready to saute & serve with enchiladas, and was thinking about PEERTrainer's post on raw food this week. I realized that I didn't have to cook family could also enjoy a small glass of "drinkable vegetables" and the peppers could go with dip. Dinner was served, less work & less clean-up. I think even the vegan label gets "health washed". Some of the soy products that are SAD-substitutes are so heavily processed. Whole, fresh food just naturally tastes better.

Anonymous said...

Wendy--great post. Thank you for your candor and positive helps so many readers stay motivated.

Wendy (Healthy Girl) said...

Jen-You are absolutely right about everything. My next tip (#5) includes my thoughts about the healthyfulness about the "V" label on processed packaged foods. You are thinkin' what I am thinkin'!

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