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Best Foods to Eat for Health

Five Dietary Changes for Better Health this Year

Each year, at the end of December, I post my top five recommendations for how to achieve better health (and weight loss and happiness) through a better diet.  This year, the recommendations are still the same.  However, instead of telling you what not to do or which foods to avoid for better health, I’m going to tell you what you can eat.

It’s really simple. My five tips have always focused on what not to eat, but the truth is that just the thought of giving up your favorite things makes getting healthy a negative experience almost immediately.  To change your bad dietary habits and make new, healthy habits stick, you need to know that you can replace all of your dietary vices with healthy options that will not diminish the flavor of your food or the joy that food brings you.

So, as we make our fresh start into the next year, make your plans to start your real food journey by replacing those health-robbing items in your fridge and on your shelves with real and nourishing versions.

My Journey to Health Through a Real Food Diet

It’s that time again.  You and everyone you know is vowing to make changes–especially changes in regard to diet and exercise–that will lead to health and happiness.  Of course, we all know that where diet is concerned following the latest fad will never lead to lifelong health or a slimmer figure.  

Forget the diet plans and the hyper-focus on the health food du jour that promises to bring you perfect health.  If you want to get healthy, lose weight and, most importantly stay healthy and slim, you must make a complete lifestyle/diet change and then continue to live/eat that way for the rest of your life.  There are no quick fixes.

Let me say that again:  There are NO quick fixes when it comes to health.  You must make lasting changes in order to stay healthy and keep the extra pounds off.

Fortunately, it’s not as hard as it sounds!
At the beginning of 2012 I was 80 pounds over my ideal weight. I was plagued with horrible, life-disrupting health issues such as IBS, high blood pressure, near-hourly heart palpitations and chest pain, sometimes crippling anxiety and irritability.  I was experiencing headaches and joint pain on a weekly basis, sometimes as often as every other day. And, like many women, I didn’t merely experience PMS, but instead PMDD, for which I occasionally took prescription sertraline. In addition to that, I was taking beta-blockers for my blood pressure, but they didn’t always help. I took a full dose of OTC loperamide hydrocloride almost every other day. I swallowed acetaminophen almost daily for the headaches and joint pain I experience.

In early 2012 I came across information about traditional foods and read about nourishing the body with the nutrient-dense foods that were once the main staples of the American diet.  I knew this was the way that I should eat and the way that I should feed my family.

By March of 2012, I had purchased my first gallon of local, raw cow’s milk and was slowly making changes to our diet. By the summer of 2012, I was off all medications, my blood pressure was normal, I had begun to lose weight. My headaches were gone and I could exercise again without pain and my IBS symptoms were much better.(Even now, the first telltale sign that I’ve eaten badly is that my IBS symptoms return. It’s an excellent gauge for how clean my diet is.)The anxiety is long gone and the PMDD is now just occasional, noticeable hormone changes that force me to listen to my body and spend more time on self-care as needed.

I have experienced such a dramatic change in my health and my life that I want to share it with everyone. While each and every change I have made is important, there are five that stand out to me as being the most essential to my improved health and weight loss.

If you want to make positive changes to your health and happiness, these are the five most important dietary changes to make.

Replace Refined Sugar with Natural Sweeteners

Sugar is bad, y’all. It’s also probably the most difficult food vice to give up.

I wouldn’t normally tell people to get rid of sugar in their diet as the first step toward health. for two reasons. Number one, it was not the first step I took toward health. Number two, it’s probably the most difficult step for most people.

See, at the root of my health issues was an addiction to refined sugar.Refined sugar includes table sugar, corn syrup, powdered sugar, brown sugar, etc. It is nasty, vile stuff. Simply cutting out refined sugar alone will give you an incredible health boost and lead to weight loss.

I believe that most people who eat refined sugar are suffering from some degree of addiction to it. It’s important to understand the nature of physiological addiction to understand why you may be addicted to sugar. See, refined sugar works on the brain in the same way that cocaine does. It increases dopamine levels, which gives us a sense of pleasure. When we participate in activities that increase dopamine, we find ourselves going back again for more. Sometimes this is a good thing.Having a glass of water when we are thirsty gets our neurons firing. It’s when we get the “dopamine reward” for an activity or substance that is harmful to us that things get tricky.

Refined sugar, unfortunately, harms our body. For the sake of brevity in an already lengthy post and because he explains it so much better than I can, check out the following video about the dangers of refined sugar:

If you are convinced that the refined sugar in your diet must go, take it slowly.  I suggested replacing refined sugar in your diet with unrefined sweeteners.  Choose from Organic Grade B maple syrup and maple sugar, SuCaNat (SUgar CAne NATural, dehydrated, unrefined sugar cane), raw honey, molasses, coconut palm sugar and coconut palm nectar.  
Once you have kicked the refined sugar addiction, try to keep your added sweetener consumption to less than 5% of your total caloric intake.

And, for the sake of heaven and all things holy, do not use artificial sweeteners of any kind ever.

Replace Refined Salt with Real Salt

I’m sure you already know that a diet high in sodium is harmful to your health.  More accurately, a diet that has an imbalance of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium is harmful to your health.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is notoriously high in sodium and low in potassium and magnesium.  This imbalance can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Luckily, cutting out refined, iodized table salt does not mean that you have to suffer through bland meals.In fact, a liberal use of unrefined salt is encouraged. My oldest son, an athlete, even has his very own shaker of salt at mealtimes because he likes to salt each bite before it goes into his mouth. I used to be very concerned about this habit until we began to use healthier salts.

Our favorite unrefined salts are Celtic Sea Salt for cooking and baking and Real Salt for sprinkling.

Check out this video by Sarah Pope, Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader and blogger at The Healthy Home Economist:

   

Replace Vegetable Oils with Healthy Fats

 If you are currently eating a low-fat diet, you need to knock it off.  Seriously.  Also, stop cooking with vegetable and seed oils and please, please, please stop eating margarine and the like.  Eat more butter and coconut oil.  Do it now.  Use it liberally.  You cannot eat too much butter, ghee, lard or coconut oil.
 
Yes, I’m pretty serious about fat.  Over the past few years I have consumed more saturated fat than ever and still lost weight.  I have been very careful about my consumption of polyunsaturated fats, attempting to achieve a better ratio of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.  I’ve been especially cautious about consuming heated (and therefore rancid) mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  
 
I know this advice goes directly against everything you’ve ever been taught (or heard in the news media) about the dangers of saturated fat.   I suggest that you find a copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat and watch the following video to better understand the dangers of too much vegetable oil and not enough organic, saturated fat:
 

 Replace Processed Foods with Real Foods

 It’s not a secret that processed foods are unhealthy.  If you are a coupon queen, you likely try to ignore that fact in order to save on your grocery bill each week.  If you want to lose weight and experience health (or stay slim and healthy if you already appear to be) you must replace processed foods with real food ingredients that you put together yourself to make real food meals.
 
I know we’re all busy.  As a full-time working, home schooling mom, I know we’re all busy.  I also get that groceries are not cheap.  I can only say that the extra preparation time and money spent for healthier, unprocessed food is well worth it.  It’s also not as time-consuming or as expensive as I thought it was before it became a way of life for me. (20 Dishes, which is a meal planner that helps you do once-per-week or once-per-month prepping has been a live-saver and a time-saver!  Check it out here.)
 
Replace breakfast cereals with soaked oatmeal.  Make homemade chicken broth and forego the chemical-laden tetra-packed junk.  Learn to use organic herbs and spices to flavor your foods and dump the boxed ground beef “helper” meals.  
 
Grow it yourself, make it yourself, nourish yourself.
 

Eat Organic, Pastured Animal Products 

If you haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, put it on your reading list for 2016.  If you are going to eat animal products (and I highly suggest that, for optimal health, you do consume animal products) you need to know where your food comes from.  
 
Although I do not wish to offend my readership by posting pictures, videos and links to the atrocities that are conventional, industrial dairy, chicken, pig and beef farms, I want you to take this step very seriously.  If the animals you eat are eating badly, then you too are eating badly when you eat them and the products they provide.
 
I do not agree with modern medicine and its belief that eating animal products is dangerous to one’s health–unless that is, one is eating factory-farmed and conventionally processed animal products.  If you are drinking conventional, pasteurized-because-it-is-too-dirty-for-consumption milk, your health will suffer.  If you are eating the chemical-laced fat from red meat, your health will suffer.  If you are consuming the eggs of factory-farm chickens, your health will suffer.
 
My first step toward better health was to source local, raw milk.  My suggestion to anyone looking to make a positive change in his or her health is to find a source of raw milk or at least low-temp pasteurized milk from pastured (grass-fed) cows.  There are many products that can be made from raw milk that are nourishing and health-promoting.  (Like my homemade raw milk yogurt or raw cream butter.) Check out RealMilk.com for local sources of raw cow’s and goat’s milk.
 
Seek out local farmers for grass-fed meats by consulting LocalHarvest.com.  Often these farmers use organic practices–and even practices that go above and beyond those required by the government to be certified organic–but lack the funds to become certified organic.  Seek farmers who will allow you to tour the farm and explain to you their farming practices.  By purchasing your animal products from small, local farms you’ll not only be increasing your health, you’ll also be supporting the local economy and sustainable farming practices.  
 

Take it One Step at a Time

I hope you’ve learned something new from this list of five of the most important changes I made to my family’s diet.  These changes will set on you on the right track toward feeling, functioning and looking your best.  

Don’t attempt to make all of the changes at once, but instead use the next year to research each step and slowly incorporate each into your daily life with the intention of eating in this nourishing manner for the rest of your life.

If you think that you are not financially ready to start a real food diet, I’d encourage you to check out the ways that I eat real food on a budget, use Amazon Subscribe and Save to make real food affordable and check out the new Thrive Market, which has saved me a ton of money buy offering my favorite heath food store products at a discount of 25-50% off. (When you sign up, you’ll get 15% off of your first purchase!)

I wish each of you, my valued readers, a new year of small hours filled with health and peace.
 5 Important Dietary Changes for a Healthy and Happy 2016