Before I get started, let me give you a glimpse of my thoughts regarding how I’m going to tackle this weekly series: I hope to have an introductory post (like this one for this week) that covers the big idea for the week, a second post that carries those ideas from the big-picture perspective to the more detailed and practical perspective, and a final post about what I did this week that worked and what I did that didn’t. It may not be as clear-cut as that– it might turn out to be only two posts, one big-picture and one practical, with my experiences that week woven in the two. Or it may be some other combination. Whatever shape it takes, I hope to provide those three things– big-picture, practical application, and my own trials and errors.
This first week is about refining the art of having healthy food that can be grabbed and eaten quickly and, ideally, with little hands-on time. That way, we’ll be able to ensure that we have easy access to a nourishing meal despite a busy schedule. And it’s not as impossible as it sounds.
Before looking at how that can be accomplished, the priority status of foods must be established. There are tons of foods parading as healthy choices, but really aren’t. What foods matter the most? If I have 0.5829 seconds to choose my next meal, what should I grab?
Baby step #1: Focus on proteins and healthy fats. Why? Proteins and fats are what keep you going. They’re vital for cell development, repair, and general health. Not only that, but they prevent blood sugar levels from riding that proverbial roller-coaster– carbohydrates cause blood sugars to rise rapidly and plummet just as rapidly; both high and low blood sugars leave you with fatigue, light-headedness, nausea, a piqued complexion, irritability, and cloudy thinking. Granted, those symptoms are quickly remedied by more food and water, but if you’re busy or on the go, you probably won’t have the chance to stop and recover until you just pass out (which is a possibility if blood sugar levels drop too low). And if you choose more carbs as your recovery food, you’re entering that dreadful cycle all over again. Who wants that?
Blood sugar levels are important, but being and staying satisfied and full is important too. If you’re not, you’ll be distracted by hunger, and that’s just counterproductive, plain and simple. We’ve all been there. Proteins and fats have your back, though, as they slow the total break down of your meal and cause you to feel fuller longer. (Runners do this before a long run: they’ll eat oatmeal with plenty of almonds, for example, to cause the quick-energy oats to stick with them longer.)
(Note: By “healthy fats” I mean the following [the list before the semicolon [;] is best for cooking, and the list following it is okay for cooking, but not preferred]: “butter, tallow and suet from beef and lamb, unrefined lard from pigs, chicken fat, goose fat, duck fat, coconut oil, and [non-hydrogenated] palm and palm kernel oils; [also,] extra virgin olive oil, expeller-pressed sesame and peanut oils, expeller-pressed flax oil (in small amounts), and cod liver oils [for fat-soluable vitamins like D and A].”* Nuts are good, but try to get the raw kind and toast them in a skillet first; this reduces its phytic acid, an anti-nutrient and general enzyme inhibitor. The following are fats you should avoid entirely, if at all possible: all hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and vegetable oils.* [Phew. Sorry for the long list, but there’s generally a lot of confusion about fats–if you have any questions please comment and ask!])
Baby step #2: If you’re going to reach for carbs, reach for veggies first, fruit second, and grains last. Carbs really aren’t the enemy. Your blood sugar has to be brought up and some point. 🙂 Just know that they’re in nearly everything and are pretty unavoidable, so try to grab protein and fat before you reach for the carbs. But a diet of just protein and fat gets pretty boring, so now what? Vegetables aren’t as sugary as fruits and grains (the last two breakdown into sugars), so they’re carbs that won’t raise blood sugars too fast and furiously. They are also fairly cheap and a good way to fill you up, so you won’t break your budget or your blue jean’s zipper. Fruits are different, as they really don’t offer much nourishment. They are, however, excellent for sweetening things or raising your blood sugar if you haven’t eaten in a while and feel those symptoms detailed above. Grains (anything containing wheat, oats, rice, etc.) are a complex subject for another time–just know that they’re not the nutritional super stars they’re made out to be, and if you’re going to have them, try whole-grain options, preferably soaked, sprouted, or “soured” with your own sourdough starter. If you lost me on the soaked/sprouted/soured thing, don’t sweat it; I’ll talk about that later. Just focus on less grains, but if you’re going to have them, avoid the white flours and instant oats–go for whole wheat and old fashioned oats.
Those are some very basic keys to picking out what kind of foods you should consider grabbing on your way out the door. Because this is more abstract brain food than really helpful practical material, my next post will be discussing how this all plays out in the kitchen–it’ll be more fun than this info-cramming one, I promise. 🙂
*The Weston A. Price Foundation. “Know Your Fats.” The Weston A. Price Foundation. Ed. Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig. N.p., 2011. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats>.