I think our society thinks that being healthy is a balancing act, that there are a tiny set of scales in the body. They think that you keep these scales balanced by doing and eating healthy things, even though you eat unhealthy things also. Hey, I know none of us eat a perfect diet! If you eat something unhealthy, you just have to do a bit more exercise to burn it off. If you want that dessert, you better have a salad with your meal. If you drink some soda, you should have some water to balance it out. This thinking is wrong and if you stay with me, I will tell you why.
I have to think that this originated, in part, from our parents and grandparents saying, “You have to eat all your dinner if you want dessert!” Also, the exercise era has given people a little latitude with what they can afford to eat and stay trim (and staying trim, in our society, carries the appearance of health; not always true, folks).
The thing that we need to get into our heads is that it’s not all about fat, good or bad, or calories. I said it before and I will say it again, the food we eat affects us on a cellular level. I will show two prime examples here, although there are more. First let’s talk about trans fat, it’s not just a bad fat that will clog your arteries and cause heart problems (if that isn’t bad enough), it will actually become a part of your very cells! Every cell in your body has a cell wall, made primarily of fat. When you ingest trans fatty acids, they become part of that cell wall. For nursing mothers, trans fat replaces some of the healthy, vital fat that your baby needs, so the baby’s cell walls are also being made up of trans fat!
According to Tom Valentine, author of Facts on Fats and Oils1, “When this man-made molecule of fatty acid, called trans fatty acid, gets into cell membrane construction our cells cannot function optimally – we cannot ward off viruses as well”, and, “this degeneration of the cell membrane is cumulative as we continue to eat these trans fats every day – it doesn’t improve over time, or simply vanish, it slowly gets worse and worse.”
My second example is sugar - it’s not just extra calories, it will rob your body of minerals, weaken your immune system, put you on the insulin roller coaster (which we talked about before), stress and fatigue your adrenal glands, and feed harmful yeast and bacteria in your digestive system (causing a host of problems that I will talk about later). These are not things you can jog off! This is why you won’t hear me talk about calories here. It is all about WHAT we are eating, not necessarily HOW MUCH.
I was talking to my husband about this the other night and he always comes up with the best analogies. He said, “How does your car do if you add some water in with the gasoline?” We all know, it’s won’t run well at all, even if there is just a LITTLE bit of water added. Our bodies are the same, a little bit of bad is still bad and our bodies won’t run optimally on food that man has adulterated. My point is not to convince you into changing eating habits by making you feel guilty, but rather, I don’t want you to be deceived. I want you to be well informed and make informed choices!
I’m asking you to renew your mind in this area, make a paradigm shift. Just because exercise doesn’t counteract these junk food woes, doesn’t mean we stop exercising. It means we work on cutting out the junk food. Your sole source of trans fats is packaged food. Don’t buy margarine or ANY butter substitute (if it’s not butter, it was made by man), don’t use shortening in your baking, don’t buy pre-made pie crust - make your own with butter. Practically every peanut butter on the store shelf2 contains trans fat; unfortunately you can’t trust the labels to give you full disclosure. Look for PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OIL on the ingredient listing, if it is there, DON’T buy the item. This is listed on so many foods that most of us don’t realize. When I mention trans fats, most people say, “I don’t use margarine, I only use butter.” That is FANTASTIC, but trans fats are in peanut butter, chips, crackers, graham crackers, pre-made pie crusts, all canned dough, like crescent roll dough and pizza crust; cookies, snack cakes, candy, candy bars, some breads, frozen French fries, fish sticks, pizza, chicken nuggets, burritos, pot pies, cake mixes, Bisquick, canned frosting, and flour tortillas to name a few. This is one of the reasons why these items ended up on the bottom rung above fast food on my ladder.
I think I’ve hammered away at the trans fat issue, let’s get back to sugar. We can drastically limit our sugar intake by cutting out packaged food, also. Trans fat is an item you don’t ever want, but sugar is something I know we will all eat from time to time. A good friend of mine uses a word that fits well here - deliberate. We must be deliberate in everything, raising our children, spending money, even how we eat. I will deliberately eat a dessert now and then, but I try VERY hard NOT to allow sugar into my diet that I don’t deliberately want! The two ways we are deceived into unknowingly eating sugar are through deceptive marketing and ignorance. Many foods are marketed as healthy, but contain lots of sugar, such as breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurt, granola bars, fruit snacks (these are just candy, folks), fruit roll-ups, many juices, smoothies, and vitamin waters. This is where those imaginary tiny scales come in again. I think most people are aware that these foods contain sugar, but they believe the vitamins, whole grain fiber, or beneficial bacteria in that item balance it out. I will say it again – we must shift our thinking away from this balancing act. Remember the car running with water in the tank. Now for ignorance, there are a lot of items that contain sugar as a flavor enhancer, but are not dessert, so we don’t really think we are eating sugar. Things we all use, like ketchup, salad dressing, pickles, dip, Miracle Whip, salsa, and more. This is where label reading will help you out. Sugar is easy to pick out of ingredient listings, but also be aware of sugar’s other names – high fructose corn syrup and anything ending in –ose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, etc.
So be informed, be deliberate, do what you can do and don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can somehow balance the junk food with something like veggies or exercise. Take you babysteps and move toward the whole food that God created that fuels your body the most effectively!
1 Quoted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
2 You can find natural peanut butter. I buy Smucker’s; it only contains peanuts and salt.