You (Literally) Are What You Eat

You are what you eat.

Yep. You’ve heard it all before. But have you really ever thought about how deeply this means? The clean eating movement has brought a lot of food & nutrition awareness to the fore front. We at least know that refined, processed foods are bad for us and whole foods are good for us. We can all agree, right? Yet, this is much more than bad food in, bad stuff out. It’s much more than feeling sluggish, tired and bloated. What you eat changes your cells, changes your immune system and possibly even changes how your DNA functions. Yes. Your DNA. This is serious business. I want you to consider this:

FOOD IS THE ONE ELEMENT OF OUR LIFESTYLE WHERE WE HAVE TOTAL CONTROL.

That is a powerful statement. Food is the one element of our lifestyle where we have total control. This is about truly improving your quality of life and building a better you!

Our food is the basis of our body’s foundation.  Refined, processed foods provide the wrong kind of carbohydrates and do not give you enough of the protective elements that whole foods do, such as antioxidants, fiber nutrients and phytochemicals (a naturally occurring protective substance). Whole foods are generally defined as food that has been processed or refined as minimally as possible and does not contain any additives or artificial substances. When our diets are filled with refined, processed food, and/or foods high in saturated fats, and not enough whole food nutrition, bad things start to happen. Our bodies start to break down because they are not supported with enough of the good stuff. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes, inflammation and cardiovascular disease are a few serious illnesses linked to a poor diet. While there are other factors such as environmental and hereditary links, when a person’s diet is improved, it has been shown that the impact of these diseases can be greatly reduced and sometimes even reversed. Fatigue, headaches, frequent colds or illness, chronic pain and other daily health nuisances can be related to what you feed your body.

My own diet has drastically changed over the past several years out of both a passion for optimum health & wellness and necessity. During my 20’s I enjoyed being very fit, and very active. I thought I was eating healthfully by simply eating “low fat” or “low calorie”. It’s all about our calorie intake right? Wrong. And while I always liked fruit & vegetables, I had a busy lifestyle and often stocked convenience foods, frozen meals, and boxed prepared meals that I could cook quickly and easily. I remember my husband once distinctly asking for more fruit to be kept in the house. It didn’t click with me at that time that the vegetable crisper in our refrigerator was often more empty than full. And I wasn’t paying attention to the ingredients on the food I was buying. At all. If the package said low fat, low calories, low or no added sugar, natural ingredients, low sodium, that was enough for me.

In my early 30’s I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The first few years after my diagnosis I was mostly unaffected and felt like one of the lucky ones. Maybe even like I still had some of the invincibility that you feel you have in your 20’s. Eventually, the MS came marching in with a vengeance. My body wasn’t cooperating any more. First my legs would get numb from the knee down. Then frequent falls, then the inability to move my feet or legs, and finally poor balance until I could no longer run, no longer wear high heels, or even do hobbies I enjoyed such as gardening. Although I was taking medication I wasn’t getting better and I felt compelled to take control of the MS in a more natural way. I stumbled across a book & lifestyle program called Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS). The OMS program became the building blocks for transforming my diet. You can find more information about the elements of their approach here. It is targeted toward people with MS but has many of the same principles as other health & wellness lifestyles.

My food journey (overhaul) began in April of 2011. I started paying a lot more attention to food and what I was buying at the grocery store. At first, the time I spent grocery shopping probably doubled (or even tripled) because I began to read every label, look at all ingredients, Google ingredients while I shopped, shop the outer perimeter more and avoid the aisles as much as practical. I cleaned out my pantry, freezer and refrigerator and just started over. I wasn’t perfect (and am still not) yet over time, food shopping, prep and my new cooking regimen became easier. Meal planning was one key to success. And while buying organic and fresh foods does cost a little more, I was wasting far less food overall.

The list below is what I have found to work for me as my dietary outline – it doesn’t have a name, it’s just my guideline for eating and ensuring that I am giving my body wholesome nourishment and a base to heal, rebuild and thrive.

  • Plant-based whole food diet, as organic as possible
  • Supplemented with seafood & eggs
  • As little saturated fat as practical
  • Dairy free
  • Gluten free
  • Occasional grass-fed, organic meat (very rarely)
  • Cook with only olive oil (I use Earth Balance spread as a substitute for butter)

In general, I try to cook vegan and stay as plant-based as possible with a few out-of-the-box exceptions. If you’re a newer reader to my blog you may have noticed I love to cook and that love has only amplified along my food journey. Some think my diet is limited but I completely disagree. Changing to a whole food diet has given me an opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone and try foods that I would have never tried before or even dared cook with.

One “meal” that I struggled with, and was the hardest to break the routine of reaching for a boxed food, was snack time. I love to snack throughout the day and while veggies & hummus, a handful of almonds or a fruit salad are totally awesome, I was bored and looking for options that did not take a half hour preparing throughout the day.

Here are 10+ snacks that are whole food, nutritious and will fill your tummy (and your kids too – these are kid-tested favorites!)

Brown rice cakes with almond butter & dried fruit. Straight forward and delicious. Brown rice cakes, or any rice cake that is gluten free, your favorite almond or nut butter, and a small handful of dried fruit. I like a mix of dried cranberries and golden raisins. You can use whole fruit jam in place of dried fruit.

Organic yogurt with diced, fresh fruit. I like to eat a non-dairy coconut-based yogurt like SoDelicious brand. Chop up your favorite fruit – my favorites are strawberries, blueberries or banana. Mix it in and enjoy. I also like pineapple, dried fruit and gluten free granola.

Ants on a log. A friendly reminder of an old favorite. Trim a couple of celery sticks, spread your favorite nut butter and sprinkle with raisins.    

Crackers and cream cheese. Another oldie but goodie that you can also pack in a lunch for school or work. I really like the brand Food Should Taste Good. They make an everything cracker/chip called The Works that tastes great with dairy-free cream cheese.

Green vanilla smoothie. Any smoothie will do, but this recipe is among my favorites. 1 – 2 cups of spinach leaves, 1 banana, 1/4 of raw pumpkin seeds, 15 – 20 almonds, 8 oz. vanilla soy or almond milk. You can add a little water as well. Blend all ingredients until smooth and start sipping!

Bars or bites. This is a stock up or prepare ahead snack. The supermarkets carry some wonderful whole food options such as Larabar, KIND, So Good to name a few. I like these easy-to-make energy bites as well from Hip2Save that I found via Pinterest. You won’t have a Pinterest fail here. They store well and when prepared ahead can simply be tossed into lunches, purses and backpacks to enjoy on the run. With just FIVE ingredients (which you might already have!) they are truly a breeze to put together, and also a fun snack to make WITH your kids.

Chips & Salsa. OK. Please don’t say DUH. I know. What I was going for here was Food Should Taste Good chips and a homemade salsa prepared ahead of time, like over the weekend, where again the kids can help too. Involving kids in making food from scratch and preparing healthy foods sets their eating habits up for success which is a double win in my book. For a slightly different take on hummus, try this vegan avocado hummus made without tahini. And, here is an easy vegan salad that you can easily pair with chips, which also travels well on the go:

  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1 small tomato, chopped (I prefer roma tomatoes)
  • 1/4 red onion chopped, optional
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP fresh or 1/2 TSP dried basil to taste
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
In a bowl add the white beans, avocado, tomato and onion. Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together then pour over the veggies and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Scoop and enjoy!

Roasted chick peas. Confession: my new addiction. You can thank me later. In the meantime, click on Glue & Glitter’s link here to make Vegan Ranch Roasted Chickpeas. Her 3 herb homemade ranch mix of dill, onion powder and garlic powder is perfection baked on chickpeas.

Snack mix. Got a bunch of nuts, dried fruit and sweets packages rolled up with rubber bands? Put them together in one giant bag, mix and enjoy. Let your kids pick the combos and have fun surprising them (or let them surprise you) with snacks ready for the week ahead that can be put in lunch boxes, in your purse and daddy’s work bag.

Hard-boiled eggs. I included hard-boiled eggs on my list because I love eggs. Too much of a good thing, like eggs, can be bad for your cholesterol, however a hard-boiled egg makes a great lunch companion, a protein and healthy fats snack, or, chopped & tossed with a little Vegenaise (or traditional mayo), salt & pepper and a TBSP of dijon mustard, to make an egg salad to enjoy over spinach or crackers.

Banana wrap. Have kids that don’t like sandwiches? Try a banana wrap! Click here for this ridiculously easy (and fun) recipe from The Gracious Pantry. A great adult snack when eating just a banana seems boring.

This blog post was packed with information! A little about my story, a little about working to redefine what we eat and a whole lot of good ideas for whole food snacks. If you are interested in reading more about nutrigenomics (a newer field of study that explores to role of nutrition on genetic expression) or epigenetics (the phenomenon by which the genetic function changes, not the DNA itself) check out the following articles:

Further Evidence Supporting The Crucial Role Played By Dietary Fatty Acids In Autoimmunity

Nutrigenomics: The Diet That Can Change Your DNA

 

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