A conversation I had with the cashier at the grocery store this morning has inspired me to write what will be the first of several posts specifically about diet and nutrition. She noticed that I was purchasing Mexican Coke and asked me if it tasted better than regular Coke (US version). I told her that it does, but the main reason I choose the Mexican version is because it uses more natural ingredients than the US version. Most notably, it uses actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
The cashier then told me that their store carries the Pepsi Throwback brand, which also uses actual sugar. I was happy to hear this because I had thought most places had stopped carrying it soon after its initial release several years ago. She said that they had stopped carrying it, but brought it back due to popular demand. This is also exciting news because it shows a growing trend of people wanting natural ingredients in their food instead of highly modified and processed ones.
I am not saying that Mexican Coke or any other soft drink (“pop” to us in the Midwest) is healthy. Sugar, itself, is not healthy. It can still lead to weight gain, etc. However, your body is better equipped to process natural ingredients than artificial or modified ones found in more mainstream products. Not to pick specifically on Coke, but to use it as an example:
- As mentioned, US Coca-cola uses HFCS as its primary sweetener, which is a highly-processed form of corn syrup and still adds the equivalent number of calories to a drink as table sugar.
- Coke Zero (which I used to drink religiously) and Diet Coke use aspartame as their primary (artificial) sweetener, which does not have calories, but is not processed easily by the body and has many other documented side-effects such as causing irritable-bowel syndrome and seizures.
Why mention this information? Because, as I have learned through experience, the secret (which is anything but a secret) to weight loss and eating healthy is through education.
To provide some background, I was overweight for much of my childhood and adult life. I had tried to lose weight several times over the years and only met limited success. Each time, I would put the weight back on and then some. Several times, I had told myself that I was just meant to be heavy and it wasn’t something that I could change.
However, in January of 2012, I decided that I was going to change and fully committed myself to it. Similar to a smoker going cold-turkey, I picked a start day and completely changed my eating habits and began the ongoing process of educating myself about everything I put into my body. I was very fortunate to have obtained immediate success and lost 20 pounds in the first month.
Before starting my diet change (I use “diet” in the true sense of the word), I weighed 235 pounds. At my heaviest, I was pushing 250. I now typically weigh-in at or near 168. I reached that weight loss peak after approximately 9 months. I have constantly maintained since. I am not saying that I am in perfect shape now or at an ideal weight, but eating healthy and maintaining or losing weight is something that I still actively work on. My next post on this topic will cover what I refer to as “phase 1,” which was my new diet during that 9-month period when I lost nearly 70 pounds.
Transitioning back, I want to drive home the importance of self-education regarding healthy eating habits. How often do you look at the ingredients label on a product before you actually buy it? I never used to, but now (often to the wife’s dismay as I was already really slow at grocery shopping) I read every label before buying a product for the first time. Taking that to the next level, how often do you research those unknown ingredients after seeing them on the label? I will often pull out my smart phone and do a search for the unknown ingredients while standing in the store aisle.
So, what to avoid?
I am going to focus more on this topic when I post about phase 1 and (later) phase 2, but I will provide an overview here. My goal in phase 1 was weight loss, while my goal in phase 2 (which is still ongoing) is eating healthy and natural. There is a difference between eating foods to lose weight and eating foods that are good for your overall health. This has been a learning process for me as my diet has continued to evolve.
With that said, I am speaking now from more of a phase 2 perspective. I will not again eat many of the foods I ate during phase 1 as I have continued to learn more about food ingredients. So here are things to avoid:
- Foods with unknown, hard to pronounce, or extensive ingredients. Examples include store-bought cookies, donuts, cupcakes, or other prepackaged foods. Pick up a box and look at the massive ingredient list. You will often see things like “partially-hydrogenated” or “enriched.” These are both flags for heavily processed, artificially modified (GMO) ingredients used to add flavor.
- Foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat (beef). I do not eat red meat. It can be high in protein, but there are plenty of other sources for that (eggs, milk, nuts).
- Fast foods. I have completely cut out traditional fast food (burgers, fries, etc.). They are very high in calories, fat, and modified ingredients.
- Artificial preservatives and dyes. These are difficult to avoid because of the proliferation of both into most of the products we eat, in particular foods marketed to kids. Yellow #5 in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is an example of a food dye. BHA and BHT are common artificial preservatives, which are banned in most countries outside the US, but are found in many US foods.
Here is an example label containing many of those ingredients to avoid:
What are the Alternatives?
Natural, minimally or non-processed foods are the way to go. Pick products that have very few ingredients listed in the label. Look in the natural foods section in your grocery store. I will cover this in more depth in a later post.
There are many resources online with great information. If you are looking to make a real change, it can be very daunting. http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/ is a great place to start. Lisa Leake’s 100 day real food challenge is exactly that, a real challenge and an impressive accomplishment for anyone that can complete it.
What healthy eating tips do you have? What has worked for you to both lose weight and take care of your body?
Until next time – Chris (active dad at home)