Getting healthy by degrees; making small changes that add up!
March 18, 2010 § 2 Comments
I’ve been realising more and more the continually evolving nature of our diets and health, and the importance of making small changes in order to create a lifestyle that is sustainable. The other day I was prompted to think about this fact when my boyfriend asked me for a bit of health advice – specifically if the foccacia he was eating was ‘healthy’. Of course, a thousand little red flags went up in my head screaming all the things that were wrong with his choice of lunch; white, processed bread that was probably high in sugar and of course, gluten, wheatey, digestively challenging ingredients; chicken, which although grilled, to me is a dead food that doesn’t really nourish us; bacon which is high in fat and moves slowly through the digestive tract, amongst other things…yes, it had salad and…well, it had salad… but to me the answer was a resounding ‘no!’. The moment I had deconstructed his meal choice and spewed out the list of it’s particular evils, I realised what I had done. I had effectively undermined his attempts at choosing something consciously for health – perhaps as a better alternative to hot chips or worse.
Reflecting further, I realised there are degrees of what we consider healthy, and I too once started out eating things that I now would turn my nose up at. The important thing is, once we start actively thinking about what we are putting into our bodies, we can only improve from there. It’s up to you how far you want to go with it, and each step is positive. For that reason I apologised to my bewildered bf, who was now feeling pretty glum about his delicious foccacia, in the knowledge that small changes add up.
Case study: giving up sugar.
This is a prime example for me, as I can physically trace how I gradually, gradually, gave up sugar by degrees.
Refined sugar is so bad for us because it raises insulin levels and passes quickly into the bloodstream, causing a temporary burst of energy that is usually followed by a ‘low’ and ultimately more sugar cravings. Long term, eating too much sugar can depress the immune system, promote storage of unwanted fat, and is linked to pretty much every disease in the book. It contains no vitamins or minerals, is difficult for our body to metabolise, and excess consumption can mess with your blood sugar levels (this is where diseases like diabetes and kidney probalems come into play). As Kimberly Snyder would remind us, sugar is acid-forming and therefore contributes to ageing and disease.
Moving on, I remember the first step for me was replacing sugar (white or brown) with honey. Honey is of course a natural substance that has many beneficial qualities and anti-bacterial properties, so if you are using honey, this is a step ahead of sugar which your body will be thanking you for. If you want to get fussy, you should probably think about trying to aquire some raw organic honey from your health food store, because the commercial stuff has still been pasturised, killing many of the nutrients…and of course, if you can get local stuff where the beekeepers are kind to our little buzzy friends, this is even better.
Cutting out sugar also requires you to think about the pre-packaged food you eat, such as cereals, breads, bottled sauces…anything that you might not realise contains added sugar. In the end, this is why I only buy the whole, original foods and if I want a sauce, i’ll make it (like hummus, pasta sauce etc). If you have all your own stuff, you can rest assured that there are no hidden sweeteners or preservatives involved. Anyway, if you don’t want to go crazy, at least check the label to know what you’re getting.
So once I started thinking about sugar, I eventually moved on to what I now use which is Agave Nectar. This is raw, organic and has quite a low GI so it is better than honey on the ‘sugar’ scale. Honey is still a sugar, and depending on what kind you are using, can have quite a high glycemic index. Check out Fran’s from High on Health’s article on Honey here.
I reach for the Agave now if I ever need to sweeten something, and now do not have any refined sugar in my diet at all.
That being said, there is an ever ‘better’ alternative to agave if I wanted to get serious and consume a zero-calorie, non-GI-affecting, natural sweetener. Stevia is this miracle product, and just a few drops of the stuff is equivalent in sweetness to a lot of sugar. I’ve used Stevia before, but it does have a bit of an aniseed taste which I didn’t really like, but I also haven’t given it the best chance, and plan to reintroduce it at some stage. There are also other sweeteners such as Xylitol which is natural and low-GI which generally comes in granulated form and looks exactly like white sugar. I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s also approved by health fanatics.
So as you can see, there is a definite process in motion when you are making changes to your diet, and everything we read and encounter is subconsciously informing our decisions and giving us extra inspiration to try different approaches to our health. For me, reading health blogs has been the biggest influence for me, and with so many fantastic ideas bouncing around, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But making small changes, picking and choosing ideas that resonate with you and work for your body, is all you need to feel like you are taking better care of yourself.
To my boyfriend, I will try and be more supportive of the little things, and acknowledge that there are degrees of how ‘healthy’ people want and need to be. And to everyone else, know that making thoughtful decisions about what you eat can only stand you in good stead for a lifetime of continuous learning and evolution as to the ideal nutritional lifestyle for you.