“Eat food, mostly plants, and not too much” says Michael Pollan in his book about eating simply. Our diets can become extremely complicated with all of the choices available and the extras that have been added into the products that line the grocery store shelves. Even when we try to eat healthily, many of the products we buy are filled with highly processed ingredients that do not even sound like food. Overall, our family tends to eat a pretty balanced diet, but occasionally we like to try new things to challenge ourselves and break the routine of our weekly diet. So, bring on the 100 Days challenge.
We discovered 100 Days of Real Food a couple years ago while searching through food/nutrition blogs, and have completed the 100 days challenge in the past (a 100 days without eating any highly processed, refined food). The blogger and creator, Lisa Leake, implemented this meal plan in her family, saw amazing results and is now challenging others to do the same. The plan simply promotes healthy eating, learning to read the ingredient labels on packages, and removing highly processed foods. We conveniently received her cookbook for Christmas, and thought the new year would be the perfect time to start.
Health is one of the most important aspects of lifestyle design. It is hard to do anything efficiently when our bodies feel bad or we do not have energy. So fueling up with healthy foods is a must for feeling good, sleeping well, and overall productivity. 100 Days is really about simplifying our food choices and removing all of the crazy substances that have crept into our food over the last fifty years. -SE
What is real food?
According to 100 days, real food is: Whole Food. These are foods with no ingredient label or only one ingredient. Vegetables and fruits (fresh and frozen), whole grains, locally and humanely raised meat products, naturally made sweeteners (in moderation), whole or minimally processed dairy, unsweetened dried fruits, raw nuts, and seeds. If purchasing packaged foods, they can only contain 5 ingredients or less, and not have refined grains or added sugars. Obviously, most fast food and restaurants should be avoided, and anything claiming to be “fat-free or reduced fat”. It promotes the consumption of water as your main beverage, along with all natural juices, milk, coffee, tea, wine and beer.
The nice thing about this meal plan is that it can be adaptable to any family or dietary need. Since it is all about real food consumption, it doesn’t cut out food groups, and it is satisfying, not restrictive. It is not a diet book, it’s a lifestyle. You learn the concepts needed to choose real food in the store, and cook many healthy alternatives of the foods you know and love. It’s all about fueling your body in the right way.
How we define real food for our family
Our definition of real food is pretty simple, but we’ve added a few minor changes that help make it fit for our family. We typically buy conventionally grown meat due to convenience and availability at our favorite store; however we look for the leanest cuts of meat and consume mostly white meat chicken or fish. The meal plan suggests purchasing organic as much as possible. Organic is good, but we focus on getting organic for the ‘dirty dozen’ when we can. Otherwise we consume conventionally grown vegetables and fruits. Our view is, it’s better to get some vegetables and fruits in, regardless of how they are grown, than not at all. Once it is planting season, we will start a garden where we can pick our produce right in our own back yard! We will make our own whole wheat bread, cereal/granola, hummus and nut butters. We will use honey and 100% maple syrup for sweeteners when needed. Water will be our predominate beverage of choice along with homemade green smoothies, whole milk, 100% fruit juices, and coffee or tea.
Our two year old little girl will be involved in this as well. She is quite the picky eater, and we hope by cooking and serving only healthy options it will improve her dietary choices and enhance her palate. It’s important to us that our kids grow up surrounded by nutritious food and have the opportunity to experience new foods in a positive way.
What are our specific rules?
Just like financial plans or exercise routines, you have to make things like this adaptable to your family so you actually stick to it and succeed. So, we made a few adjustments in the rules that work well for us. For example, we participate in a couples small group every week where the host cooks and serves dinner. Usually the meal does not fit within the 100 days plan, but we have decided in these instances it is okay to politely participate in the meal and enjoy fellowship with friends. Also, there are many times when we meet friends or family out for dinner, and we will try our best to choose the healthiest option on the menu, but will not be as strict as we are at home. Other exceptions are parties, date nights, holidays, and special events.
Removing Added Sugars
Have you ever noticed that added sugar is practically in everything? Bread, salad dressings (all condiments), packaged cereals and crackers, frozen meals/pizza, canned products, packaged dried fruit, etc. It typically comes in the form of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and can wreak havoc on our bodies. It’s hard to go grocery shopping now and not get something with added sugar. The 100 days of real food gives step by step instructions on how to easily remove added sugars from your household, products to purchase when shopping, and several recipes using only natural sweeteners.
The biggest part of this challenge for us is removing refined sugar from our house and diet. Over the holidays, we indulged and it was fun (in the moment). Now, we can feel it in our tummies and in our minds. We realized it was a problem when we began to crave sweets after dinner every evening. It’s a substance that is so tasty, yet so addicting. We don’t want to be addicted to anything, so we had to take a step and change. It will take a lot of reading ingredient labels, making things from scratch, and changing the preference of our taste buds, but it’s well worth it.
The ways we plan to remove added sugar are: 1. Using only honey or 100% maple syrup for sweeteners 2. Making many of our foods from scratch (breads, cereals, granola, nut butters) 3. When purchasing packaged products avoiding items with any form of refined sweetener (sugar) including high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cane juice, or artificial sweeteners listed in the first three ingredients. 3. Removing sweets/desserts that have refined sugar from our pantry, and only eating naturally sweetened desserts in moderation.
Health, economic benefits
As a dietitian and mother, I value my family’s health and wellbeing. It is important to me to provide and serve nutritious food so we can live a long, happy life. It isn’t about counting calories or depriving ourselves, but enjoying food, the nutrients it provides and improving our internal makeup. Not only that, but we hope to stay financially healthy as well and the 100 days of real food has helped us reach both of these important goals. We actually kept track of our grocery spending and we found that processed food was more expensive than simple basic whole ingredients.
It is a new year again. A fresh start. Time to start setting goals that will better yourself, and positively impact others around you and the environment. Our number one goal is getting back on track with our diet, and boosting our health. How are you challenging yourself in 2015? Is health a high priority? If so, what are your favorite nutritious meal plans? It is all about consuming real food that is good for you.