Sometimes people ask me for tips on cleaning up their diet. It’s usually because they’ve watched me pull out a packed lunch of nuts, fruit, and salad (or more likely, because they’ve seen me turn down chocolate and cake at a party). I have no nutritional qualifications, mind you, only a basic grasp of what’s good and what’s not so good. But I noticed something today that I think sums up what a healthier lifestyle is all about.
I was watching the nice lad (yes, I’m 80) at the supermarket scanning my groceries. Or should I say, weighing and entering my groceries.
You see, this poor guy (check-out whizz though he was) only got about 10 easy scans out of the 50 items we bought. The rest he had to stop and locate in his database, and weigh, before handing them over to be bagged. That’s the key difference between our trolley and the ones of most other shoppers: 80 per cent of what we buy is in its original form. And if it has a barcode on it, it’s probably not in its original form.
When my boyfriend and I go shopping, we race down the packaged food aisle (the first one you encounter when you walk into Aldi, in contrast to the immediate fruit and veg onslaught in Coles and Woolworths–different marketing technique?), stopping only for some canned tomatoes, rice milk, and bags of sunflower seeds. The real fun happens in the fruit and veg section. (If you’re wondering, yes we do buy most of our fruit and vegetables from Aldi. Not organic, not all Australian-grown, but one battle at a time, hey? We also hit up the farmers’ markets when we can. But the Aldi stuff is well-priced and tasty, and we modestly-employed youngsters love a delicious bargain.)
We spend the bulk of our shopping trip skipping around the fruit and veg like small children who’ve been given free reign in the confectionery aisle, asking each other with shining eyes if we might get some pears this week. Discovering watermelon on special elicits squeals of excitement. Don’t even ask how many bananas we bought. That should last a few days, we told each other, before grabbing an extra bunch just to be safe.
The point is that healthy eating for beginners can be simplified into this: fill your trolley with 80 per cent barcode- and ingredient list-free products. If it comes in a box or a bag, it’s very likely been processed, pumped full of of excess sugar and preservatives, and too far from its natural state to be any good for you.
To break it down, here are food items we buy in packages:
Nuts (raw and unsalted)
Tinned tomatoes (because non-perishables are just so handy)
Tuna (protein-rich lunch on the run)
Meat (this one makes it in here on a technicality, since it is in a packet and does have a barcode)
With the exception of the gluten-free bread, which has all sorted of crazy gums and stuff to hold it together in the absence of gluten, even the packaged stuff we buy has only a couple of ingredients.
The downside is that we have to stock up on fresh goodies more than once a week. The upside is happy tummies, clear minds, and an appreciation for how food is supposed to be eaten (i.e. fresh and whole).
I’m no expert, just a girl with hyper-sensitive guts trying to keep her body from rage-quitting–and, hey, it’s working out pretty well so far. To the ones who ask, I’ll tell them it’s all about taking the first step, making changes that are manageable for you, and learning to look at food differently. If I had it my way, we’d live on an acreage, grow our own fruit and vegetables, and start a co-op with like-minded neighbours, but we’re a way off that yet. For now, it’s enough to make better choices in the supermarket (enjoy our patronage while you can, you greedy bastards) and pat ourselves on the back when we crave bananas instead of cake.
(Of course, we do enjoy our modified treats too, because resisting chocolate will always be a challenge. Today was caramel slice aka Sweet Happiness.)
7 Tips to Help You Make Healthy Choices at the Supermarket (http://dellaterrawellness.com/make-healthy-choices-at-the-supermarket/)
The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods (http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-benefits-of-healthy-whole-foods)
Why Eat Wholefoods? (http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/nutrition/nutrition+tips/why+eat+wholefoodsr,14993)
Survey: Processed Foods vs Whole Foods (http://www.sarahcalandro.com/thesisblog_2/?p=727)