Through My Lens


Weird
January 26, 2014, 3:45 am
Filed under: Food

I’m starting to realize that other people think things I do are weird.

Making yogurt. Baking bread. Fermenting sourdough and kombucha. Sprouting grains. Drinking green smoothies. Running. Insanity.

I’ve kind of immersed myself in a culture online and with certain friends that makes me feel I don’t do ENOUGH of these things. I feel I’m only halfway as out there as I could be. For instance, I’m still in complete AWE of 100% raw vegans, or homesteaders that make their own EVERYTHING from their own gardens and animals.

But of course everyone thinks of themselves as normal to some degree…we know our reasons for doing things and it all makes sense to us. No one thinks of THEMSELVES as a health freak, a dirty hippie, a hillbilly farmer, or any other derogative stereotype.

I’m starting to realize now that I’m far from normal. Most people eat “normal, American food,” so my family isn’t typical in that respect.

We don’t buy processed foods, white sugar, trans fat, or much meat. We load up on organic veggies and whole grains. Real food. We don’t eat out except for date nights. I feel like this is slowly becoming the “norm” for lots of people thanks to popular books, documentaries, and food science.

But it’s not there yet. To people who don’t know about all the different levels of food knowledge, we’re already at some weird and unattainable level.

Like when people who don’t run at all mistakingly think my husband and I run marathons. (We run 5ks).

Josh made a good point by asking me, who in our lives do we do that to? Who do we know with passions we don’t understand and mistakingly assume things about?

Good question.

So I’m not offended by the misunderstandings and the questions I get from people. Instead I’m trying to look at myself and gauge how I can better understand people who are different.

How have I misunderstood or been misinformed about you?



Fat!
January 23, 2014, 3:59 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , , , ,

There is a lot of confusion about fat in our lives! At one time I would mentally count how many grams of fat I consumed throughout the day, trying to keep it the number as low as possible. What I overlooked was how much sugar and carbohydrates I consumed!

Truthfully, I was a sugar addict who fell prey to marketing messages: margarine is good for you, skim milk is healthier, all fat is bad for you. I’m here to dispel those myths!

In his book “Food Rules” food journalist Michael Pollan says to “avoid food products with the word ‘lite’ or the terms ‘low-fat’ or ‘nonfat’ in their names.” He says this is because food producers often bump up the sugar to make up for lack of flavor, and “since the low-fat campaign began I the late 1970s, Americans actually have been consuming more than 500 additional calories per day, most of them in the form of refined carbohydrates like sugar….You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than binging on ‘lite’ food products packed with sugars and salt.” -Food Rules, Pollan, 2011

I made the switch from nonfat to full-fat dairy several months ago because it seemed silly to buy nonfat milk AND creamer. Why not just use whole milk for both? I also use whole milk to make my own full-fat plain yogurt. It is delightful!

Not only are full-fat milk and cheese products tastier, they are also more satisfying. I find I eat / drink a lot less because I’m actually full afterward! This is important if someone is trying to lose weight!

In addition, it is important to note the different types of fat. “Know Your Fats” by Mary Enig is an excellent scientific publication that goes into great detail about each type of fat. Enig stresses that polyunsaturated fats, and even those “evil” saturated fats are important for healthy skin, eyes, and brain development. The Weston A. Price Foundation confirms this. They have done a lot of research with babies and toddlers, and found that including saturated fat in their diet is very important – they recommend first foods being egg yolks and cod liver oil. Here’s their breakdown of fats.

So if fat is good for metabolism and healthy brain function why are one-third of Americans overweight? The answer is trans-fat! Trans-fat is the bad stuff that is prevalent in highly processed foods, margarine, and fried foods. It appears on food labels as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” and it also lurks unlabeled in many restaurants and pot-lucks. Avoid this stuff. It is unnatural, and contributes to high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. -Know Your Fats, Enig, 2000

Ways to avoid trans-fats are by reading ingredient labels for that nasty hydrogenated stuff, cooking with coconut oil instead of refined vegetable oils, and real butter instead of margarine. Also avoiding fried foods is good idea (yes, that means french fries!) Giving up donuts is quite a sacrifice for me, but health comes first!

I know this is a complicated subject, and I’m no biochemist (but Mary Enig is!!) If you have more questions, I encourage you to check out her book and the Weston A. Price foundation. This blog by Food Matters is quite informative and goes into detail about how margarine and vegetable oil are made, and healthy alternatives for cooking.

Happy eating!

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Sugar!
December 5, 2013, 1:52 am
Filed under: Food | Tags: , ,

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This is first in a food series I’m starting about the food choices we’ve been making as a family. I’ve already posted about our decision to cut out highly processed foods, but in these I’ll go into more detail about the science behind this choice. My hubby is joining me in this blog series by contributing to each post in his own words. The first topic we’ll cover here is SUGAR!

I have a sweet tooth.
Most people do.
Most people also know that sugar is bad for them. But what is sugar and why do we feel guilty after we overindulge in it?

What it is

Ordinary table sugar is scientifically called sucrose. It is made up of both fructose and glucose. Fructose is the same sugar that is in fruit.

High fructose corn syrup is a highly refined sweetener and appears in most processed foods. We’ve avoided HFCS for years, mostly because it signifies a cheap, low-quality food product and it has no nutritional value. But it’s important to understand that while avoiding HFCS is a good thing, the body handles both these sugars the same way: both will spike your blood sugar, both will give you a jolt of energy followed by a “sugar crash,” and both will leave you wanting more. More recently, we’ve made an attempt to reduce all refined sugar from our diet.

Why it’s bad

Aside from the sugar crash, sugar is addicting, bad for teeth, weakens the immune system, and excessive consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes. Every time we drastically spike our blood sugar, our body has to work hard to create insulin to regulate it. It’s all about balance.

And sugar is highly addictive. The more you eat, the more you want…but the reverse is also true: the less you eat, the less you miss it! There’s a lot of conflicting advice about food, from carbs to cholesterol to chemicals. But despite all the drama and debate, everyone seems to agree that lots of sugar is lots of bad. You don’t hear about scientific studies linking high sugar intake to high longevity. You don’t hear nutritionists promoting some new research about a traditional culture from the 1300’s that thrived on kilograms of honey and sugarcane. You don’t hear alternative bloggers touting their innovative six-packs-of-a-soda-a-day diet that revitalized their lives and made them feel 25 again. I (Josh) think it’s pretty interesting that people who disagree about so much agree about this.

Unlike trans fat (which we’ll look at next), sugar doesn’t seem to be so bad that it should be completely avoided. I (Josh) thoroughly enjoyed three pieces of pumpkin pie last month. Thankfully, consuming less sugar doesn’t have to be painful; cutting out most of the refined sugars that come in so many processed foods leaves lots of room for the natural sugars that come in so many delicious, nutrient-packed fruits. Even though we’re not really worried about obesity or tooth decay, the more we learn about more people saying more things about sugar, the more limiting our intake just makes sense.

It’s everywhere

Again, our problem with sugar isn’t that we wish to avoid it entirely…we believe it’s fine in moderation. Our problem is that it’s in everything! How can we consume it in moderation when added to every beverage, snack, cereal, condiment, and dressing out there? This has led us to make many things at home, like bread, tortillas, and yogurt. It’s more work, but to me (Emily) it’s worth it. I’d rather avoid sugar in the non-desserts so I can have it occasionally (in something chocolate) and truly enjoy it!

Sugar alternatives

There are some more nutritious alternatives to sugar, and I love baking with them!
  • Pure maple syrup and honey – These are natural, unrefined, straight from nature. Get the best you can afford. While they are still processed the same in your body (all sweet things are), they are the same sweet things our ancestors found in trees and enjoyed on rare occasions.
  • Coconut sugar – This is a lovely invention! It’s the evaporated sap of the coconut palm (also called palm sugar). It tastes like brown sugar, but has nutritious vitamins and antioxidants from the plant still intact due to its minimal processing. It also has healthy amino acids from the coconut. The best part is it’s cheaper than maple syrup and honey, and it’s a 1:1 substitute for sugar in baking!
  • Stevia – I don’t use stevia personally because I think the aftertaste is a little funky, but lots of people enjoy this all-natural, super sweet, no calorie alternative to sugar. I would stick with the liquid or the 100% pure powder, as some have additives to make it less concentrated (it’s many times sweeter than sugar and should be used a drop at a time!)
  • Fruit – Some fruit is very sugary. This sugar is fructose. I use it to my advantage. In the form of fruit (not juice, but the fruit itself) fructose is accompanied by vitamins, minerals, potassium, and fiber. Most recipes taste great sweetened with fruit alone. Oatmeal is fantastic with just some raisins or fresh blueberries as sweetener! Many desserts taste great with just a banana or handful of dates instead of sugar. Or try plain yogurt with frozen berries or mangoes mixed in as an ice cream alternative! Even when doing a week with strictly no added sugar, we allow fruits in our diet.
Those are some of the good sugar alternatives, but there’s also a lot of bad ones out there. I’m not a fan of agave nectar. Even though it’s from a plant, it has to be processed and heavily refined to make the syrup. The jury’s out on whether this is really unhealthy, but I still chose to avoid it.
Most importantly, please avoid all artificial sweeteners! The words “sugar-free” on anything probably mean there is a man-made zero-calorie chemical instead of sugar: aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose to name a few. These chemicals are not natural, and in my opinion, are even worse than sugar. (Maybe we haven’t discovered anything bad about most of them yet, but they haven’t been around long enough, either – unlike the honey and fruits that have thousands of years of experience behind them.) Please avoid, and if you need low-calorie, use stevia.

How to read a label

Unfortunately, the nutrition labels on processed foods don’t make it easy to tell the difference between refined sugar and natural sugar. So ignore that column that lists grams of sugar and go right to the ingredient list. There you can easily see if there is any ADDED sugar in the product. Applesauce is a great example, as apples are high in natural sugar. The label may say 23 grams of sugar in a serving. It sounds like a lot, but if the only ingredients are apples, water, and cinnamon, than it’s all naturally occurring fructose. If the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, put it down and walk away slowly.

How to break the sugar habit

It’s hard to start, but easy to maintain a lower-sugar lifestyle. I (Emily) started by cutting sugar out of my coffee and tea. That was a big step, but the less you eat sweets, the less you crave them, and the more special they are when you do have them (made from scratch, with natural sugar substitutes!) I’ve found my threshold for sweet is much lower now, and I enjoy other flavors more as they are allowed to take center stage.If you’re trying to cut out added sugar, we’re here to support you!

Stay tuned! The next post is about fat!

Sources and further reading:
What to Eat – Marion Nestle
Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food – Christine Avanti
Salt, Sugar Fat: how the food giants hooked us – Michael Moss
In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan



Real Food Basics
September 26, 2013, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , , , , ,

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During my recent pregnancy I followed my cravings and ate whatever sounded good…baked goods, chocolate, and sugared cereal everyday. I ate some good stuff too, but I definitely thought “hey if I’m gonna gain weight, might as well have fun doing it!”
In addition, I was under the impression that fat was bad and sugar (as long as it wasn’t corn syrup) was okay.

After having a baby, it’s great because you lose lots of weight no matter what you eat. Fun stuff!!
But after the initial “I just had a baby, I can eat whatever-the-heck-I-gosh-darn-want-to” period, it was time to get healthy again.

I stumbled across Lisa’s blog and her rules for eating.

It sounded way over the top crazy hard to me at the time! But you can take these principles and apply them to your life!

What we’re doing:

No processed pre-packaged snacks or beverages (chips, granola bars, convenience foods, sugared cereals, or candy other than dark chocolate).

When buying pre-made things (some bars, bread, meat) the fewer ingredients the better! Try to stick with less than 5, or at least ingredients you can pronounce!

No refined sugar whenever possible (opt for sugars naturally occurring in fruit, honey, and 100% maple syrup). This was huge for me since I have such a sweet tooth! But I started small. I stopped putting sugar in my morning coffee / green tea. Didn’t miss it at all after a week. Now I don’t add sugar to anything!

No dyes, additives, or preservatives whenever possible. (This is hard, I know, but if you’re buying as few ingredients as possible, it will cut down on this!)

Realistic grocery store switches:

Instead of protein powder – Greek yogurt
When Josh started lifting weights, we read the labels on all protein powder and pre-made bars and found they have a lot of mystery ingredients and high sugar/sodium. So instead we make smoothies out of Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and milk that are about 30 grams of protein each.

Instead of processed sugar – 100% maple syrup, honey, dates, or bananas to sweeten.
Can be substituted in most recipes (I’ve been re-writing my whole recipe book with healthier substitutions! Haven’t used refined sugar in months…thinking about just tossing it!) We’re not huge sticklers if we go out or to someone’s house, but at least in our own house we’re not using it. There’s lots of great whole food dessert recipes online! (Mywholefoodlife, choclatecoveredkatie)

Instead of snacks or granola bars with lots of added sugar – unsalted nuts and dried fruit

Instead of ice cream – freeze bananas and make banana ice cream

Instead of frozen pizza – buy ingredients to make your own.
Or make easy meals like quiche from scratch and freeze them for the convenience.

Instead of refined salt – sea salt.
I just threw away two bottles of the nasty stuff. Lots of chemicals in that!

100% whole wheat flour instead of bleached white flour (and bread and pasta).
Can be subbed in pretty much any recipe. This is an easy switch! Just make sure it says 100% whole wheat or whole grain. “Wheat flour” is a vague euphemism food makers use to make white bread sound healthier…it’s just normal flour.

Instead of margarine – real butter.
Don’t worry about the fat as much as the chemicals and colors they use to make it “butter like!”

Instead of cheese-like slices – real cheese!
Again, get the full-fat real thing. Just don’t overdo it if you want to lose weight.

Instead of jelly or preserves – buy fruit and make your own.
You can easily make preserves with just 2-3 ingredients. Or at least buy one that’s sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar (Trader Joe’s has a juice-sweetened super fruit spread).

Instead of deli meat which often has nitrates, nitrites, and very high sodium – buy raw chicken or pork in bulk, cook it in the crockpot and slice.
So much healthier, and this one is even cheaper!

Instead of vegetable oil- coconut oil (as much as possible).
Can be used for cooking, frying, baking, everything!

Instead of bottled salad dressings – olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I just made my own ranch dressing with Greek yogurt, and it is way better than the bottled stuff!
It is my goal to make our own ketchup and BBQ sauce in the future also. For now we stick with types that contain no high fructose corn syrup.

Instead if sugared cereals – get good at making oatmeal.
We eat oatmeal or eggs every morning. On weekends we sometimes make pancakes or waffles from scratch. Have fun with this! Did you know you can make your own granola in the oven? With no refined sugar?! Sugared cereals aren’t healthy and aren’t nearly as satisfying as a big bowl of oats or homemade granola. I look forward to my breakfast every morning, and and if I add ground flaxseed, whole milk, and chia seeds, I don’t get hungry for hours!

Don’t stress about buying all organic or all grass-fed! If you can, great! But don’t let the pressure to eat “perfectly” get in the way of your eating “well.” Do the best you can that’s within your budget and available in your area.

Avoid things labeled “diet” as these usually are more processed to remove fat and have chemicals instead of real sugar.

Go crazy with veggies, fruits, berries, seeds and nuts!

Aim to eat fish at least once a week. They are the best natural source of omega-3s and are lean and full of protein.

The cost should even out. Because for every healthy thing you’re buying, there’s a lot of stuff you won’t be buying anymore. It’s all about replacing. And making things from scratch is actually cheaper! (Pasta sauce, salad dressing, tortillas)

Every body is different, but that’s what we’ve been doing. It doesn’t make sense to eat chemicals and things we weren’t designed to digest.
It’s not about dieting… You should never be starved while eating real food! (You should never be overfilled either.)
Increasing our protein intake, cutting out refined sugar and reducing sodium helped josh and me reach our goals. We both gained muscle and I lost more than all the baby weight.

Stop worrying about fat.
Don’t count calories.
Focus on eating real things and let your appetite guide you, not your salt / sugar cravings.

To learn more about the science, check out some real-food books at the library. I enjoyed this one a lot.

If you’re serious about making some food changes, let me know so we can support each other! Even if you chose a different variation, (grain-free, paleo, vegan, etc) I love talking about food in general!

When everything you make is natural / handcrafted, you enjoy it more!
Real food actually tastes better!
You can buy some nice plates or jars if it helps. Take pictures of your beautiful creations! Host dinner parties as an excuse to make better food. Savor those morsels, every flavor in its fullness! Enjoy!



Happy
September 18, 2013, 9:01 pm
Filed under: Spirituality | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about how happiness is a choice.
Contrary to popular belief, happy people aren’t stupid.
They aren’t necessarily oblivious to the world.
In fact, happy people are often more engaged than others.
They take the time to notice the small things, like a child who stops to watch the smoke rising from a chimney, or stops to wave at the passing train.
(Doesn’t Jesus point out that we’re to be more like small children?)

The book “The Power of Positive Thinking” is better than I thought it would be. While a little old-fashioned, it’s a great reminder of how to “make it a habit to be happy.”
This is accomplished through constant prayer, being aware of your inner dialogue, and tapping into God’s strength.

Happy people don’t all have easier lives. In fact, some of the happiest people I know live in very, very hard circumstances.
Happiness and energy can be achieved regardless of income, social rank, job title, marital status, etc.

Do I think all people everywhere are called to be happy?
No, I think we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
Jesus was a man if sorrows – not inside-outside-upside-downside-happy-all-the-time.
However, I believe Christians are called to be the light in the world, and not let small everyday things bog us down. People should be able to tell that something’s different about us and look to God to find it. (Matt. 5:16)

Lately I’ve found myself getting stressed over the smallest everyday chores such as getting dinner ready and doing dishes.
It was bad enough…then our dishwasher broke!
Rather than let a broken dishwasher get me down, I’ve realized that dishwashers are a huge luxury item and it’s actually not that bad to just wash dishes by hand.
God certainly speaks through the small things…

I often hear the phrase: “You’re having too much fun to be at work.”
To which I reply, “No such thing!”
Whether I’m at work, in traffic, or spending time with my family, I want to chose to walk in happiness.
The truth is, I benefit from it.
The truth is, it’s contagious.
The truth is, the world is a messed up place but my hope isn’t in this world.



Harassment
August 16, 2013, 12:21 am
Filed under: Parenting | Tags: , ,

I didn’t think I’d ever do a post on nursing. I think it’s really awesome but I try not to talk about it a whole lot…until this happened!

Yesterday I was very discreetly pumping in my car at work.
I was parked way on the side of the building, in the backseat, with the pump UNDER my shirt, windows partially cracked.
My head was down, texting my husband while I ate an apple…great multitasker, right?
A group of two or three people walked up to the car parked right beside me. I heard laughter and I heard a man day “Oh my God. Dairy! Dairy!”
I ignored it; didn’t even look up. A young woman was there, and made a comment like “He’s running from it like a 12 year old.” But she was laughing also.
The man took it a step further as he was getting in the car, as if to get my attention, which had not yet been caught. He threw what was left of his melted ice water at me, right through my cracked window. I remained head down, looking at my phone. I’m proud to say he didn’t break my concentration or even disrupt my letdown!
“Haha, it’s raining!” he remarked before getting in the car and driving off. I suspect he was trying to get a response from me, and when he didn’t that was all he could think of.
My mind has gone all over the place ever since, about things I could have said or done. They range from telling him my legal rights, to labeling him an immature and uneducated asshole who should never have kids, to saying “Oh does this make you uncomfortable? I’ll show you uncomfortable!”
All of which would have been inappropriate responses in my work uniform.
All of which aren’t Christ-like.
All of which would have given him a story to tell back at the office.
Maybe being boring sometimes is a win.

Personally, I’m not embarrassed that this happened. (In fact I’m pumping in my car again as I write this!) Rather, I’m surprised and appalled that it happened…especially to me!
I’d maybe understand if it was a younger dweeb-type kid, but from a grown man? Seriously? This baffles me.
I nurse my baby everywhere, and never before have I encountered any negativity. People seem more or less supportive or oblivious to breastfeeding in my limited personal experience.
Would he have done it if I had been breastfeeding my son in the car? Say what you will about me, but leave my son out of it.
Hopefully I can help wipe out this type of ignorant harassment.
It isn’t a laughing matter.
It isn’t gross.
It’s food for a baby.
I think my body is pretty amazing.
I think working and stay at home moms are all amazing.
I think feeding my son the ultimate superfood is worth it.
I think people need to shut up and look away if they see something they don’t want to.
What does everyone else think?



I’m Proud of Us
July 26, 2013, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Marriage, Parenting, Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I don’t like to ring my own bell too much, but these past two weeks have been pretty cool:

Dreaming about the future – Josh and I have great goals for our life as a family. Don’t know exactly when or how it will all happen, but praying for God to use us in great ways. To build community, to consume less, to teach, to grow, to volunteer, to minister and serve.

Praying for other countries each night – something I always wanted to do but didn’t know how to do until we discovered Operation World. It’s like a mini geography lesson with prayer points to help you get started. I think you cover the whole globe in a year. Can’t wait to include Malachi in this tradition when he’s older.

Reading together – mostly the Bible, but some other books as well, and discussing them together. Forming opinions about the Christian faith and sharpening our outlook on life together. We’ve learned a lot about marriage, faith, and parenting through good books.

Running together in the evenings – reaching new goals is fun. Josh is trying to be healthy, and I’m training for a 5K in Sept. We had our two best runs this week. They were two miles in mild weather which felt great after those first few grueling shorter runs (our neighborhood is called St. Charles Hills for a reason!)

Eating healthy together – Finding healthy meals and snacks we both like. It feels good to eat well and be full! Granola, peanut butter, bananas, oats, veggies, Greek yogurt, eggs with kale, nuts, dried fruit…being healthy can be pretty tasty! We’re focusing on high protein, high fiber, minimizing sodium and refined sugar. Returning to my lightest pre-pregnancy weight, and rebuilding my muscle tone feels amazing!

Successful baby outings – including the Botanical Gardens, a whole day of thrifting, a few restaurants, and a hip hop concert. Feels great to not be house-bound because my baby can’t handle social situations. I almost wish I could keep him this size and temperament…he’s so happy and portable right now!

Worship – One of the highlights of my week was getting to wear Malachi onstage while helping lead worship at church. He did great, and it felt like a powerful testimony to me of God’s love, faithfulness, strength, and future blessings. I never really played an instrument, but Malachi is an instrument of peace I hope to raise up for his generation. It was very significant to me.

Quality time with friends who support and encourage me – they know who they are; they accept me and they accept Malachi too. This is so important and I hope I’m able to be an encouragement to them as well. It truly enriches my soul to spend time among loving and like-minded friends.

Getting into my groove at work – the joy of being industrious, working hard to accomplish things, getting to chat with coworkers and customers I haven’t seen in months. I feel like people are so surprised that I want to work and not stay home all the time. But I love it. I’m willing to quit when the time comes, but I’m still meant to be there for this season of life. I think we’re finding the right balance for our family.

Feeling rested at night – While we’re still working on perfecting Malachi’s sleep habits, I’ve become acclimated to this baby lifestyle and my sleep has been good even with the night wakings. Thankful and excited that the night wakings are improving also!

Josh gets half the credit for this list as he has such high standards for himself and for our family, and the discipline to hold accountable. He is an inspiration in maturity and delayed gratification. I’m ever so thankful for a strong, understanding husband who sees the world the way I see the world. Our life is so rich right now!




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