Gateway Foods

…they’re like gateway drugs but healthy for you. I remember way back when I made the decision to stop eating white bread. I think I must have been around 13 and back then everything wasn’t enriched with whole grain. White bread was just… white. It didn’t have the extra nutrients and fiber that wheat bread had and since I wanted to be as healthy as possible so I just stopped eating it. Around that same time I started pushing my mom to give up the 2% milk. That was a little bit of a different situation than the bread as my mom jumped on it and between the two of us we gradually transitioned the house to non-fat milk. I continued making small changes like this, and still do today, until I had taken all those little gateways from just sort of eating to eat, to consciously choosing food and eating to be healthy.

Say you go to the store to get stuff for salad and always default to buying those pre-bagged salad mixes that are mostly iceberg lettuce and cost twice as much as buying a single head of lettuce. I know they’re convenient but maybe switch back to basic, save a little money, and get a nice head of green leaf lettuce instead. The darker the leaves are in color, the more iron those leafy veggies have. Red leaf lettuce has about the same texture as green leaf and provided you feel the leaves before you buy, you should be able to get home with some tender greens you’ll still enjoy eating. Spinach is even better, by the way, but as I’m apparently a produce snob, I haven’t seen any recently that didn’t look leathery and gross. The produce department really should be your best friend. Fruits and veggies are absolutely necessary to your health and well-being. I will say, though, that not every item in that department is particularly palatable *cough* brussels sprouts! *cough*, but the next time you go, try something, just one thing, that you haven’t tried before.

Every decision you make in the grocery store should be well planned in advance. Budgets are tight and health is paramount, so every trip should have a goal. I know how hard it is to make filling meals on a small budget. I spent a couple of years living off of Ramen at home and Taco Bell at work for the speed, convenience and low price. But I was always tired and everything in me ached, pinched, or pulled. I still have a small budget for food but I’m finding new and different ways to fill out my meals without subbing in some horribly salt filled pre-processed foods.

Some of my favorite “fillers”:

  • Black beans – they are fiber filled little iron pills. Cooked from dry they have a long shelf life, low or no sodium (up to you when you cook them)
  • Quinoa – cooked plain this stuff is boring as hell. There’s no flavor! That’s also why they’re kind of perfect. Give it a little garlic and onion and it’s the perfect side for steak, chicken, pork… Experiment, this stuff will do whatever you want it to
  • Pasta – whole grain, spinach, quinoa… Pasta is made out of, or contains, just about everything now so find something new. There are different shapes of pasta, as well. It’s very much the “something for everyone” filler
  • Broccoli – I’m sure this seems odd but honestly, I love broccoli. Raw or cooked, it doesn’t matter to me, I’ll put it in everything. It’s got the fiber and iron also and really doesn’t need a whole lot of attention to be flavorful

Years ago on some talk show I remember seeing Suzanne Somers and the hosts were talking about how she still looked so great for her age (strength-wise yes, staying out of the sun-wise, not so much). I should mention that this was when she was promoting a book she wrote, not a time she was advertising that stupid thigh master. The real reason this moment stuck in my head was because of one thing she said, “Always shop the outer edge of the grocery store.” Any given store you walk into has all the refrigerated cases for produce, meats, and dairies along the outer edge of the store and only a few cases in the middle (if space is an issue). Those refrigerated cases are where you are going to find all the fresh stuff that you need in your diet the most. The dry goods in the middle can be shopped for the fillers but try to avoid the processed, sodium-loaded pre-packaged items as much as you can.

Whatever choices you make at the store, just remember a couple simple rules:

  • Fad diets will cause a boomerang effect. Even if you lose a few pounds on one, they’ll come back when you go back to eating “normal” again and they may even bring friends.
  • Any change you make should be gradual and intended to be permanent. You are making a decision to eat healthier for life, not just be healthy for a month. If you even think about giving up an entire food group, do your homework and find out what you’ll have to do give it up forever and still be healthy
  • Beware of buzzwords. Gluten is not the enemy unless you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. TransFat may never have existed in that product you’re holding to begin with so don’t buy it just because it says that.
  • Just because it’s “only 100 calories” doesn’t make it healthy. I’ve watched many people fall into this pit. You cannot and should not attempt to live off of those 100 calorie packs. They will not provide you with full nutrition.
  • The number of calories doesn’t tell you what those calories are made of. This is another major pitfall. Being obsessed with calorie count is about as healthy as being obsessed with the number on the scale. Where do those calories come from?
  • You need to eat. Deprivation will make you unhealthy and make your body store fat to survive on.

Go slow. Your body should be thought of like a Diesel engine that needs high grade fuel and will run a long, LONG time no matter what kind of beating it takes. You can still hot rod that body every now and then with that night out on the town or the one time you decide to try that deep fried Snickers, but remember that it will burn out fast and probably wreck your “engine” for a little while afterward. It won’t cause irreparable damage unless you make it a habit, but you should always be thinking ahead.


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