Thursday, April 21, 2011

Real Food VS. Processed Food VS. Balance

You all know the argument... should you eat real foods or processed foods? And we all know the answer. Of course we should eat as many whole, real, unprocessed foods as possible. But we also live in a very "real" world where the real foods we would like to eat are not always as available or affordable as we would like.  I've read some interesting comments lately about foods I've mentioned in my meal plans and foods I've mentioned on my facebook page and I wanted to address the issue.

First, I absolutely think it's best to base your diet around real, whole, unprocessed foods. When I began a gluten free diet in 2007, I was truly appalled at the amount of  "white" flours used in most gluten free baked goods & recipes. It had been preached to me since I was a child that you based your diet on whole grains, even when you were baking. So I created lots of recipes using whole grains: brown rice flour, millet flour, and sorghum flour. 5 years later: I'm using a variety of even more whole grains like teff flour, quinoa flour, and buckwheat flour.

But this post isn't necessarily about baking and using gluten free flours. (Although I am quite passionate about gluten free baking as you well know!)

While I believe it's essential for diets to be based around healthy, whole foods... I also believe it's perfectly acceptable to eat processed foods in moderation. I have practiced & preached both extremes. Especially after becoming gluten free, I learned the nutritional value of eating whole, unprocessed foods, while in my college years I lived on mostly processed foods.

I also understand that finances, living space, and your personal environment can play a HUGE role in diets. Whole foods are expensive. Especially high quality and/or organic whole foods. What I've come to realize is that like in all things, nutrition is about balance.

Financially some months are better for my husband and I than others. We live on a steady income, but as you well know, life & financial burdens are not always steady. During prosperous months we buy fresh vegetables, organic chicken, fresh meats & fish, as much as we can. When I know I can spend more during a those months, I often try to stock up on healthy foods (such as frozen vegetables, high quality meats/chicken) so that I can store as much as I can in the small freezer space that we have. During prosperous months when fresh foods are easily available, it is most likely that we eat healthier.

Other months are much leaner financially. On those months I tend to rely on low sodium and/or "no salt added" canned vegetables & beans, canned fish such as tuna & salmon, and our freezer supply of meats/chicken. Other pantry items such as gluten free pastas, brown rice, millet & quinoa are used a lot as well. Which means on leaner months we tend to eat more "processed" foods.

Since mainstream gluten free products like Udi's bread & Rudi's bread have become more readily available, I also tend to have a loaf or two of gluten free bread in my freezer. Especially in the more prosperous months.  During leaner months, I generally make gluten free bread from scratch and freeze it because I have a supply of gluten free baking ingredients in my pantry.

Other processed foods we generally have on hand?
  • Condiments: ketchup, mustard, gluten free barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, A1-sauce, relishes, salsa, hot sauce, etc... 
  • Gluten free lunch meats like smoked turkey and ham
  • Cheese/ Yogurt
  • Peanut butter/ Almond Butter/ Jams/ Jellies/ Honey
  • Frozen gluten free treat (like donuts or ice cream) 
  • Cereal (My husband's go to meal for any time of the day! lol)
  • GF Rolled Oats and gf hot cereal in individual packages
  • Almond Milk
  • Hemp protein powder
  • Chocolate Syrup
Does this mean we eat these foods all the time? No. It means they are available if/when we need them or want them. Does it mean I think processed foods are necessarily healthy? No. It means that often when I'm in a hurry and/or if we are in one of our "lean" months we have provisions that are often still a healthier choice than junk food or using money we don't have for fast food. 

My point in this post is that one thing I've learned over the past few years is that BALANCE in our diets is necessary and important.  It means that while I truly want us to eat healthy, whole, real (even organic and ethically raised) foods... I also have to be content to live within my means. And some months that means depending more on processed foods than whole foods. 

It also means that occasionally I can eat that small serving bag of cheetos and know that because it's not something I do daily or even weekly... that it's okay. It's all about balance.  

What are your thoughts? I know this is an extremely controversial subject, especially in the food/blogging world... I'd really love to know how you stand on this issue? Do you think a balance between whole foods and processed foods is acceptable? 
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