Are you aging well? Feeling healthier and more energetic as you age? Or are you feeling your age, more aches and pains, more weight gain or less energy than you’d like? If the latter rings true for you, it might be time to take a look at what you’re eating, and how your diet affects aging well. These tips to Detox Your Fridge & Pantry will help.
Have you had a chance to read Part 1: Love Your Body and implement some of the tips for aging well? Hopefully you are well on your way to lovin’ your body, so it can love you back! In Part 2: Detox Your Fridge & Pantry, we’ll take a look at how your diet contributes to aging well and how to read labels. Use these tips to clean out and toss unhealthy items from your fridge and pantry. They’ll also come in handy for shopping at the grocery store. Whether you’re eating at home or on the go these tips will help to you to eat healthier and will support you in aging well. You might be surprised by what you learn!
Of course there are many factors that go into aging well, including genetics, and the tips we talked about in Part 1: Love Your Body. While healthy eating is a very important aspect of aging well, it’s by no means the only factor. So let’s take a look at how to Detox Your Fridge & Pantry, and how a healthy diet (NOT dieting, that’s a big no-no in my book!) supports you in aging well.
Fuel Your Body for Aging Well
Just as fueling your car with contaminated or dirty gasoline will make your car run poorly, or not at all… fueling your body with inferior foods will make your body run sluggish too. And a poor diet can potentially inhibit your aging well by speeding up the aging process. For starters, a poor diet can cause increased blood sugar, the accumulation of fat, and the creation of free radicals which damage your cells.
So if you’re eating a healthy, organic, or vegan diet, you might think you’re aging well. And hopefully you’re right… However, if you unknowingly use a lot of toxic products (cuz let’s face it, most of what’s on the store shelves these days contain toxins!), you don’t enjoy your job, you’re always stressed about money, or you constantly squabble with your spouse or partner, those stressors can all negate your healthy diet. Like most things in life, aging well is a balancing act!
Once you learn my tips to Detox Your Fridge & Pantry, you’ll be on your way to aging well!
Detox Your Fridge & Pantry: Reading Labels
The first step to detox your fridge & pantry and begin healthy eating is reading labels. Before you ever put food in your mouth, you need to know WHAT you’re eating. And unless you’re eating zero processed foods, and making all of your meals at home from scratch (not very likely), chances are you are eating things you may be unaware of.
It’s important to note that the FDA does not always have your back when it comes to what’s actually IN your food. According to The Center for Public Integrity, there is a 60+ year old loophole in food laws. “This ‘Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)’ clause means companies can determine on their own that what they’re adding to our food is safe.Then it’s up to the company to inform the FDA if they want to… Companies have no legal obligation to tell the FDA what they’re putting in our food.” (1)
To this extent, label reading is key to eating healthy and detoxing your fridge & pantry. So here’s a primer on some of the most important things to look for on labels.
Check the Ingredients List
The first thing I look at when reading packaged food labels is the list of ingredients. If the ingredients don’t meet my criteria, I put it back and don’t even bother reading the nutrition label. Since I also have food allergies, I first check to ensure nothing contains my allergen triggers (gluten/dairy/eggs).
Then I look at the ingredients and ask the following questions. Does it contain:
- any ingredients that I can’t pronounce, or don’t know what they are?
- any ingredients that my grandmother wouldn’t have recognized as food?
- more than 5 ingredients? (This one depends somewhat on what it is. For example I’ll make an exception on something like organic spaghetti sauce that contains more than five whole food ingredients like: tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, olives, mushrooms, and olive oil. However, if it’s a chip, cracker, or bar, I’ll usually opt for fewer ingredients.)
If I can answer yes to any of those questions, I put it back, my body doesn’t need it and it won’t help my aging well agenda.
What About Artificial and Synthetic Ingredients?
The sad truth is that most processed foods contain some artificial ingredients: from artificial flavorings, to preservatives (like polysorbate 60, BHA, BHT, even the seemingly innocuous “rosemary extract”), to artificial colorings (caramel coloring, Red Dye #40, Blue #1 and Yellow #5, #6) — Synthetic ingredients have been shown to create adverse health concerns ranging from allergic reactions and migraines, to neurological issues in some people. Research also shows they can cause hyperactivity in children, and immune system tumors in mice. No thanks!
Humans have been on the earth for roughly 2-million years. Artificial ingredients have been in use for about 150 of those years. Evolution takes a very long time to make changes in humans, maybe up to 1-million years. (2) So unfortunately for us humans, our bodies have not yet evolved to know WHAT the #%8!& to do do with all of these synthetic, artificial ingredients we’re ingesting at a rapid rate.
Instead, when we eat them, over time our bodies may balk, get inflamed, get autoimmune diseases, get migraines, get cancers. It’s plane and simple, if you don’t know what an ingredient is and what adverse effects if might have on your body, WHY would you eat it?
Food Allergies or Sensitivities?
As a side note – if you have known food allergies or sensitivities, it’s important to always check food labels for those allergens. I know many people who have food allergies/sensitivities, but just “live” with the consequences because they can’t be bothered to read labels, or don’t want to miss out on their favorite foods.
However, anytime your body reacts to a specific food, whether that reaction is in the form of digestive issues, hives, other skin issues, or migraines, etc., that reaction is caused by an immune response. Continuing to eat foods you are allergic to or sensitive to, continuing to create immune responses in your body, can wear down your immune system over time (from constantly battling that daily dairy or gluten that you love but your body does not.) Sometimes to the point that if something big comes along like the flu, an infection, or cancer, your immune system may be too weakened to be able to adequately fight off the more serious illness. Food for thought…
Check the Serving Size
Ok, so maybe the ingredients list past approval. Next check the serving size at the top of the Nutrition label. Sometimes what you may “think” of as a single serving is actually two or even three portion sizes when it comes to the nutritional content!
For the record, I never count calories. If you’re eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods, with the occasional sweet treat, eating mindfully and stopping when you’re ¾-full, tuning in and really listening to your body, drinking plenty of water, exercising or moving your body daily, there’s no need to count calories. In my book, counting calories is unhealthy, and just adds a lot of unneeded stress to your life.
Fats: Healthy vs. Unhealthy
Next you’ll want to look for the types of fats the product contains. Again, I don’t pay attention to how much fat is in something. Our bodies need healthy, plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and fruit oils like olive oil and avocado oil. The whole “low fat” craze of the ‘80’s-’90’s may actually have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the US. And it also may have contributed to the increase in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Our brains are about 60% FAT, and need healthy fats to thrive, function, and to continue aging well. (3) The most important types of fats to look out for are Trans Fats, and Saturated Fats.
What are Trans Fats? Trans fats are found in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils and have been directly linked to heart disease.They are frequently used in fried foods and store-bought baked goods because they are inexpensive to produce. They also help with shelf stability in foods like processed crackers and cookies.
The American Heart Association says “Trans fats are the most damaging fats to your arteries.” While the National Academy of Science says “Trans Fats cannot be safely consumed in any amount.”
So when it comes to Trans Fats, the nutritional label should say 0 trans fats. But even a labeling of 0 Trans Fats can be misleading. Something can actually have .5 grams of Trans Fat per serving, and still be labeled as 0 grams of trans fat! How is this even possible? (4) Blame it on New Math? There’s another loophole in the nutritional labeling (thanks to the big food companies lobbyists!) that says .5 or fewer grams of trans fats = zero.
Do your own math: eat two servings of something like your fav Samoa Girl Scout Cookies (2 cookies per serving x 2 servings = 4 cookies) with a label of “0 trans fats” that actually contains .5 grams per serving x 2 servings = 1 gram of Trans Fats. Eat eight Samoas (cuz who can stop eating those Samoas?!) and you will have ingested 2 grams of Trans Fats, even though the box will tell you you ate 0 grams!?!? You get the picture (5)
So how do you know for sure if you’re consuming Trans Fats if the label says 0 grams? If any ingredient label has the word “hydrogenated” or “partly-hydrogenated” fat, those are Trans Fats. Trans fats are solid at room temperature, like Crisco or margarine. Just say NO. (Although coconut oil solidifies at some latitudes, it is not a trans fat, see below.)
Besides Trans fats, I also look at percentages of saturated fats on nutrition labels. Saturated fats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of total daily fat intake. Saturated fats are mostly found in the form of animal fats. But Coconut oil is also a saturated fat. And the jury is still out on the health benefits of Coconut oil which contains both medium-chain-triglycerides (MCT) and long-chain-triglycerides.
Is Coconut Oil Really Healthy?
Coconut Oil has been touted as a health food (because it raises “good cholesterol”) and demonized as a “bad fat” (because it is a saturated fat, and also raises “bad cholesterol.) But here’s the thing, right now there honestly aren’t enough studies done on the health benefits (pro or con) of coconut oil to say for sure either way. I continue to read articles (6) on this debate, and continue to cook with coconut oil myself until I see some conclusive evidence that it’s really bad for you. Coconut oil has a high smoke-point and is better for stir-fries than olive oil.
What’s the Skinny on Cholesterol?
This is another one I don’t pay any attention to on the nutritional label. What is cholesterol and why do I ignore it? From Healthline.com, “Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that humans need to survive. Your body makes cholesterol and absorbs it from the foods you eat.” When you eat high-cholesterol foods your body makes less cholesterol, keeping everything in balance. “Because of this, foods high in dietary cholesterol have very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in most people.” (7)
While it has been thought that saturated fats raise cholesterol, recent research has shed new light on the whole good/bad cholesterol issue. Check out my article Is Cholesterol Really An Issue? and learn how many types of cholesterol there are (hint: it’s more than two), and how our bodies actually need cholesterol to stay healthy. In fact cholesterol is vital to brain neuron function as well as fueling our immune system. If you have high cholesterol, talk with your doctor about these new findings and the known adverse effects of Statin drugs.
Next on the nutrition label you’ll find Sodium. This is another one with lots of recent controversy. While it used to be thought that too much sodium caused high blood pressure, that may not actually be the case. If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor on the latest guidelines. But for those with normal blood pressure watching your sodium intake may not be necessary. Some research shows that limiting your sodium can do more harm than good, as sodium is a vital component of electrolytes.
Sodium is also important for those who exercise frequently, or sweat a lot in the warm summer months. As a recent article on Healtline.com states: “If you consume more than 7 grams of sodium per day and have high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to limit your sodium intake. But if you’re healthy, the amount of salt you’re currently consuming is probably safe.” (8)
The next thing I look at when reading labels is the sugar content. Sugar is very inflammatory. It’s also hard on skin’s elasticity and can increase wrinkles, derailing your plans for aging well. New labeling laws (9) indicate added sugar (as opposed to natural sugar found in fruits, etc.), and while some processed food manufacturers are already using the new “added sugar” labels, food companies don’t have to be in compliance with the new labels until 2020, so you still need to pay attention. Reading labels will really help you here, as there are over 60 different names for sugar being used in ingredient labels! (10)
How Much Sugar Is Too Much??
The rule of thumb on sugar consumption is no more than 26 grams of added sugar a day. (11) As an example, one Coke contains 39 grams of added sugar. So if you drink 1 coke, you’re already consuming 13 grams over your daily added sugar allotment. Yikes! Of course, everything in moderation, if you have one Coke now and then, it’s not going to kill you. However one or more cokes a day and you’re setting yourself up for high blood sugar, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimers (now called Type 3 Diabetes because of its direct link to high blood sugar.) (12)
What About Sugar Substitutes?
So you might be thinking, “I just drink diet drinks, no sugar there!” Think again! Yes artificial sweeteners might have zero calories, but that’s where their charm ends. Because there are no calories in that sweet drink your stomach doesn’t signal to your brain to feel satiated… And so your brain keeps craving MORE calories, possibly making you eat more than you would have drinking a full-sugar coke! Meanwhile aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have been linked to everything from migraines to the deadly pancreatic cancer (which has been closely linked to aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.) (13)
Your healthiest bet is to just say NO to all artificial sweeteners. If you need a sweet treat, eat pure cane sugar (and make sure it says CANE sugar on the label), honey, or maple syrup on occasion. If it doesn’t say cane sugar, it’s a sure bet it comes from sugar beets, and most of those are Monsanto GMO sugar beets. (14) So now you’re eating glyphosate laden sugar!? No bueno.
What About Agave Sweeteners?
It’s also important to note that while Agave syrup used to be thought of as a “healthy alternative” to sugar, that is no longer the case. It turns out that Agave syrup is highly processed using toxic chemicals. And it’s even harder for your pancreas to process that High Fructose Corn Syrup. (FYI: HFCS is now being referred to as “corn sugar” to confuse us, because people were reading labels trying to avoid HFCS!) (15) Even Dr. Andrew Weil who used to advocate for using Agave Syrup now says don’t touch it! (16)
The Importance of Protein
As we talked about above, the food you fuel your body with becomes the building blocks of your body. Proteins you eat (eg: eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans, meats) are broken down by enzymes to create amino acids. Those amino acids then recombine to create everything from antibodies and collagen to hormones and muscles. So proteins are an important component of any diet.
Are You Getting Enough Protein In Your Diet?
While many people eat more protein than they actually need, there are also a lot of people not getting enough protein. As a vegetarian/vegan for 35+ years, I was one of those. I’ll be writing more about this in another article soon. But if you’re vegetarian/vegan, it’s very important to ensure you’re getting enough protein to fuel your body and help you age well. Lack of collagen (only found in animal protein) can cause premature aging in the form of thinning skin, loss of skin elasticity, and thinning hair or hair loss.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
So how much protein do you really need? According USDA .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Here’s a Protein Calculator to help you figure that out without doing the math! Besides body weight, it also takes into consideration your age, sex, height, and activity level. I personally need about 50 grams of protein a day.
Protein Content of Foods
As an example of grams of protein found in various foods: 1 cup of lentils contains 18 grams of protein, garbanzo beans have 15 grams per cup, nutritional yeast contains 14 grams per oz, wild caught salmon contains 23 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, while a roasted chicken breast contains 31 grams of protein. View a more complete list of protein content in foods here.
Based on what I learned in nutrition school as well as my own personal experience, choosing clean, lean protein is one of the most important factors in what I eat. When I’m reading labels on processed foods, sugar content and protein are the top things I look for.
Vitamins and Minerals
The bottom of the nutritional label lists vitamins and minerals. This is another part of the food label that I generally ignore. I don’t believe processed foods are a significant or quality source of vitamins and minerals. Most processed foods contain synthetic vitamins that are sprayed on the food as a food additive. You’re much better off to fill your plate with a rainbow of vegetables and some fruits and get the majority of your vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Then if you need to supplement your vitamin and minerals check out my supplements dispensary at Thorne. Thorne manufactures very high quality supplements that I’ve been taking for over 30-years. You’ll receive a 20% discount shopping at my dispensary, and I greatly appreciate your business.
Please leave a comment below with one thing you learned or that surprised you from this article, then share with your friends and family so they can detox their fridge and pantry too!
You can read more about Detoxing Your Fridge & Pantry for Optimal Health in this article I wrote for the Chopra Center.
Also be sure to check out Part 1: Love Your Body, where we talked about the first three of my tips for aging well: 1.) getting good quality sleep (I’m definitely a work-in-progress on this one, how about you?); 2.) staying well hydrated and how hydration affects aging; plus 3.) why moving your body helps keep you younger, along with some fun and easy ways to shake your booty every day!
Stay tuned for Part 3 in my Aging Well series of articles where we’ll detox your health and beauty as well as household cleaning products.
Photo Credit: Nick Fewings, Unsplash.com