A friend asked me last week to write about options in our quest to feed our families the best that we can. Depending upon location, income levels and resources sometimes the ideal or best recommended foods and products are simply not a choice for many of us. So we are left wondering what second best option is, and if second best is even Ok.
In my opinion excellent, lasting nutrition lifestyle changes and good eating happens in a series of baby steps of progress. For some it’s something as basic as switching from using 100% white, bleached flour to 50/50 white and whole wheat. Others end up switching from freshly ground whole wheat yeast bread to multi grain, soaked and or cultured bread. I have determined that for myself, as long as we are moving forward, however small the baby steps happen and regardless from how far I am from the ideal or that mythical thing called perfection…Just so long as it’s forward improvement and positive lifestyle changes then I am successfully doing what I should for my family.
With that being said, there are specific health issues out there, especially in children related to gut healing that requires a hard core approach in order to see significant healing and improvement. My beloved “baby step” methodology does not apply to these situations unfortunately. I am not addressing those problems and presenting options etc. that would be appropriate for them. From my perspective we are a typical American family without any severe food allergies or issues like Autism that we are trying to address. We just desire for our overall health to be restored to excellent from the fair to Ok condition it’s been most of our lives. But most of all that our daughter have the opportunity to have a good enough nutritional foundation that she can enjoy good health her whole life. So, the opinions I share and the options on good, bad and better are coming from that perspective. This won’t even be marginally all inclusive but I’ll try to hit on the foods I had the most questions about when I first started on this nutrient dense educational journey.
Butter and all the Not Butter Stuff
Bad: Not butter anything that is advertised as a butter substitute is bad. I am not personally aware of ANY exceptions to this rule. There is a plethora of information out there documenting the issues with margarine and other butter substitutes so I won’t go into that now, maybe another blog post at another time. Sufficed to say, avoid this stuff at all cost. Not a good option for anybody and certainly not healthy.
Better: Plain, unsalted, uncolored, pasturized butter from WalMart, Costco or any other bargain place you can find it. I personally advise purchasing unsalted because A) the type of salt they use to salt commercially produced/mainstream butter with is terrible for you and B) the dairy industry uses a lesser grade of cream for the salted butter than they do for the unsalted. The salt helps to cover any “off” flavors that would be too noticeable in the unsalted. Last but not least reason C) You can add your own mineral rich sea salt to the unsalted butter to ramp up the nutrient value a bit and add extra benefit to it. The budget bonus to all of this? It doesn’t cost anymore to buy unsalted than it does salted yet you get a decided nutritional and quality advantage from it.
Even Better: Naturally rich yellow, Organic or “All Natural: Hormone and antibiotic free” pasturized butter from grassfed cow’s. An extra bonus if you can find it cultured and or seasoned with real sea salt.
Best: Raw, grassfed butter from healthy cows is hands down the best option. It goes into the realms of sacred healing food (as Sally Fallon Morell refers to it) if it is CULTURED raw, grassfed butter from healthy cows.
All things Baked
Bad: Commercially produced, white flour, sweetened anything. You find things like hydrogenated vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, bleached white flour, soy oil and a whole host of other undesirables. All baked sweets have undesirables, yes, unfortunately even most of the organic or all natural ones. Last but not least the long list of isolated vitamins and nutrients that have been thrown in to act as preservatives and also to boost the nutritional facts box so they can more effectively market the end product as healthy. These are often in the very worst forms imaginable for the body to actually be able to get anything beneficial from them and sometimes in a form that actually causes harm to the body.
Even most breads, and sadly, yes, this goes for most organic as well have multiple undesirable ingredients in them. If it is at all reasonably possible making your own baked goods at home is going to be an improvement over most things you can buy from the store.
Better: Anything made at home, even if you use nothing more nutritious than real butter and white, unbleached flour and (gasp) yes, even refined within an inch of it’s life white sugar. While it may not be packed with good nutrients and be anything close to nutrient dense, it’s going to have the lions share of really bad stuff absent that you will find in commercially produced food stuffs.
Exceptions to this would be if you can find an Artesian bakery that specializes in sourdough breads and other classic, old world style breads. These usually have far fewer preservatives and bad ingredients. If you build a relationship and have a standing weekly order they may even be willing to make special order loaves or baked goods to your specifications.
Even Better: Home baked goods using freshly ground, organic or all natural whole wheat (or other grains) with no refined sweeteners, artificial colors or hydrogenated oils.
Best: Sprouted or soaked, all natural/organic multi grain baked goods made from scratch with wholesome organic/all natural nourishing ingredients like farm fresh eggs, raw cream, milk, raw chocolate, sucanat, raw honey, Grade B Maple syrup etc etc etc . This goes for crackers, cookies, cakes, bread, biscuits, rolls and everything else.
The Fats of the Matter
Bad: Hydrogenated veggie oils, canola oil, corn oil, rape seed oil, cottonseed oil, Crisco, soy oil,
Better: Regular pasturized butter, regular-non organic coconut oil, Peanut Oil,
Even Better: Imported Olive Oil, Organic Peanut Oil, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil,
Best: Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Organic Olive Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Sesame Oil, Sunflower Oil, Grapeseed oil, Safflower Oil, Lard and Tallow from pasture raised all natural animals, Ghee (clarified butter) and last but certainly not least Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.
Side Note on Oils: Fats and oils are one of those food subjects that everybody should spend some time self educating and researching. Myths abound about fats and there is a lot of confusing information out there about them. At the end of the day what can decide the difference between a high quality, beneficial to the body oil and one that can wreak havoc is something as simple as the heat level during extraction, or how fresh it is. Most of the oils on the Best list have very short shelf life and are considered fragile oils. Fragile meaning, if they are not extracted in the right way they can be very harmful to the body. I highly recommend anybody confused about fats to read Mary Enig’s Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Her work is highly controversial and flies in the face of what is generally accepted as the gold standard for long term health maintaining diets. I find her to be extremely well researched. The woman knows the subject of fat and the complexities of the science behind fats better than anybody else I have ever come across. It is literally her life work.
Bad: Commercially raised (ie factory farm conditions, or feed lot) Chickens, pork and Beef. Farm raised Fish, particularly those fed corn or soy. Hot dogs, Fish Sticks, Sausage, Ham, Lunch Meats packed with nitrites, processed chicken patties. Pretty much pre-processed anything that is in a ground up form with a layer of something on top and lots of seasonings to hide whatever original flavor it might have once had.
Better: Pasture raised Beef even if it has been on antibiotics and finished out on grain. Chickens that have been grown out in humane conditions and allowed exposure to sunlight. Wild Caught fish. Processed meats that are preserved with citric acid and are “Nitrite Free”
Word of Caution: Some certified organic meat now is made from animals raised under identical horrid and inhumane conditions of their very much not organic counterparts. The only difference is they are fed certified organic soy and corn biproducts for feed instead. The only improvement over getting this meat certified organic is a certain amount of time from the last use of antibiotics until it is processed and the knowledge that it has not had a steady diet of a pesticide sprayed diet. The diet however is still poor quality, and still results in less than healthy animals and far less than optimal nutrition to pass onto the consumer.
Even Better: All natural, Antibiotic Free, Hormone Free, Organic, Free range/grass fed anything. Beef that has been primarily raised on pasture, even if it is finished off on an all natural grain mixture is a drastic improvement over feed lot cow’s any day. Same rule of thumb applies to chickens and pigs.
Best: Wild raised meat of any kind from an obviously healthy animal. Purely grassfed (on all natural pasture) domesticated animals. Poultry of all kinds are considered incredibly beneficial on a nutritional front. Lamb and goats meat is becoming increasingly popular due to how easy it is to grow them out without a whole lot of acreage required.
Aaaaaaand that’s all folks. We can call this round one because there is a whole host of other food categories I didn’t have time or room for. More than willing to answer any clarifying questions about why something or other ended up in the category that it did, or to clarify one of the many fuzzy points here and there. I’ve been working on this post off an on for days now so off it goes!
This is really helpful. Thanks.
When I buy regular butter, I usually buy salted because I can never find unsalted that doesn’t say “natural flavors” as an added ingredient.
And when it says “salted sweet cream” it’s supposedly the same quality cream they use in unsalted butter.
I love Horizon Organic butter. I’ve heard terrible things about the company, but their butter is lovely dark yellow and rich. So yummy.
Stephanie–This would be a great one for your catalog! Well done!
What would you say about eating venison form deer that have a possibly significant chunk of soybeans in their diet? We’ve never hunted such deer, but the opportunity might arise in future years.
I would say it’s still probably better than most meat you can buy in the grocery store. =)
I’ve been buying salted butter lately just because I like the flavor. What type of salt is used that’s bad to eat? (Not questioning if– I figure most factory practices/ingredients are questionable at best!– just want to be informed about why.)
There is a local creamery that sells unhomogenized milk that is FANTASTIC, and their butter is amazing too. I think it must have much higher butterfat than typical; I’ve noticed that it doesn’t scorch when heated like commercial butter often does.
What would you say is next-best to raw milk? Past. Organic? I’m out of raw and can’t get more for a bit. Also, I found that the dry cows are the only ones being grass-fed, so I guess technically my milk is not from grass-fed cows. 😦 Still better than reg. store-bought I suppose.
I personally believe that grass-fed-organic-lightly pasteurized milk would be the second best. Even just Hormone/Antibiotic Free and not Organic but pasteurized would be good! Anything except homogenization. I would rather go without milk at all (and replace it with Almond or Coconut Milk) than drink homogenize milk.
Thanks! I was able to find non-hom. milk at a store not far from me. Yay! Still a lot more pricey than my normal source but worth it if we watch our intake.
Another Q: Jaime, above, mentioned “natural flavors” in unsalted butter, and I realized the stuff I’ve been buying has that too. So what’s better, the salt in salted butter or the “natural” flavors in unsalted???
That is a tough call. =( Without knowing what those “Natural Flavors” are (and knowing it leaves the door wide open for them to add MSG) I would probably go to the salted as long as it didn’t have the “added natural flavors” as well. I have been able to find unsalted butter without the “natural flavors” at both Whole Foods (expensive!) and Trader Joes (a lot more affordable). I haven’t had any luck finding it without additives in main stream grocery stores.
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