Five Food Resolutions for 2015

Happy Meatless Monday, readers! And happy almost New Year! One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 was to start a blog, and I’m so proud that I did and that I’ve kept up with it, even if I don’t get to post as often as I’d like. So many people make health and weight loss-related resolutions, and I thought I’d offer my own suggestions of some great goals to have for 2015 to be a healthier person contributing to a more sustainable food system.

  1. Cook more often. There is almost nothing better you can do for your diet than to prepare more of your meals from scratch and eat less of your meals from packaged foods and at restaurants. When you prepare your own meals, you’ll automatically be eating more whole foods and less added fat, sugar, and salt. Don’t be intimidated, any amount more is an improvement. If you cook one more meal every two weeks in 2015 than you did in 2014, good for you! While you’re at it, try to buy more organic, local, and seasonal ingredients; it’s much better for the planet. If have no idea where to start, I recommend Mark Bittman’s books How to Cook Everything or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He actually just came out with a new one called How to Cook Everything Fast, which I can imagine would appeal to many of you.
  2. Drink less soda and other sweetened beverages. I think this ties with cooking for the best thing you can do to improve your diet. Not everyone agrees with me that drinking soft drinks is as harmful to your health as smoking cigarettes, but virtually all experts agree that soda adds nothing but empty calories to your diet. The evidence for the harms of soda has grown so strong that the first soda tax in America was passed this year in Berkeley, CA. Need more motivation? If you’re a regular soda drinker and you replace all of the soda in your diet with water, I can almost guarantee you’ll lose weight.
  3. Get physical. Again, don’t be intimidated; any amount is better than none. If you don’t exercise at all now, you could start by taking a walk for thirty minutes a few days a week. If you’re more in shape but stuck in a rut, try a new sport or fitness class. Check out this post of mine for more detail about the benefits of exercise; it’s really one of the best things you can do for your overall health.
  4. Stay up to date with food issues. Food is one of the few material things we actually need to sustain life; it’s astounding how in the dark most of us are with regard to where our food comes from. Our society is on the edge of a Food Revolution right now, with menu labeling and school food regulations getting stricter and soda taxes becoming a reality. Local governments are starting to crack down on antibiotic use in animal feed and cruel factory farm conditions. You’re going to want to keep up. My favorite websites for food policy news and commentary are Civil Eats and Marion Nestle‘s blog Food Politics. For starters, check out this great piece about the food movement’s victories and losses of 2014.
  5. Adopt Meatless Mondays. It’s easier than you think, I swear. Think about it, some of your favorite dishes might already be meatless! If you eliminate meat for one meal, or better yet one day, per week, you will mostly likely

And you can potentially spend less money and lose weight. Today’s Meatless Monday meal in my house was pizza! I topped one pre-made crust and my mom topped the other. They were both quite tasty. My mom’s had tomato sauce, mozzarella, and this delicious Andouille style vegan imitation sausage from Whole Foods.

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Mine was a bit more involved; I roasted cauliflower and caramelized onions to top my pizza along with mozzarella and parmesan.

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I think I’ve mentioned this before, but caramelized onions are one of my top five favorite foods, so I’ve been wanting to get really good at preparing them. I made a bunch extra, which I will use tomorrow to top a black bean burger. Jealous?

Please comment if you’re going to try any of these or if you have other suggestions or questions. Enjoy the rest of your holiday and have a happy, healthy New Year.

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Does the number of ingredients matter?

Phew! That was one tough semester, and it’s officially over. One of my final assignments actually inspired me to write this post. In my research seminar, I was actually lucky enough to get to design a food psychology research study for which I got to collect real data! Writing the 15+ page paper on top of all my other finals was trying, to say the least, but it feels cool to be conducting semi-real research in a lab that does amazing work. The reason this is relevant is because I was investigating whether the number of ingredients on a food’s label influences how healthy the food is perceived to be. If you are into popular nutrition trends, you have probably heard that among packaged foods, fewer ingredients is better. I wanted to see if this stigma against long ingredient lists has had any affect on how people rate the healthiness of a food.

Regardless of the results of my study, I wanted to add my two cents to this discussion about the number of ingredients in a packaged food as it relates to health. The reason the media and oftentimes health professional will advise one to avoid foods with more than x number of ingredients is because the number of ingredients is known to be associated with how processed a food is, and degree of processing, as you might know from reading my last post, is associated with bad nutrition and ultimately bad health outcomes. This is undoubtedly true a lot of the time; when a packaged food has 37 ingredients, it is likely that a lot of them are highly refined or even synthetic substances that certainly do not qualify as whole foods. Take a look at this list of ingredients found in Strawberry Pop-Tarts to see what I mean:

TAKE NOTE: I am not trying to encourage irrational fears of individual ingredients. Eating a Strawberry Pop Tart is not going to kill you because of this artificial color or this other word you can’t pronounce, but making it and foods like it form the basis of your diet is not a recipe for health.

All of that being said, a long list of ingredients does not preclude a packaged food from being healthy. I would say the most important thing to do is to look at all the whole product as greater than the sum of its parts; if it’s made up of mostly whole food ingredients, a preservative or a limited amount of sweetener here and there isn’t such a big deal. But the product is almost entirely made up of ingredients you’d never imagine using in your own kitchen, I’d skip it most of the time. And there is truth to the notion that if a food has five or fewer ingredients, it’s probably on the less processed end of the spectrum, which is a good thing, but I’m sure there are exceptions!

It’s analogous to how you should evaluate your whole diet- your health and your weight do not depend on one particular food, one particular nutrient, or one particular group of foods. It’s all about balance, variety, and moderation.

Now that I’m home for winter break, look out for my meatless monday cooking posts! Happy holidays!