Reading Between the Lines

I have always been a label reader.  My interest in nutritional information was spawned by the fat-free 90's, where everything with mouth-feel and flavor was replaced by sugar loaded, fat-free foods.  I analyzed serving sizes, calories and fat constantly. Then I started scanning for trans fats and anything hydrogenated.  In the trash and off the grocery list went pretty much every protein bar, cracker and microwave popcorn I had ever eaten.  This was becoming hard work, so it was just easier to eat meat and vegetables. Little did I know that I was pretty much eating clean at the time.

A few years ago, after reading Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels, I began to throw away everything in my pantry that wasn't organic and I purchased organic, grass fed, nitrate and hormone free meat.  Now, as I learn more about feeding my muscles, I'm coming to understand the impact of eating organic and how many "organic" labeled products must be reviewed and/or eaten in moderation for a healthy and balanced diet.

Over the last few years I have been very conscious about eating 100% whole grains (organic bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice). I removed high fructose corn syrup, non-fat flavored yogurts, Splenda and other artificial sweeteners, energy waters with dyes, diet drinks of any kind, non-fat processed cheeses, pretty much almost all general grocery products and all 'healthy' frozen foods.

As I focus intensely on revving up my metabolism by eating more often, my choice of fuel has changed (again).  All of the above still applies, organic when possible and no artificial foods, however a few things have been modified.  For example, finding a genuinely healthy bread is nearly impossible.  Companies who are processing such large batches of breads can use stabilizers and other products that help preserve freshness without putting it on the label if the amount used is under 2% of the total product.  The sad truth in many cases is that your whole wheat bread is probably no different than the white bread next to it.  Check out this post about Subway's 9 Grain Roll.  Garbage.  I've always loved Food for Life products and considered them a treat at nearly $5.00 for a loaf of Ezekiel bread, if not more.  I never questioned why this fitness guru approved bread was stored in the freezer section.  Now I understand that there aren't any preservatives in Ezekiel bread and that everything in it is fresh and easily spoiled.  I now keep a loaf in the freezer along with a package of their English muffins (these are my burger buns now, if you think finding a good bread is difficult, good luck finding a burger bun) at all times. 

INGREDIENTS: Organic Sprouted Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Malted Barley, Organic Sprouted Rye, Organic Sprouted Barley, Organic Sprouted Oats, Organic Sprouted Millet, Organic Sprouted Corn, Organic Sprouted Brown Rice, Fresh Yeast, Organic Wheat Gluten, Sea Salt

Rule of thumb: If you're unsure, don't buy it.  I can't and don't trust something because it says it's organic or healthy or filled with X, Y or Z.  I'm now more aware of how much sugar is in a product and whether it's naturally occurring or added.  For example, when I migrated to a natural and organic diet, I swapped my protein bars for Clif Bars and Kashi Bars because they used real sugar.  I never realized just how much sugar is in a Clif Bar until I started training for gaining and reevaluated my diet (again).  I had to say bye-bye to my beloved Clif Bar's as well as to grabbing a ripe banana more than once a day.  I started to calculate that I was having a serious amount of sugar in most given days (thank you Livestrong.com).  Add up the fruit and milk sugars (which I'm not saying are bad), the protein bar at over 20 grams, the occasional organic dark chocolate treat, organic granola and cereals, organic cheeses and yogurts, frozen yogurt cones, organic preserves and honey and you're looking at a hefty daily grand total. Again, there isn't anything wrong with these healthfully derived sugars, it's simply that too much of even a good thing could add up to be a bad one depending on your overall health goals.

Upon getting serious about training, the first thing that I removed was my daily red wine.  Quitting that cold turkey wasn't easy, but I never once thought about the sugar content of wine.  I've started using almond milk (it rocks) having never realized how much sugar milk has. I have reviewed every nutrition, protein, fiber and granola bar on the market and I'm left with no option but to make my own (for now, but my friends at NuGo may be onto something...stay tuned).  My only sources of sugar are those that are naturally occurring in my morning berries (need that fiber boost), an occasional skim milk splash in coffee when left with no alternatives, a half of a banana used in my protein shakes, and of course any negligible amounts naturally found in vegetables or other foods like my daily coffee (yes, brewed coffee has sugar in it).

I'm pretty sure I'm having sugar withdrawal right now.  I have always had ample energy, in fact in some ways, too much energy.  My nerves have always been high and extreme hand shakes are common for me.  Throw in giving a speech or the anticipation of having to perform or execute something in front of more than one or two people and I'd be mistaken for a human earthquake (or Barbara Streisand).  I am probably a sugar addict.  I have been a little run down over the last week, just tired and I even supplement B-12.   I don't really care because I know that these changes are good for me and they are getting me to where I want to be physically and mentally (kick ass strong).  Like any withdrawal, it's going to be a foreign feeling and uncomfortable, but I'm willing to suffer through a little exhaustion to get to the better me.

Now that I'm eating clean and monitoring the "whole package" (whether the food is in a package or not), I know that people are curious as to what I actually DO eat.  Enough of the NO's right (I'll save that for another post)?

  • Eggs (white omelletes at home or at restaurants that will bake them, hard boiled or poached, whole eggs in moderation)
  • Food for Life Ezekiel Breads (all varieties)
  • Quinoa
  • Low or non-fat Greek or strained yogurt, organic, plain and as low in sugar as possible
  • Raspberries, Blackberries and Strawberries
  • Under-ripe bananas (no more than one small one daily)
  • Natural nut butters featuring one ingredient - the nut the butter is made from (trace salt is okay)
  • Sea salt (a pinch on only super bland foods after cooking, sorry - NO table salt)
  • Fresh roast turkey like on Thanksgiving or lean beef roasts (NO DELI MEAT)
  • Chicken Breast (whole roasted or grilled, tenders for stir-fry, ground for burgers/meatloaf/chili)
  • Fish (salmon, shrimp and tilapia)
  • Beef (extra lean ground and tenderloin, filet mignon, eye round roast)
  • Game (bison and ostrich burgers)
  • Pork (cutlets, tenderloin, chops)
  • Turkey (roast white breast, ground for turkey burgers/meatloaf/chili, cutlets)
  • Zucchini, Butternut Squash, Eggplant
  • Tomatoes (plum, grape, cherry)
  • Onions (red and yellow)
  • Cucumbers, celery, garlic
  • Avocados
  • Homemade or fresh hummus and babaganoush
  • Peppers (green, red and cubanelle)
  • Whole wheat, rice and quinoa pasta
  • Soba noodles
  • Organic canned goods (beans and tomatoes)
  • Carrots, corn (occasionally, usually added to a salad and not as a side dish)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Cottage and ricotta cheese, locally made and/or organic and low fat / low sodium
  • Simply Heinze Ketchup
  • Annie's Organic Salad Dressings (half a serving)
  • Nuts, most varieties and nuts sweetened with stevia and cocoa
  • Water with lemon
  • Organic olive oils
  • Olives (in moderation)
  • Oatmeal and oat flour (homemade)
  • Mustards (natural and without sugars added)
  • Lettuces (all varieties sans iceberg as it's a waste of my time), spinach, basil, cilantro 
  • Fresh cheeses, not packaged (in moderation)
  • Organic brown rice
  • String beans, snow peas
  • Mushrooms (variety)
  • Broccoli rabe (standard broccoli is bloating, we have it in moderation)
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Almond Milk (unsweetened)
  • Coconut Milk (unsweetened)

This is a preliminary list of where my shopping list has headed.  It's streamlined and easier to go grocery shopping online as there aren't as many distractions (translation...less temptations). Your odds of making the best food choices at home start with what you bring into your home.  I finally started to see the abs that I've been working so hard for, nearly immediately after making the changes above. 

In a nutshell (which you should have plenty of if you're making your own nut butters at home), learning to read between all of the hype and nutritional information isn't easy, but it's something we all need to learn to do.  Be armed with information about what's inside the foods you're eating and focus less on what's advertised in big and bold on the packages they come in.  This is step number one towards overall health and wellness and is a paving stone for finding ultimate physical capability.  Start off with the above list and read packages carefully, no matter how "green" a product appears.

For more information and resources on what's in what you're eating, check out the website FoodFacts.com.

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