October #Unprocessed - Week 4 Update

Week 4 Update

It's the end of the month, which means that October #Unprocessed is almost over. While I wasn't able to eat unprocessed the entire month, I did manage to keep my diet unprocessed about 90% of the time. This was much better than I expected considering we were traveling at the beginning of the month and had several outings towards the end of the month that would involve eating out. It took a lot of advance prep work to stay on track, but I'm glad I decided to take the challenge. I've learned a lot this month. I was able to focus on issues I had never given any thought to and make some of the changes to our diet that I had been putting off. Many of the changes I've made will be sticking around permanently, although I will be bringing back taco night ASAP. I gave it up during the challenge because I wasn't able to find pre-made tortillas or taco shells that passed the kitchen test. Both of those items are on the list of foods I want to learn how to make, but until then I'll be sticking to a processed version. I've really missed taco night.

What Did I Hope to Accomplish This Month?

First and foremost I wanted to better educate myself about the food I feed my family. I learned an incredible amount about the preservatives and non-food ingredients that are added to our food to increase shelf-life and cut costs. I still have a lot to learn, but I've made a lot of progress in this area and worked to eliminate some of the more troubling ingredients from our life.

By the end of the month I wanted to reorganize my pantry and separate any foods containing processed ingredients. Some of the items were donated to a friend, but most we will consume slowly and not purchase again. During the reorganization I made a list of any items that will not be allowed back in our pantry after the challenge and another of unprocessed alternatives. I like to keep a few convenience items on hand for busy days so I'm not tempted to pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store instead of cook. For now I'll be focusing on replacing my favorite convenience items with healthier alternatives.

Budget was another item I wanted to consider during the challenge. For the last three years our food budget has been roughly $250 a month. In the past I've had no trouble sticking to that, but I've noticed a huge increase in food prices this year and we're no longer able to keep our food costs that low. With my husbands recent raise we were finally able to increase our budget to $350 for our family of 3. I still need to do some grocery shopping tonight, but we should come in right at budget this month even with the items I need to purchase for my son's Halloween party.

Since I have a horrible sweet tooth I wanted to determine how much added sugar I consumed in a week (which I found nearly impossible to do) and work to decrease the overall amount of sugar in my diet. To help me with this goal I experimented with home made condiments. I replaced my favorite jams and jellies with fruit butter because it uses significantly less sugar. This Pumpkin Pie Spiced Apple Buttermade with turbinado sugar was a huge hit, both in our house and with readers. I also tried my hand at home made ketchup so I could avoid one of the few items in our house containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). It was an incredibly time consuming project and one I'm not likely to repeat, but the flavor of the ketchup was better than anything you can buy in a store.

Above all else I wanted to learn from my mistakes and I won't lie, I made quite a few. Sometimes I forgot to read a label, or thought I had and missed an unacceptable ingredient. Other times I was suffering from food cravings I couldn't ignore. In these cases I focused on consuming processed items in moderation and tried to pay more attention the next time I was in the kitchen. Even a mistake can become a teachable moment, so rather than beat myself up over something I've done wrong I choose to learn from it.

Deliberate Exceptions to the Challenge 

Before the challenge started I outlined my goals and any exceptions to the kitchen rule I was willing to make. I decided to allow baking powder, citric acid, enriched pasta in limited amounts, extremely limited amounts of cane sugar, and soy lecithin (but only in chocolate.) Most of these exceptions were made so I could bake my own bread without having to change the recipe I use or to consume foods I've canned myself (I occasionally use citric acid to prevent browning.) It also seemed silly for me to ban enriched pasta when I take a multi-vitamin containing many of the same ingredients, but I did limit the amount of pasta I consumed during the challenge. Soy lecithin was something I would have loved to completely eliminate, but I couldn't see myself going without chocolate for an entire month. This exception was purely to maintain my sanity, trust me, there are certain times of the month when I need chocolate. Ladies, I'm sure you understand.

As I said before, I intended to not make changes to this list, but I ran into a problem on day 1 of the challenge. I went to 3 or 4 different stores in the attempt to find canned diced tomatoes that didn't contain Calcium Chloride. I wasn't able to find them, even organic varieties use it to keep the tomatoes firm. If tomato season hadn't already been over I would have canned some myself, but I couldn't find good quality tomatoes and decided to allow one last exception to my list since this is an important staple in our diet. We allowed Calcium Chloride, but only in canned tomatoes and no more than once a week.

Once I had my exception list in place I focused on menu planning to help me with the challenge. I made a 2-week menu plan and reused it for the second portion of the month. To make things even more simple I added meals to the menu that only needed small changes to become unprocessed. Becoming unprocessed wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be and many of the changes I made didn't noticeably affect the flavor of our meals. The biggest exception to this was when I tried to use something other than corn starch to thicken my beef gravy. 

Health Issues and Weight Loss

I don't have a lot of health issues, but for the last year I have been suffering from severe migraines and joint swelling. Numerous visits with doctors and specialists haven't managed to narrow down what is causing either of my problems. The doctors have attributed it to my seizure medication and have encouraged me to switch to something different or take pain killers. I've made it clear that I'd rather focus on what is causing the problem rather than treating the symptoms with more medication since I've already had one disastrous experience trying to change my seizure medication (I ended up in the hospital three times in less than two months.)

Early on in the challenge I realized that I hadn't had any pain in my ankles or knees, which were causing me the most trouble. The rest of my joints were slowly showing improvement over time and I've not been suffering from migraines recently. This leads me to believe that my diet may have been contributing to the problem in some way. I have a list of the items and ingredients I've removed from my diet this month so I'll be working in reverse to slowly reintroduce them until I notice a problem. My new goal is to find out which ingredient or ingredients are causing me a problem and avoid them at all costs. It could be that I'm sensitive to a particular preservative or perhaps have an allergy to an ingredient that I'm unaware of. Hopefully this slow reintroduction helps me determine what was really causing my problem so I can work to avoid it in the future. I'm just going to cross my fingers and hope that it isn't a new food allergy, I have enough of those already.

Another thing I've noticed during the course of the month is that I'm slowly losing weight. I keep a close eye on what I eat and usually track it with MyFitnessPal. The number of calories I've consumed this month hasn't changed, yet I've managed to lose nearly 7lbs. The only noticeable change in my stats is that I'm consuming less sugar and more fiber. Everything else has stayed the relatively the same. While weight loss wasn't one of my goals for the month, I'm glad to see I'm on a downward trend again.

Future Goals

I have several new goals for after the challenge, one of which is decreasing the number of commercially canned foods I rely on. I've been focusing on canning my own foods so I can reduce our amount of household waste, eat locally year around, and reduce my sodium intake. I'd also like to continue learning about GMOs. I don't feel like I'm informed enough at this point in time to determine whether they should be completely eliminate from my diet or not. Wading through the conflicting data available is taking more time than I had anticipated, so for now, I'll continue learning and remove them when it is affordable to do so. Hopefully by the time October #Unprocessed rolls around next year I will have learned enough to determine wether or not it is something I should focus on during the challenge.

Beginner's Guide to Drinking Tea: Why Switch? (part 1 of 3)

It's the beginning of a new year and for many people it's a time for change and new beginnings. Many of you have likely made resolutions, most of which, if you're anything like me, will be forgotten within the first 60 days. If your resolution for the new year was to lose weight, or to make changes in your diet, I would love to help you out. Just keep in mind that like any successful endeavor you need a plan and the dedication to stick with it. You also need a starting point for these changes.

Had you considered taking a look at what you have been drinking lately?

Your first step should be knowing what you are currently consuming, you need a baseline. According to the Dr Pepper website, a 20oz bottle of Dr. Pepper contains roughly 250 calories and is considered not 1, but 2.5 servings. The average Grande (16oz) latte from your local Starbucks also contains roughly 250 calories. 

If you frequently consume one or more large, half caf, 4 pumps not 5 of cherry not raspberry, skim, no whip berry white mochas with three shots not two or some other similarly complicated drink, then of course tea is going to be more healthy just from a caloric standpoint. According to Caribou Coffee's website the average, much less complicated, Large Berry White Mocha contains 680 calories. Yes, you read that correctly, nearly 700 calories in one drink. I was surprised as well.

(A special thanks to the person who ordered this drink while I was struggling to come up with a complicated drink example. It meant I didn't have to bother my favorite barista with yet another odd question, although by now I think she expects it of me.)

This might be a good area for you to look at so you can start to cut back and in fact this was the area I targeted last year. By only drinking one small latte every Wednesday I started consuming 1500 fewer calories per week. I filled the void by increasing my tea consumption because I've always enjoyed tea.

You may have heard about the additional health benefits of tea.

I'm not a doctor or medical professional, which means I don't feel qualified to make some of the claims you may hear associated with increased tea consumption. You won't hear me bandying about words like antioxidants, flavonoids, and free radicals or making claims of weight loss and decreased risk of cancer. There are certainly studies that show drinking tea does have health benefits and there are also studies that show they may not have all of the health benefits that have been claimed. For every study done someone has likely done another study to disprove the findings in the first making coming to any conclusions confusing. Can someone please remind me if eggs are good or bad for me today? My point is, you shouldn't switch to drinking tea because you read a study or article touting it's health benefits. You should drink it because you enjoy it, or think you might enjoy it, otherwise it will be a difficult habit to sustain. If you don't enjoy tea you can still reduce the amount of calories and sugar you consume by switching to water. 

This is a very controversial topic in many circles and I've been following several discussions about the health benefits of tea and the FDA's ruling about making claims about said benefits. It isn't that I don't think drinking tea has additional health benefits, I could give you a laundry list of things I've noticed in the last year in regards to my personal health, but this is a topic I could write a whole series on in and of itself. Perhaps I will do that at a later point, until then, if you want to debate the topic feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment. I love to hear the views of my readers, especially on such a controversial topic.

For now, I'll stick with my simplified point that you should drink tea because you enjoy it and it can be a good way to consume fewer calories.

The many misconceptions of tea and paying homage to Lord Starbucks...

Tea, isn't that what my grandmother drinks? It's a little, uh, girly.

Ah, you're picturing dainty bone china tea cups painted in assorted shades of pink, perhaps decorated with flowers, aren't you? This is a concern I've heard from several of my male friends and I've told them that they won't have their man card revoked for drinking tea. Dainty bone china isn't my style either, but I'm not knocking it if it is your thing. I have a few friends who are collectors and I love admiring their dainty cups that I'm totally terrified of dropping.

I'm pretty sure they don't bounce. In my life, I need things that bounce, I have an energetic toddler running around.

If you aren't comfortable telling everyone that you've switched, then don't. No one is going to notice what is in your travel tumbler anyway, unless you point it out. If you happen to work in an office who prefers to pay homage to our Lord Starbucks, just buy yourself a Starbucks branded travel mug so you fit in and put tea in it. You can even order it from Starbucks. I did that every day for years and no one ever noticed. 

Did you know that Starbucks owns not one, but two tea companies? Tazo has been owned by Starbucks since 1999 and Teavana was purchased in 2012. 

Not all tea is created equal and some can be as unhealthy as a bottle of soda.

Like anything else, you really need to read the label, be informed of what you are consuming, and ask questions. There are many teas that contain as many calories as soda. Bottled tea is one example, many of them are loaded up with sugar to help "improve" the flavor. Flavored teas and teas containing fruit pieces are another key area you'll need to watch and ask questions about. Some blends contain Stevia, such as Organic Blueberry Jam from DAVIDsTEA. Some blends contain added sugar in the form of candied fruit, such as Maharaja chai/Samurai chai blend from Teavana. If you are worried about your sugar intake try starting with an unflavored oolong tea (my personal favorite) or perhaps green tea. 

If you have no idea what that even means, check back next week for the second part in the beginner's guide to drinking tea. We'll be talking about the different types of tea you may encounter on your tea drinking journey. In the meantime be informed, be healthy, and enjoy a good cup of tea. 

This is a three part series, follow the links below for parts two and three.

Beginner's Guide to Drinking Tea: Types of Tea (part 2 of 3)
Beginner's Guide to Drinking Tea: What Do You Need to Brew Your Perfect Cup of Tea? (part 3 of 3)