Project Real Food: Objectives

Now that I've outlined why I want to do this, what I hope to have accomplished at the end and what brought me to this point, I should probably jot down what changes I'm looking for.

1.  Increased energy levels.  I'm continually tired.  Like, always.  Now I'm also a mom to three kids three and under, one of whom is a baby who still wakes through the night, so it's not that surprising.  But I've heard so many people rave about their increased energy levels when they removed sugar from their diet, ate better, exercised more often and were getting all the nutrients/vitamins their body needed, so I'm at least a little hopeful that I'll see some improvement.

2.  No more weight struggles.  I've had three kids in four years, so to say that I'm happy with my body and my weight right now is laughable.  Pregnancy is not kind to my waistline and unlike some women, neither is nursing.  I don't lose weight from breastfeeding.  In fact, my body hoards weight while I breastfeed.  I've been stuck at almost the exact same weight since three days after Landon was born.  That's torturous and so unfair if you ask me.  I'm hoping that eating better will help me shed this baby weight.  So many people I hear swear that weight becomes a nonissue when you're eating only organic, whole foods and giving your body all the nutrients and vitamins it needs.  I've gotta say my fingers are crossed that this holds true for me.

3.  Relief from pain/dizziness.  I've had some funky health problems going on lately.  Lots of dizziness, some days to the point of feeling drunk.  It comes and goes and I've mentioned it to the doctor.  I have a nagging fear of developing an autoimmune disorder, and this chronic pain and dizziness isn't quieting my fears.  My mom has multiple sclerosis (and she found out when she woke up one day so dizzy that she described it as feeling drunk...sigh), my Grandma had rhuematoid arthitis (and osteoarthritis) and was diagnosed with lupus, my aunt has Graves disease, all my aunts have arthritis, another aunt has Type I diabetes, etc.  When I mention this to doctors, they generally flinch and tell me to be very cautious of this as I get older.  As noted in this article:
In his foreword to The Autoimmune Epidemic, Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that 'there is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.'
I've also been struggling with my allergies in the past few weeks.  I haven't had allergy issues since my childhood, so this is new (and uncool).  I know having a baby can change your body, so I'm aware it could just be that, and I also know this is a particularly harsh allergy season, so I'm not holding my breath on seeing improvement here.

4.  Relief from skin disorders.  I've got eczema, though it's pretty mild.  My kids have severe eczema, although Ben has mostly grown out of his.  We've found Arbonne to be a big help, and it's definitely better than steroid creams that doctors in the past have prescribed because of the potential side effects, but I'd love to be able to treat from the inside out rather than slathering something on the already weakened, painful skin.  Prevention always seems like a better option to me.  Eczema is on the rise, so much so that it is now considered the most common chronic disease in the pediatric population in the western world.  This, from Weston A. Price, really gives me hope:
In trying to understand eczema on a deeper level, the first issue to address, as with all allergic and auto-immune diseases, is the fact that the antibodies that cause auto-immune reactions are made against foreign proteins that have found their way into the bloodstream. Whether we are talking about foreign food antigens (food allergies), or auto-immune reactions, the issue is not so much stopping the toxic skin reaction that results in the eczema, but rather sealing and healing the gut in order to stop the leakage of foreign proteins into the blood stream, either from food or other sources. Healing the micro-flora of the gut, healing the micro-villi of the gut, and stopping the absorption of antigenic proteins is the key to stopping the vicious cycle that results in chronic eczema. All of this points to the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet), the modified traditional diet, to start healing the gut and restoring the micro-ecology in our GI tract. From a epidemiological perspective, when we moved away from our traditional diet, with its emphasis on lacto-fermented foods, good fats, bone broths and properly prepared grains, we created the situation that has allowed chronic illnesses like eczema to flourish.
As for my kids, there are lots of things I'm looking for.  Both older kiddos have, er, intestinal problems.  Like I said above, all three have eczema.  Ben's behavior could stand some improvement.  But he's also three, so I have no idea if I can expect that.  I just know I've read a lot about how drastically children's behavior improves when their diet improves, and how much correlation there is between behavioral disorders and processed foods & sugar.  Ben has been complaining every day of stomach pain (to the point of tears) for a few months, so we took gluten out of his diet a few weeks ago and he has only complained of a stomach ache twice in that time, rather than the daily complaints of before.  Landon has pretty awful skin and he's a very gassy kiddo who has not had a "normal" baby poop since he was a few weeks old.  I'm hoping improving my diet might improve his issues, too.

That's all I've got for now.  I'm sure other things will come to mind over time, but that's where I'm at and I'll definitely update the blog-a-roo if I see improvement in any of these areas over the course of this whole project.  If anyone is following along (ahem, a whole bunch of people said they were but I haven't heard anything since, YA'LL), let me know what changes you're looking for.  :)


My Journey to Real Food

My journey to real food began exactly three and a half years ago, but my obsession with food in general started over a decade ago.  I was a naturally skinny child, even considered too skinny by my doctor.  I was active and enjoyed being outdoors and weight was the farthest thing from my mind.  But then, shortly after graduating high school, that all changed.  I put on a solid 20 pounds.  I had to work really hard to get it off, and I did that with the help of my mom and  Weight Watchers.  From then on, I was in a constant state of yo-yo.  My weight would go up, my weight would go down.  My diets waxed and waned and I tried every new diet that came out.  I would fluctuate from a size 2 to a size 12 in the blink of an eye.

But health?  Health was not on my mind.  Until my son was born.

He was sick and I was a first-time mom.  It was scary and I felt helpless.  Since I had already adopted a rather holistic view on birth, it wasn't that much of a stretch to start inching my way toward real food.  Reading so much information about how closely our food and our health are tied, I just couldn't get enough.  I read and read and read and then I read some more.

I attempted to change everything about our diet all at one time.  But I crashed and I crashed hard.  I was overwhelmed and the change in our grocery budget was a shock to the system.  We reverted back to our old ways and I was guilt-ridden about it.  Once you know, you can't unknow it.

Over the past 3.5 years, my desire to change our eating habits has increased exponentially, but I've done a lot of crashing and burning.  I've tried being a vegetarian, I've tried being vegan.  I saw an improvement in our health with both compared to what a lot of people refer to as SAD (standard American diet).  But I knew neither was really me.  

What makes sense to me is eating what our bodies were intended to eat in the way they were intended to eat it.   For some people, that may mean no meat or dairy. Obviously I can't take a time machine back in time, but the next best thing I can do is read about the history of food and try to eat the way we've been eating for thousands of years (the standard American diet is in its infancy by comparison).

For me, the Real Food movement makes sense because, well, it's real.  It's old and it's traditional.  Industrial food is new and it's largely synthetic.

Studies show it's easier to digest and the nutrients are more easily absorbed in traditional, real food.  It's not full of chemicals.  It wasn't doused in pesticides that are damaging our planet

Real food, to me, is:
  • Meat from pastured animals that are raised humanely

  • Full-fat milk, yogurt and butter

  • Organic fruits & vegetables bought in season from local farmers (or grow my own, which is fun to boot!)

  • Healthy fats
Yes, it is "weird" to some.  But I actually think the diet we eat today is weird.  It's new, it's often concocted in a lab and it's not proven to be healthy.  Why not just stick with what we've always eaten that is time-tested and grown in soil rather than a lab?

I loved this from Joel Salatin's book Folks, this ain't normal:
Ours is certainly not an old culture.  Yet in recent decades we've used more energy, destroyed more soil, created more pathogenicity (temporarily stopped some too, for sure), mutated more bacteria, and dumped more toxicity on the planet than all the cultures before us - combined.  I love the United States, but I am not blind to the wrongs.  I have no desire to live anywhere else, but that doesn't mean I think everything we're doing should be done or can be maintained.

On many levels, I am struck by the sheer abnormality of our situation.  In this book, I'd like us to think broadly and deeply about how to restore normalcy, to reincorporate those foundations that sustain cultures - by using what we know and what we have in ways that honor and respect those upon whose shoulders we stand.  By identifying and honoring historical normalcy, we present a loving legacy to those who have gone before.  I think we owe such a gift to them.  Let normalcy begin.

 Or Michael Pollan's take:
Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food.  Stay away from these.
Once I started reading, started educating myself and my interest became piqued, it was an easy sell that my family needs to eat differently than we have been.  Truth be told, as a child I have fond memories of driving to another town with my mom to a health food store where I got to help grind our own peanut butter, among other things.  We had a stint as vegetarians when I was a kid.  My mom was a "crunchy mama" long before it was the in thing to be, so it's not all that surprising that I ended up finding my way back to real food in my adulthood.

Where are you on your journey to real food?


Project Real Food: A SAD state.

Many refer to the diet common in America as the SAD diet.  It stands for Standard American Diet.  I say it's pretty dang fitting.  Sad, indeed, America.  Now something I feel the need to make clear is how much I don't blame the average American.  The truth is, until very recently, information about how truly damaging our food is to our bodies just hasn't been readily available, talked about or made public knowledge.  I love to quote Maya Angelou whenever I get the chance, and this is one such chance.  When you know better, you do better.

So, here's my forewarning: this whole Project Real Foods?  It's about enlightening myself because I'm ready to know better so that I can do better.  If you aren't ready to make changes, wait until you are to follow along.  Because one thing I've learned is that guilt is a horrible weight that can really suffocate a person, and there is something to be said for ignorance.  I mean that sincerely.  No snarkiness here.  If you aren't ready to know about this stuff, don't read it.  I don't want to make anyone feel guilty or inferior.  You aren't!  We all have things that are important to us and we all have our own lives with our own to-do lists. I don't know what yours looks like and I don't know how much time or money you have, so I'm not here to judge you if you aren't ready for this yet.  I'm afraid that some of the things I post about during this PRF can come across as judgmental or holier-than-thou.  That is not my intention.  So please, take all of that into consideration as you decide to continue (or stop!) reading along with Project Real Foods.  Okay, g'day now.  :)

PROCESSED FOODS!  Ew.  The mere act of typing those words out makes my stomach turn a little.  It was a sad day when I learned about processed foods some 3.5 years ago.  What could be better than fast, easy, delicious food?  It used to be practically all my husband and I ate.  Let me tell ya, these days, as a mom to three kids three and under, I am all about the convenience.  Processed foods don't get to be part of my life anymore, though.  I've learned too much and I have three sensitive kids (allergies+eczema+potential asthma).

The Chicago Tribune reports:
Grocery shoppers examining colorful packages bearing long lists of hard-to-pronounce ingredients might take comfort in the belief that those substances were deemed safe by the government.

They might also believe that some federal agency must, at least, be notified when a new substance enters the U.S. food supply.

But that’s not the case.

Over the past 15 years, the vast majority of new ingredients added to U.S. food never received a safety determination from the government. And since 1958, at least 1,000 legally entered the food supply without the knowledge of government officials, according to the Pew Health Group.

Whoa.  For awhile now, I've described the U.S. as a country that deems things safe until proven otherwise.  As a mother, that doesn't sit well with me.  But by and large, it is how we operate.  Call me crazy, but requiring that a chemical be proven safe before sending it out into our environment to be eaten, breathed in, slathered on our bodies or consumed by our children seems much more logical to me.

The FDA has admitted that they have transferred a majority of responsibility for testing these chemicals onto the food manufacturers themselves.  Let's think it through: we're telling a company, whose bottom line depends on the deemed "safety" of a chemical that will allow them to make food taste better or last longer, that the power to deem it safe is in their hands?  In my opinion, that is asking for trouble.  It almost makes it hard to blame these manufacturers when we set them up like this.  We're practically dangling carrots over here.

In many other countries, they practice what is known as the precautionary principle.  In summary, "The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action."

In the U.K., for example, their food regulatory agency has asked manufacturers to pull artificial dyes from foods in stores and restaurants.  A court in Brazil ordered that Nestle label products that are genetically modified.  The growth hormone rBST is banned in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in the 27 countries of the European Union.

Let's think, for a moment, about BPA.  A chemical that was once considered safe (until proven otherwise) is now banned entirely in Canada and the EU, Canada and the U.S. have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles.  Or teflon.  I'll never forget, as a child, when my mom told me she'd never buy teflon products.  She'd stick with what's been proven to work for hundreds of years, she said, not some new, manmade product that she was convinced would flake off and cause cancer.  Turns out her gut instinct was exactly right.  In an attempt to make things easier, more convenient or cheaper, we often ruin them and in the end, cause more harm than good.  This, and my faith in God, are the single biggest reasons I stick with what God gave us whenever possible.  I like things straight from nature (God).  There are advances we've made that have been incredible, please don't get me wrong.  Medicine?  Amazing.  The way we have been able to extend our lives through the use of modern medicine is incredible and I don't take that for granted for a second.

"I can confidently tell you there is no other area of food law in the developed world that is so badly regulated as this corner of the U.S. food system," said Professor James T. O'Reilly, author of many books on topics such as government regulation, safety, labor and environmental issues.

Another great example of the problems with our current system is Johnson & Johnson.  Years ago, health and environmental groups began pressuring J&J to remove chemicals from the products they sell in the U.S. that are concerning and not used in the same products elsewhere.  They actually removed chemicals from their products to sell a safer version in other countries, where those chemicals are banned, but they kept on producing the products containing the more concerning chemicals to sell in the U.S.  Does that make you a little angry?  It does me.  After being pressured for years, they finally announced their plans to phase out the dangerous chemicals by 2015.  Here's what I think about that:

  • Why wait until 2015?  Other countries have deemed these chemicals unsafe, but Johnson & Johnson apparently isn't concerned about that.  They'll keep selling you their harmful products until 2015.  So as not to harm their profits as much?  I admittedly have no idea, but I don't really like it.

  • If I was a manufacturer and I discovered concern about a chemical I was using, I would not remove that chemical from some of my products while still using it in the countries where it's still allowed.  My conscience would not allow me to do that, so it's troubling to me that a large corporation can't be bothered with that sort of concern for the safety of its consumers.

  • They'll replace it with something "safer."  Safer?  For now?  I mean, really, today it's BPA, tomorrow it's something new.  So plastic bottles don't have BPA in them.  Tomorrow, we'll discover that the new chemical we're using is just as dangerous, if not more so.  Isn't that how it typically works?  People make jokes about it, like, what's the point?  Tomorrow it will just be something new!  I would agree.  But rather than just throw your hands up and give up, we could just get back to basics.  Why not use glass bottles?  After all, we've been doing that forever and a day.  They're cheap and they have a proven track record of safety.  So, Johnson & Johnson is going to remove the chemicals that some countries have determined are unsafe for human consumption and replace them with new ones.  Chances are, those new chemicals will at some point be proven unsafe, too.  This is why I've started switching over almost every last product in our home to homemade ones instead.  They're made with things like water and vinegar and essential oils and olive oil and so on.  Things that God gave us.

For more than a decade, almost all processed foods in the United States — cereals, snack foods, salad dressings — have contained ingredients from plants whose DNA was manipulated in a laboratory.  Almost all.  While the jury is still out on the safety of genetically modified foods, I am cautiously treading in that arena.  Like I mentioned above, I don't agree with a "safe until proven otherwise" mindset at all.  I haven't done much research on GMOs.  It's one of my goals in Project Real Food, in fact, so I'll have more to report later, but knowing that I tend to adopt a "dangerous until proven safe" mindset and that I trust things from God the most, that's enough for me, at this very moment, to avoid GMOs at all cost.  And since they're in almost every processed food on the market and products containing GMOs are not required to be labeled, not consuming processed foods is the easiest way for me to avoid a lot of GMOs.


How do you take your coffee?

I've always been a creamer gal.  Lots and lots of creamer, to be exact.  Some might even say, "Would you like a little coffee with that creamer?"

Even though I've gone through many "real food" phases, I always continue to drink my creamer. Sure, I've given it up for a week here, a few days there, but it never sticks because I just don't like milk and sugar.

Like I talked about last week, I knew I needed to kick it for good.  So I set out to test a few different recipes.  The first was easy, peasy.  A no-brainer, even.  It's a spin on milk and sugar that I like much better.  Maybe because I don't have to feel guilty about the mass amounts of sugar I need to put in my coffee to make it palatable?

Cup #1:

I use fresh cream that I skim right off the top of the milk we get from a local farm, but half and half would work, too.  I add a splash or two to my black coffee and then a few drops of NuNaturals vanilla stevia.  I've tried a few brands of liquid stevia in the past and never liked any of them, so I'd almost given up on it all together until I read a blog post from someone about how good NuNaturals brand is.  So, I gave it a shot.  And it did not disappoint.  I have no idea why their brand is so different, but it is.  I like things sweet and even then, this bottle has lasted me forever.  I thought it was pretty pricey until I realized how long it would last.  This is a good article on stevia for anyone who might be concerned about its effects on health.  I've taken the "stevia is healthy" stance after researching it for awhile.

Cup #2

The next cup of coffee I like is also pretty easy and no-brainer-ish.

I add one tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and a few splashes of half & half or fresh cream to my black coffee.  Stir and enjoy.  Yummy.  This was what my husband said would help him kick his creamer problem.  Poor guy.  I ruined him by always making his coffee with creamer and now he has a hard time with black coffee, too.  I think the key here, though, is having a good coffee base.  My friend, Melissa, turned me onto Caribou Coffee's Mahogany and it is INSANE.  Seriously.  It's the best coffee ever.  I made this exact cup of coffee with a different brand and didn't like it.  Once I did this to the Mahogany coffee, I knew I would never need creamer again.  So, trust me.  Get. Good. Coffee.  The Mahogany is also Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Cup #3

Finally, I made my own creamer.  I like the above cup of coffee better than the homemade creamer, but that doesn't mean I don't like the homemade creamer.  I do, just not quite as much.  They're both plenty good enough to kick my creamer habit, so to keep things interesting I'll switch it up here and there.

Grab some fresh cream or half-and-half, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla extract and almond extract (REAL, peeps, not imitation, please!).  To a small saucepan, add 2 cups of fresh cream or half-and-half.

Cook over medium heat.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder.

Then whisk in 5 to 6 tablespoons of pure maple syrup (depending on how sweet you like your coffee).

Next, add 1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and almond extract.

Once the cream is heated enough, the cocoa powder will dissolve.  Whisk together until it's a smooth consistency, like, well, creamer!

Now pour it into a glass jar or pitcher and voila!  Go on with your self-sufficient self.

Chocolate Almond Creamer

2 cups of fresh cream or half-and-half
2 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder or cacao powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
5-6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until you reach a smooth consistency.  Bottle up and refrigerate!


Nixing the processed foods.

I feel like the whole coffee goal was an easy one.  I even feel like I cheated, since all I really gave up was creamer.  But alas, I feel I've already conquered that goal.  I have two solid cups of coffee that I love as much as my previous coffee+creamer standby that I'll be sharing recipes for SUPER soon.  They're healthy recipes.  And my favorite coffee of all time, Caribou's Mahogany, is Rainforest Alliance Certified, so I'm in good shape there.  So...it's time to move on!

This week I'm nixing the processed/packaged foods.  To be fair, I've almost already tackled this goal so it will be pretty quick and painless for our family, but I figured I could use some more education to keep my inspiration level high since it is more time-consuming to make everything from scratch.  Though I really enjoy it, it can sometimes be burdensome when you already feel pressed for time.

To keep me motivated, I want to find out just how harmful processed foods really are.  Our family is plagued with allergies, eczema and asthma.  For us, it is even more important to eat healthfully the vast majority of the time than for those who don't struggle with these conditions.

I started removing processed foods from our diet shortly after my son was born because he was sick and I read article after article about how detrimental these foods are.  That doesn't mean I'm perfect.  In fact, I'm far from it.  We constantly go back and forth between eating almost no processed foods and then eating more than I'd like to admit.  Going back to our old eating ways is usually precipitated by a big grocery budget month or a very busy season of life.  I feel guilty for spending too much on food or I feel too overwhelmed by life to devote the time to making things from scratch.  Either way, I've done a lot of self-evaluation over the past few months and I've realized that for us, neither of those excuses should hold weight.

 I checked out a few books from the library that I've been wanting to read anyway, Real Food, The Unhealthy Truth and Real Food Has Curves.  I'm only a few pages into each (I can't read one book at a time - don't ask why, I really don't have a clue - I always have at least three books going at a time) but so far I'm hooked on all three!

Has anyone else out there nixed processed foods all together?  My plan is to allow very little, mostly things I'm just not capable or ready to make myself yet, like cheese.  And my husband will never let me quit buying his cereal.  I'm pretty sure there is no amount of research I could show him that would ever convince him to give up his cereal addiction.  The kids and I have gone without boxed cereal for almost two months now, though!

Lots to read this week.  I'm pretty food-geeked out over here.  :)


Why buy organic coffee?

We're on a roll with the coffee research this week!  Let's move right along, shall we?

So, what exactly are the benefits of organic coffee and should you pay more to get it?

After cotton and tobacco, coffee is the third most chemically treated crop in the world.  Why?  Because unlike in the "good old days" when farms were still small, to grow coffee now, in mass quantities for maximum profit, traditional coffee farmers clear large plots of land, mostly rainforest, where they can grow as much coffee as possible.  This coffee then receives direct sunlight, which is something that has never before been done when growing coffee.  Until the 1970s, coffee had traditionally been grown under shade trees, where it could thrive.

The coffee crops, when exposed to constant direct sunlight that they weren't meant to receive, become weak and much more susceptible to pests.  Therefore, lots of chemicals are needed to keep them pest-free.  Additionally, most coffee is produced in places in the world where chemicals are not regulated, so many of the chemicals that are being used are ones that we have banned here in the U.S.  And what's more, growing all these coffee plants so closely together strips the soil of the nutrients the coffee plants need to stay healthy.  Too many coffee plants in one area depletes the soil and the coffee plants aren't able to get all the nutrients that they need, making them even weaker still.

When I started researching organic coffee and learning all of this, I couldn't help but be reminded of CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  To mass-produce meat, we cram animals tightly together, in their own filth and most without room to turn around, and then we feed them things they've never eaten before; things we know they were not created to eat (based on their teeth/stomachs), and in turn, we have to compensate for all this unnatural stuff with antibiotics to keep them alive.  It's all the same.  We are essentially destroying the God-created natural system and replacing it with something completely unnatural in an effort to make the most money possible.  As a Christian (and, well, a human being), this actually hurts me to my core.  We have taken a beautifully designed system that has sustained us for thousands of years and because we are greedy, ruined it.  Somewhere along the line we collectively decided maximum profits were more important than the health of this nation - no, of this world - and of the people and animals who inhabit it.

Okay, so chemicals, pesticides?  We know these things are harmful.  This isn't news.  There is debate about how many of the pesticides make it into our cups of coffee each morning. Bananas, for example, are considered fine to buy non-organically as they have a thick, outer skin and few traces of pesticides make it into the bananas themselves.  Some argue that because it's the outer coffee cherry that is exposed to the pesticides, by the time you remove the bean and then roast it, little if anything is left.  Because there's no general consensus yet, I will choose to err on the side of caution and stick with coffee produced without the use of pesticides.

If environmental causes are more your thing, consider the damage we're doing to the world by growing coffee in this fashion.  Chemicals and fertilizers damage the soil and pollute the local water supplies.  They harm the families of the coffee farmers.  It takes 37 gallons of water to produce one cup of conventional coffee.  To make matters worse, this coffee is grown in countries with a water shortage.

The good news is that there is a lot being done to change all of this.  If you buy coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified, you'll help contribute to a solution to this problem.  Benefits of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee include:
  • Reduced water pollution

  • Reduced soil erosion

  • Reduced threats to the environment and human health

  • Protected wildlife habitat

  • Less water is produced

  • Less water is used

  • More efficient farm management

  • Improved conditions for farm workers

  • Improved profitability and competitiveness for farmers

  • More collaboration between farmers and conservationists
 Just look for their seal on the product you're buying:

If this isn't an option for you, the next best coffee is certified organic coffee.   In order to be certified organic in the United States:
  • It must be grown on land that wasn't exposed to synthetic pesticides for the preceding 3 years.

  • A buffer must exist between the organic coffee and the closest conventional crop of coffee.

  • It must have a sustainable crop rotation plan to prevent erosion, depletion of soil nutrients and naturally control pests.

  • Additionally, organic coffee is usually shade grown.  This isn't required, but is usually the case as this is the best way to naturally control pests.
The Rainforest Alliance website is a great resource to find their certified products near you.  They don't certify coffee alone, but lots of other products like bananas, cocoa, flowers, palm oil, tea and more.

All-in-all, I learned a lot this week about all the many benefits of organic coffee.  From now on, we will certainly only be buying organic, but likely Rainforest Alliance Certified products.  My husband is very environmental and I am very into healthy foods, so together I don't see how we could ever buy anything but.  :)



Hidden Problems with Coffee.

 Earlier, we uncovered why coffee is actually not bad for you (and studies say it's good for you!).

But when talking about all the benefits of coffee, we've got to remember that for many of us, we drink more than just coffee.  For a lot of us, especially with the popularization of coffee shops, drinking coffee also means drinking creamer or half-and-half or sugar (or, worse, artificial sweeteners).

Like Dr. Ron van Dam explains, "Also keep in mind that the research is typically based on coffee that's black or with a little milk or sugar, but not with the kind of high-calorie coffeehouse beverages that have become popular over the past few years. A 24-ounce mocha Frappachino at Starbucks with whipped cream has almost 500 calories—that's 25 percent of the daily calorie intake for someone who requires 2,000 calories a day."

Coffeemate Belgian Chocolate Toffee creamer is my poison of choice.  What's yours?

I've given it up more times than I can count.  And then, inevitably, I come running back to it.  It's like an addiction.  Yep, I'm a Belgian Chocolate Toffee addict.

But these ingredients are BAD. Have you ever flipped over your bottle of creamer and taken a good, hard look? 

Sugar is the second ingredient.  That's never good in and of itself.  Michael Pollan, in his book Food Rules, says to avoid food that has any form of sugar in the first three ingredients.  Ingredients are listed according to quantity.  So, in this example above, there is more water than anything else in the creamer, and more sugar than everything but water.

The third ingredient is partially hydrogenated soybean oil.  Partially hydrogenated oils are a major danger to health, but unfortunately are in a huge percentage of the packaged foods on the market today.  Read more about why I avoid these as much as possible here.

Natural and artificial flavoring is something I am trying to stay completely away from for many reasons.  Rather than pretty much re-word this great post, I'll just link to it.  Go read it!  It's a great, simple explanation about why this stuff is something you should be on the lookout for and avoid (and, in turn, you'll find that you can consume almost no processed foods now because it's used in so. many. things.).

The rest of the ingredients include things I can't pronounce and have no knowledge of, and that's just not a good idea in general.

So, common sense tells me to kick this bad habit for good.

And if you think Starbucks is healthy, think again!  This might be one of the hardest pills to swallow for me, because I love me some Starbucks (and Caribou Coffee and pretty much any other coffeehouse in existence).

I'll post any and all healthy and yummy creamer or coffee drink recipes I find as I play around with finding a healthier alternative without forcing myself to choke down black coffee.


Kick the Coffee?

Last week was a tough week for our family, so I'm a little behind in getting prepared for this week's goal.

My gorgeous, kind, fun-loving Grandmother passed away early Saturday morning with her faithful, devoted husband and beautiful daughters by her side. She fought a battle against cancer and won, but it came back again and the chemo weakened her body so that when she got pneumonia, it was just too much. This project is for you, Grandma. As I know you would say, let's kick cancer's butt (although I know you'd use a word not quite as kind here). I want to be part of the war against our current food system, against our current "norms" for taking care of ourselves so that cancer becomes a rare disease rather than a common killer. I believe the Standard American Diet is one piece of the puzzle in eradicating cancer and I owe it to my Grandma to do my part.

She will be so, so missed, but as a woman strong in her faith and dedicated to her Lord and Savior, I know where she is, and I can celebrate her entrance to Heaven.

After laying out everything I wanted to accomplish last week, I mulled over what to start with. Since this week will be busy and difficult, I decided to start with something a little easier to maintain while on the road traveling.


I was convinced I needed to give it up. Caffeine is bad, right? Coffee is damaging to your health, right? Well, that's what I thought anyway. So when compiling information for today's blog post, I was a little shocked that I kept coming upon study after study, article after article that says coffee really isn't bad for you. In fact, when I tried to find studies that proved that coffee is harmful, all I could find was information about mycotoxins (a mold found in coffee), not the actual coffee, being bad for you.

As it turns out, coffee consumption is actually good for you. According to recent research, those who consume coffee regularly have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and liver cancer, among other things. Rob M. van Dam, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, explained that in the past, it was difficult to distinguish the health effects of smoking cigarettes from drinking coffee since smokers were more likely to consume large amounts of coffee. The new, large-scale governmental study was able to control for those risks.

Donald Hensrud, chair of the division of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that though we've heard all about the benefits of certain tea for their antioxidants, they now believe that coffee is the largest source of antioxidants among those who drink it.

So, what exactly does the study say?

The major governmental study found that those who consume coffee may live longer than those who don't. According to this New York Times' article on the study, "While coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that may temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure in some people, coffee also contains hundreds of unique compounds and antioxidants that may confer health benefits."

The study, completed over the course of fourteen years, found that regular coffee drinkers were less likely to acquire diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, infections and even injuries and accidents. For men, the risk of dying during the 14-year study was 10 percent lower and for women, 15 percent lower in those who drank 2-6 cups of coffee per day. Interestingly, the risk was no different among those who drank decaffeinated coffee, meaning it likely isn't the caffeine in coffee that protects you. In other words, you're not going to see the same effects from drinking, say, Coke.

The study's lead author did caution that there is only an association between those who drank coffee and the lower risk of death and that more research needs to be done, but to-date, this is the largest study ever completed on coffee consumption and it's very encouraging for those of us who love our coffee. While the results can't definitively guarantee that drinking coffee protects you from disease, they make it very clear that drinking coffee isn't bad for you, like has previously been thought.

While this is all music to coffee lovers' ears, keep in mind that none of these studies prove with complete certainty that we should be downing cup after cup of coffee every day. According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking two to four cups of brewed coffee each day isn't harmful. More than that, though, can cause insomnia, irritability, nervousness, restlessness, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors. Also, research suggests that caffeine consumption isn't for everyone. Some are more prone to sensitivity to caffeine. Others, like those who already have diabetes, may experience an exaggerated blood sugar response to meals. In short, I'd say listen to your own body. Only you know if you're sensitive to caffeine.

Because I'm a nursing mom and because I do seem to be affected by too much caffeine (jittery and difficulty sleeping), and taking into consideration everything I've learned in compiling this blog post, I'm setting myself a limit of two 8-oz cups of coffee each day. This is a totally personal call based on my own sensitivity to caffeine and the fact that I'm nursing a baby. If you're contemplating your own coffee habits, your end result will likely look different than mine.

Because I crave coffee in the afternoons and sometimes even after my second cup in the morning, I'll turn to my Teeccino. Teeccino is an herbal coffee that I heard about years ago and thought was totally nutty and weird. I actually got a free sample from some event I went to and stuck it in a drawer, convinced nothing "herbal" could ever serve as a replacement for the glorious coffee bean. And then, while I was pregnant a year or so later, I found it in the drawer and gave it a shot. I was completely surprised! I actually liked it! Teeccino does not taste like coffee. I'll put that out there right now. But like a lot of the reviews on Amazon say, in a sense, it's almost better than coffee. It's roasted and brewed to be similar to coffee. Teeccino is a blend of herbs, grains, fruits and nuts. You can read about the ingredients used on their website here. So far I've tried the ones pictured above, Vanilla Nut and the Maya Organic Chocolate. I'm more partial to the Vanilla Nut, but they're both great. The Maya Chocolate has a spicy kick at the end which freaked me out at first but I grew to like after my second or third cup. There are 18 different flavors, so I'm sure there's something for everyone.

There are a few other important things to look at when deciding on what coffee to choose, like Fair Trade, mycotoxins and organic coffee, but this post is long enough for now so I'll dish about what I've learned about that stuff later this week.

I'm also going to play around with some homemade healthy creamer and/or coffeehouse-type drink recipes this week to add to my arsenal of healthy processed food replacements.

Anyone out there still joining me in Project Real Food? If so, I'd love to hear what you're working on this week!


Project Real Food Goals

What does real food mean to me?

I had to figure out the answer to this over the last few days so that I could begin Project Real Food on Monday.  I've been studying food for three and a half years now.  It all began when my son, Benjamin, was born.  He was sick and allergic.  He had terrible eczema, spit-up a minimum of 40 times a day and had blood in his poop (nothing is TMI here!).  He slipped down the growth chart at warp speed.  I began seeking out answers to help him on my own when his doctors weren't able to help him.  As any new mom knows, it can be terrifying when our children are sick and we feel helpless.

Through my research, I discovered how detrimental processed foods can be on our systems.  It's sort of a given these days, but I was still rather young and had spent exactly zero time thinking about food up to that point in my life.  I drank Coke by the gallons and we ate processed foods for almost every single meal.  I don't lie.  Ask my husband and he'll tell you that our favorite meal (and one we ate several times a week) was Pizza Rolls with a side of boxed mac & cheese.  Yeesh.

I also began a shift toward natural cleaning products at this same time.  I learned a lot about how closely asthma can be tied to the chemicals/irritants in our environment.  Since I'm an asthmatic, this hit home for me and it was an easy switch, albeit a little pricier.
Over the weekend, I sat down, put pen to paper and jotted out the list of everything I want to have accomplished when this journey is over.  I don't know how long this will take me.  I am not going to rush or give myself a deadline.  I'm simply going to tackle task after task until I have accomplished all of the following (even if I decide throughout the process that I may not permanently adopt it all).  These are not in order of importance or how I will tackle it, since I haven't yet developed my "itinerary":

1.  Buying local and/or organic - Except in rare cases where it is not possible, I want to buy mostly local and/or organic food.  I say mostly because everyone deserves some slack here and there, right?

2.  No added sugar - I've known for awhile that I'm a sugar addict. And the evidence is convincing that sugar is incredibly addictive.  Between the books I Quit Sugar and Little Sugar Addicts, I need no more convincing of the detrimental effect of sugar, both on me and especially on my children.  My goal is to abstain from any added sugar with the exception of maple syrup and raw, local honey occasionally.

3.  No packaged/processed foods - We've been doing pretty well refraining from packaged foods lately, but I want to challenge myself more.  There are a few things that are inevitable, but I'm taking a cue from 100 Days of Real Food and limiting myself to packaged foods with no more than 5 ingredients and then, only rarely.  If I don't know what the ingredient is and understand the possible side effects, I don't want to eat it.

4.   Find a source for local eggs - I don't want to support the abuse of animals.  This is one of the reasons I went vegan for a stint.  In addition to ensuring that animals are treated well, eating local eggs gives us a big health boost (more on that later).

5.  Switch over to humanely raised meats - Just like eggs, I want to find a local source for all of our meat.  It is no longer enough for a package of meat to purport that it is free-range and organic.  Sadly, we're being duped.  Usually these animals are treated no better than the ones who produce conventional meat.  I also want to lower our meat consumption a little more.  Right now we eat meat 3-4 times a week and I'd like to make sure we don't eat meat more than 2-3 times a week.  Partially for financial reasons (meat is expensive, and humanely raised meat much more so) and partially because I just don't think we need or were ever meant to eat as much meat as the average American eats today.

6.  Only eat soaked/sprouted grains & drastically cut back - It's only been recently that I've become intrigued with the idea that we were never intended to eat grains and that they're damaging to our body.  This book rocked my world.  This article explains it well.  I am a self-proclaimed carb junkie, so this will be as tough if not tougher than giving up added sugar.  That's why my first goal is to only eat soaked/sprouted grains (which reduce much of the harmful effects of grains) and cut back.  Eventually, I may give it up all together, but I'm not ready to commit to that yet and the truth is, I'm not totally convinced that we should eat no grains.  Like I did with veganism, I think testing a diet out and seeing how it impacts you is one of the best ways to decide for yourself what food principles you want to adopt and that's my plan with grains.

I've recently learned about bio-individuality and I think it is so right-on.  It makes a lot of sense.  In summary, we are all unique individuals and food that works for one person may or may not work for another.  I don't really believe that anything is one size fits all, so I don't know why I've spent so much time thinking there is a "perfect" diet out there.  I don't think there is.  I think there's a perfect diet for each person that looks different than another person's perfect diet, and we'll learn our own perfect diet through trial and error.

7.  Find an alternative to coffee or just give it up completely.  I've never had a caffeine problem before, and now I do.  I must have it to function, and I'm drinking three cups a day some days.  Not cool as a breastfeeding mom.  Also not cool because for the first time in my life, I'm experiencing headaches if I go too long without caffeine.  Not to mention it helps deplete magnesium, which is something I believe most of us are dangerously low in anyway.  The plan is to try herbal coffee and chai tea and see if either of them are a good substitute.

8.  Learn about GMOs.  Honestly, I've given very, very little thought to this but I watched a movie trailer and read an article the other day that finally spoke to me enough that I want to look into this.

The following aren't food goals per se, but they're part of the package for me to achieve better health.

9.  Make all of our cleaning products and most of our beauty products.  I'm not down with homemade shampoo (tried it), can't wrap my mind around the idea of homemade deodorant (though apparently it really works) and I love my make-up, but the goal is to find a way to make most of it for a cleaner, greener house.

10.  Exercise.  Often.  Enough said?

11.  Sleep more.  Again - obvious enough, but my kids are up between 5:45 and 6:15 almost every morning but I seldom go to sleep before midnight.  There is so much research on the effects of lousy sleep and I just keep ignoring it.

12. Supplements.  We're sort of all over the place on this one.  Ideally, we'd get all the vitamins and minerals our body needs from the food we eat and the ground we step foot on, but with poor soil quality and poor food quality, we aren't getting the amounts of vitamins our bodies need.  I agree with some who say supplements are an inferior source of these vitamins, but after years of studying this and going 'round and 'round, I feel that supplementing in addition to a healthy diet is a better alternative than a healthy diet that still lacks vital nutrients.  I want to get a handle on exactly what supplements our family should be taking, because there is a plethora of options out there and it can be very overwhelming!


These are my major goals.  I may break them down into even smaller goals as time goes on and I'm able to better analyze.

My objective is to slowly tackle the world of "real food" little by little in hopes that it all sticks.  While I believe it's important to stick to a life change like this, I also think fellowship and hospitality are even more important than food, and I feel pretty strongly that one should never turn down a meal with someone else in lieu of following strict food rules like this.  Moderation should always be key.

If you haven't already read it, I can't recommend Food Rules enough.  It is THE shortest read, makes total sense and doesn't leave you scratching your head (or ramming it into a wall in frustration) like so many other books can.  He sums the book up with this, "Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."  Like Pollan says in this book, there's nothing wrong with eating badly on occasion.  It's when it becomes your every day diet that you're increasing your risk for all the diet-related diseases that are now running rampant in this country (serious diseases related to what we eat kill THREE OF EVERY FOUR AMERICANS EVERY YEAR - YIKES!!!!!!!!!).  I love how he stressed making your own junk food.  Because, after all, if you have to make a chocolate cake or potato chips, you're just not that likely to eat it often.  :)

For those who said they were going to follow along, I'd love to know what your food goals are!  I know they won't look exactly like mine and I think we could all learn from each other.


Eat real food, one day at a time.

Last week, my three and a half year old son ran over to our fireplace stoop (his stage, of course) and began belting out some adorable lyrics to a song I know all too well, courtesy of that big purple dinosaur.
"Because we learn big things a little at a time
To go right up the mountain, first we learn to climb
I can be anything when I grow up
By learning a little at a time"
Who would ever figure that Barney could push me from contemplation to action?  This was an idea I've been wrestling with for months now.  Barney just solidified it for me.  Or likely it was the adorable kid singing a Barney song that did it.

We learn big things a little at a time.  To go up a mountain, first we have to learn to climb.  If I want to learn something, chances are good that I can.  As long as I pace myself and learn a little at a time.

To really drive this theme home, as I was reading The Organized Kitchen the other day, I came across these paragraphs:

"One of the biggest temptations in almost every area of life is to try to take on too much, too fast.  This is a huge problem when it comes to getting your kitchen under control.  Instead of trying to tackle organizational problems in small, manageable steps, people are often tempted to try to take on the entire room (or even the entire house) at once.

When too much is taken on too fast, people quickly experience 'crash-and-burn' syndrome.  You can quickly become discouraged, paralyzed, and exhausted, collapsing on a kitchen chair and looking around with despair.  But it doesn't have to be this way!"

Well if you've followed this blog for a bit, you know I do this.  Remember when I took on re-organizing the entire house in like a week?  I burned out BIG TIME.

At my six week check-up with my midwife recently, I was telling her how I've determined I'm a sugar addict so I'm going to quit sugar cold turkey.  She told me to tackle it in manageable steps, one at a time.  I explained to her that's not how I work.  I dive right into it and take no prisoners.  I will accomplish all the things!

I am a self-inflicted victim of crash-and-burn syndrome for sure.  How many things have I started and stopped?  So many.  How many things have I devoted a lot of time/energy/money to and then decided quickly that I didn't like?  Too many.

I am a do-something-new addict.  The truth is, I don't need to operate this way.  In fact, it is precisely because I've operated this way that I've left so many half-finished projects in my wake.

I've talked a lot to my husband about this recently, because it really is applicable to my issues surrounding food.  I'm a foodie.  I'm crunchy/hippie/granola.  I love to read about food, eat food, cook food and, truthfully, obsess about food.  I've watched so many food documentaries that I'm embarrassed to even write down the number.  But over and over I've tried to apply every concept I know about food all at once and then, a few weeks (or months) in, I burn out.  I fall back to my old, easy ways and soon we're eating packaged food and don't have a speck of local or organic food anywhere in our house.  Rinse and repeat a few dozen times over the past three years.

When I think back on the changes I've made in my life that have stuck, they're the ones I inadvertently accomplished a little at a time.  I didn't purposely take small steps, but for one reason or another, life forced me to take small steps.  To learn a little at a time, as Barney would say.

So here it is: my goal, my desire, put out there for accountability.  I've been studying food for three years and I feel pretty well versed in what is or isn't healthy and ALL the different philosophies of food.  I feel passionately knowledgeable and I feel it's my calling.  But for too long, I've felt I have to accomplish every part of a real food diet all at one time or what's the point?  Right?!

Wrong.  My journey is one of slow and steady change.  I will write out every goal I have - the big picture, or, every step I hope to have accomplished at the end of this journey.  And I will tackle it, one at a time, until each becomes a habit; until each change is just a new way of life rather than an overwhelming addition to my packed schedule.

Anyone want to join along?  I'll share each step here in depth.  I'll share the changes we see (or don't see) and whether or not I feel it's a valuable change that's worth the extra time, work or effort.  I'll be raw and honest, pinkie promise.  No sugar coating (or sugar consuming!) here.  :)

If you want to join along, let me know!  I don't expect it, but I would be stoked to have just one person to share the excitement (or disappointment/frustration, etc) with.  I'm writing out all my goals over this coming week and I'm starting my new journey next Monday (Aug. 20).


Two months!

Whoa, two months.  SOB.  Babies grow too quickly.  Why does pregnancy drag on for an eternity and the newborn stage is gone in the blink of an eye?!

The last month has been amazing.  I'm so grateful for the gift that God has given our family.  Though his first month was a little rocky and my anxiety over another colicky baby was sky high, all his gassy issues passed quickly.  Makes mama happy.  :)

Baby boy:

You are 13 lbs.  Wowsers!  We've never had a baby grow like this.  I'm so happy you are such a good eater.

You lovelovelove your car seat still.

You love nursing.

You love your brother and sister.  You smile and smile when they're looking at you.

You smile all the time in general.  You're such a happy baby!

You cry when you're hungry, tired, gassy or need your diaper changed.  Other than that, you're chill.  But man, do you not like a dirty diaper!

You're a pretty awesome sleeper.  Though you still wake once or twice, you eat and go right back to sleep.

You don't nap too well during the day, but I'm pretty sure it's because your brother and sister are the loudest human beings on earth.  You simply have to be swaddled.  I'm a little nervous about that.

You seem to love your wubbanub, but other pacifiers you can take or leave.

You've been kicking your feet a ton, you roll over the second we put you on your tummy most times and you're getting pretty good at holding your head up, though not for too long.  You even sort-of crawled this past month.  ;)


Big move!

Howdy!  Welcome to our "new" old blog.  Same old blog, just on Wordpress now.  After literally years of hearing others sing the praises of Wordpress, I finally decided to dive in and try to learn it on my own.  Paying for a transfer to Wordpress is just way out of my price range, not to mention the cost to have a WP blog designed.  So I spent one weekend a few months ago doing nothing but learning all things Wordpress, and here we are.

Thanks for continuing to follow me even though this may have inconvenienced you a wee bit.

My hubby convinced me to change my domain.  Something about rather than having 18 different blog domains for 18 different things I write about, just put it all under one domain.  :)

He wanted me to go with chelseahibbard.com but that feels so...vulnerable or something.  So Chelsea Blogs it is.  Boring? Maybe.  But simple is nice, right?

Anyway, you can subscribe to our new feed here, subscribe to our emails here or follow us on blog lovin' if that's your thing:

Follow my blog with Bloglovin