Healthy eating is something I've been working on a lot this year. I think I've always eaten fairly healthy, but there's still a ton of room for improvement. My biggest problem has always been processed food. I tend to go for convenient foods, and those are highly processed and generally lacking in nutrients.
So I've been working on cooking more and really paying attention to what I eat. I've been constantly making changes and improvements. Little tweaks as I learn something new or discover a better option. Healthy eating isn't the easiest (or cheapest) thing to do. Unhealthy food is easy, convenient, readily available and fairly cheap. And, unfortunately, in very high demand which makes the healthy food harder to find. Fruits and vegetables are easy to find, but it's the packaged stuff that gets tricky. You really have to pay attention to the labels because I'm discovering that many "healthy" foods are nothing more than highly processed foods disguised in healthy-looking packaging.
For example, one thing I recently learned about is the sodium injected into frozen chicken breasts. High blood pressure runs in my family, and I've been borderline for about 3 years now so sodium is something I've been paying attention to lately. I always thought I ate a low sodium diet because I never use the salt shaker, but I don't. Sodium is absolutely everywhere, and the quantities are downright ridiculous sometimes. All we absolutely need in a day is about 500 mg, but that's nearly impossible so they recommend less than 2000 mg per day. Sounds easy, right? It's not. Eat one meal at a restaurant and you're over your limit. Check out Panera's nutrition data sometime. Panara has a healthy image, but nearly every meal on the menu has more than 2000 mg of sodium.
Potassium works with sodium to help maintain the body's water balance. The recommendation is to get 2:1 potassium to sodium (and this is for everyone, not just people with high blood pressure). The typical American doesn't come close, and I was no exception. I was getting way too much sodium and not nearly enough potassium. So this led to paying a lot of attention to labels, and I've learned a lot in the past two months of tracking sodium and potassium.
Back to the frozen chicken labels. First off, they haven't used hormones in chickens since the 50s so if you see a brand advertising that their chicken is hormone free, it's all hormone free. Antibiotics is another story. Then there's sodium. Read the packaging and you'll see a statement about how much sodium water was injected into the chicken. I see a lot with 7%, but I've seen as high as 15%. 15%! That's a ton of sodium water.
I found some frozen chicken at Whole Foods that contains less than 2%. I also saw some at Trader Joe's with 7%, but the sodium content was only 55mg per 4 oz (for comparison, the chicken from Whole Foods had 70mg per 4 oz).
I've seen some with 7% and 12% and even 15% and many times the sodium content is around 350 mg or more per 4 oz. That's insane. 350 mg of sodium in a piece of meat, and I bet most people would guess that there's no sodium in their chicken.
So the lesson I've learned is that you really need to pay attention to the labels. The amount of sodium added to packaged foods is out of control. We really need the general population to start demanding lower sodium products. It's unnecessary, unhealthy and once you get used to lower sodium foods you'll find it doesn't even taste good.
Another example....lunch meat. This has been my biggest problem. I started packing a lunch about three months ago and haven't eaten out for lunch since. I love my turkey sandwich lunch but it was high in sodium. It's easy to make, easy to take to work, and I like the taste. But the sodium of packaged (and deli) meats is really high. 2 oz usually contains about 350-450 mg of sodium, and I typically put about 4 oz on my sandwich. Throw in the sodium in the bread, a little in my V8, a little in my yogurt, the swiss cheese, etc and my lunch has about 1200 mg of sodium. That makes it really tough to keep your daily intake under 2K. Really tough.
This past weekend I found my solution. Applegate Farms sells no salt turkey (no salt added). I found it at the deli at Whole Foods. It has 55 mg of sodium per 2 oz. It's low sodium, organic and get this....it tastes like turkey. And by that I mean it tastes just like turkey, as in the turkey off your Thanksgiving table. Most packaged turkey doesn't taste like Thanksgiving turkey, but this stuff does. The only negative is that it's a little dry, but so is real turkey. So I add some olive oil vinaigrette, swiss cheese and spinach and I have myself a really tasty sammich.
Granted, it's still a processed meat and not the healthiest thing a person can eat, but it's progress. I don't want to give up everything I enjoy just to eat healthier, so I'm looking at this in terms of choices and decisions. I want a turkey sandwich for lunch, so given all the choices out there how I do make a good decision and make this as healthy as possible? I feel like I've found a good solution.
The intention of this post was to quickly mention that I've been trying to eat healthier, and that I plan on going into more depth on what I'm learning regarding nutrition and how I'm applying it and making it work in the real world. It was going to be a short post, but I got a little sidetracked. So my plan is to share some of the things I'm learning, the new foods I'm trying and some of the new recipes Courtney and I are cooking. Hopefully you'll like some of the recipes I share. I think you will. Courtney and I are trying to eat healthy foods without giving up everything we like and resorting to buying strange foods no one has heard of.
Knee update: It feels pretty good. I'll post a race report for the cold, windy TT. I was concerned about my knee, but it survived and continues to feel a little better everyday.