Thinking About Convenience
I’m going to be perfectly honest: my first thought when I’ve had a busy day in the office and I’m hungry isn’t to grab a fresh salad or some simple grilled proteins with steamed vegetables. Instead, I’m considering whether I grab a slice or a burger. If I’m feeling a bit guilty about my eating habits, I might grab one of those microwavable dinners with the minimalist packaging designed to evoke freshness, healthfulness, and purity of ingredients. That’s fine for a one-off meal, but for many of us, it’s a one-off per day decision, if not more.
A breakfast sandwich from the street cart, a lunch slice from your neighborhood pizza joint, and a drive through meal on the way home. It’s cheap, readily available, and so convenient. The results are expanding waistlines, blood sugar levels going out of whack, and blood pressures that rival water’s boiling point (if you do one thing for yourself for American Heart Month, check your blood pressure). We all know what we eat directly impacts our health, including our heart health. The problem is that many of us aren’t just juggling busy days at work, but busy lives involving children and their activities, our social lives (if we still have one), familial obligations, exhausting commutes, and keeping up with the myriad activities that sadly define being adult (don’t forget, tax season is upon us!). How can we balance convenience with managing our health
Last month I wrote about the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population and their more holistic view of the process of eating and the relationships we have with and around food. These guidelines are designed to make it easy for us to organically nourish our whole selves. One theme that comes up in four of the guidelines is processed foods (five if you’re including the guideline of how to cook foods).
- Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
- Limit consumption of processed foods
- Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
- Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods.
But isn’t all food processed? Well, for the most part, yes. According to Food Insight, “Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.” This includes canned and frozen fruits and vegetables; fortified foods such as salt (iodine), milk (vitamin D), and refined grains (B vitamins and iron); and prepared ingredients or meals from restaurants, grocery stores, and other places.
Some of this processing can be beneficial to us. Canned and frozen foods can help ensure we capture fruits and vegetables at their peak of freshness and help make it available to those who live in food deserts. Adding nutrients of concern to foods helps individuals get the full complement of these critical nutrients to help mitigate potential health risks; and purchasing prepared ingredients or meals can help us feed ourselves and our families when we’re crunched for time.
But many processed foods can be detrimental to our health. Prepared foods from restaurants, grocery stores, and other places, typically contain added fats, oils, and salts to enhance their flavors. Food that’s been refined, such as white flour, lacks the fiber and nutrients from the bran and germ, which we then need to add back in the form of supplements. Foods that have been designed to be fat free or reduced fat make up for lost flavor and volume by using artificial ingredients, gums, sugars, or starches that can have other negative impacts on our health. The invitation in these Brazilian Guidelines is to make natural or minimally processed foods the foundation of our diets, just as Annemarie Colbin, PhD, passionately advocated, stating that whole foods should comprise 70-80% of our diets. The rules farther down the Brazilian Guidelines are simply suggestions for how to accomplish that: limiting consumption of processed foods, avoiding ultra-processed foods, and going to places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods.
A tremendous benefit to living in this age of convenience which has collided with the age of health supportive eating is that there are more options for those of us trying to be healthier. More restaurants are including natural, whole foods on their menus, and there’s a growing number of restaurants, such as Pret and Dig Inn, whose entire premise is natural, local, and seasonal foods. Grocery stores have made it easier and more convenient to cook at home with more prepared foods available, from the packaged salads and pre-cut vegetables to the ready-to-cook proteins. Add to this, the slew of meal-delivery options including Euphebe, Sun Basket, and Purple Carrot, all designed to give us convenience, deliciousness, and health. Incremental changes add up and can yield massive impact, so I invite you to consider these guidelines, implement some of NGI’s Seven Principles of Food Selection (seasonal, local, whole, traditional, balanced, fresh, and delicious), and just treat yourself a little better.
To help out, here’s a quick little recipe from the Natural Gourmet Institute archives. Buckwheat is a healthy source of protein, contains magnesium which can help lower blood pressure, and is very easy to cook. You can modify the recipe with whatever vegetables you have available, and if you keep the sauce and the noodles separate, you can toss them together for a quick lunch or easy dinner.
ASIAN BUCKWHEAT NOODLE SALAD
- ½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms (18), stemmed, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup brown rice vinegar
- ¼ cup tamari
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ cup rice syrup
- 4 ounces carrots (½ medium), matchstick
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ pound buckwheat noodles (soba), boiled, rinsed in cold water, drained
- 4 ounces English cucumber (½ medium), thin diagonal slices
- 3 scallions, thin diagonal slices
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- In 2-quart saucepan, combine mushrooms, vinegar, tamari, water, and rice syrup. Bring mixture to boil; reduce heat, and simmer uncovered 3-5 minutes or until mixture slightly thickens. Add carrots and simmer another 30 seconds. Whisk in sesame oil.
- Combine vegetables with pasta and toss to combine.
- Fan cucumbers around plate, top with noodle salad, and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds.
This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.