I went on a personal challenge to raise all the food I ate for 101 days. It was quite an adventure, and you can read all about it if you want:
• Never Diet Again – Weight Loss, Sugar Detox & Finding your Ideal weight – Week 3
• One Month – No preservatives, no additives, no artifical ingredients, no sugar, no GMOs, nothing but homegrown goodness – Week 4
• Growing all my Food – What Country Does Your Food Come From?
• Can You Say, “NO?” Losing Weight, Feeling Healthier & Having more Energy
• 10 Days Left!!!
• A New Way to Live
• Homesteaders Food Challenge Wrap Up
I made it past the finish line and have crossed over to a new way of eating and thinking. I haven't felt this good in a decade. I lost over 10 pounds. I ate what I grew and raised and picked on my own farm. I learned to cook new foods. I learned to eat new foods. My skin and hair even improved. I have increased energy. I sleep better.
Most of all: my sugar cravings are gone.
You don't have to move to the country and grow all your own food to experience amazing changes in your life. I think we can all work toward making healthy choices each day. Even if you only make a couple of these changes now, I believe it will matter. You don't have to change your entire life in a day. You can implement bits at a time.
My 101-day Homesteaders Food Challenge was also a bit on the extreme/radical side and partially miserable. I thought I was pretty healthy before I started it, but my eyes opened. Now that I'm here, on this side, leaner, healthier, better ... I don't want to go back. I don't want to fall back into old habits.
If you want to make some changes that can remodel your health — this is for you. There are some easy things you can do to improve your overall wellness. Most people do not have the ability to raise everything they eat. Most people would not consider trying to raise everything they eat.
The good news is that you don't have to.
Here's a look at eight simple changes you can make that your body will thank you for:
Small Change #1: Eat at Home
Before any of the other seven changes can happen, you probably first need to start preparing and eating your foods.
It won't make much difference if you are buying organic flour, grass-fed beef, and coconut oil if you continue to eat your meals at restaurants — unless you are eating at all organic establishments.
I'm not saying never eat out; I'm saying if you want to reclaim your food and change your health, you're probably gonna need to prepare some meals.
Small Change #2: Flour
Flour is in so many things I cook. It thickens sauces. It's in bread, pasta, muffins, pancakes. Flour is a part of our meals, and I don't want to stop enjoying it.
If you are like me and want flour, it is important to know what's in your flour and what's not.
There are two choices to getting healthier flour:
Grind your own wheat. Every six weeks or so I mill my own flour and bake 24-30 loaves of bread. Did you know that fresh-ground flour has over 40 vitamins and minerals in it? Of the 44 known essential nutrients needed by our bodies, only four are missing from fresh-ground wheat. It even has protein!
I also use my fresh ground wheat for sauces, gravies, batter, and whatever else calls for flour.
If grinding flour and baking bread sounds daunting, you can still improve the flour you are feeding your family.
Buy organic. What is done to "non-organic" grain before it is ever ground into flour is enough to make a girl reach for the organic every time. You can read about it here. I think organic is worth the investment.
Small Change #3: Sugar
I don't eat a lot of sugar, but I need something sweet in my coffee every morning.
If you are like me and want a little something sweet, one of the best ways to get some sugar without eating sugar is by using maple syrup or honey. Both are sweeter than sugar (so you will use less), and both are healthier. They both contain vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants.
If you happen to be baking a cake for your child's birthday and need some sugar, a healthy option is to reach for the raw cane sugar (sucanat) instead of the white stuff. Sucanat hasn't been through the over-processing of white sugar and even contains trace minerals. There are arguments that cane sugar is not "raw" enough. There are many "healthier" and "less processed" alternatives to sugar. Turbinado, rapadura, or molasses are a few.
Remember, even healthy raw sugars are not health foods, so they still need to be used within reason.
Small Change #4: Fat
If you cook, you will need fat. Sometimes some good, old-fashioned butter is the perfect solution. Other times (like in breads and baked goods) you need something lighter, like oil. Changing to healthy fats will go a long way to improving your health.
We eat around 3 pounds of butter a week. It completes me. Our butter is raw. It has not been homogenized, pasteurized, or changed in any way. I know this because I spend part of every Sunday making it. It comes straight from the cows in my front yard, it is never heated, treated, or altered. Just churned and eaten.
My butter is a different color than the pale stuff at the grocery — it is yellow. This is from vitamin K. Raw butter has all the vitamins intact, so it glows. The reason the butter sold at most stores is a creamy, light yellow is because it is made from milk that has been pasteurized. The pasteurization process not only kills bacteria (good and bad), it also kills many of the vitamins.
If you don't have a cow and don't want to make butter, it's OK. You can still purchase good butter. Look for raw butter, cultured butter, or even Amish butter.
Another healthy cooking fat I love is lard (not the stuff from the store, only pastured and organic). Boy oh boy. If you haven't yet heard me scream and shout about how stinking healthy pastured pig fat is, you should. It isn't just "not bad" for you; it's actually good for you.
More on pig fat:
The only other fat I use occasionally is grapeseed oil for baking bread. I make most of my bread products from scratch, and they require a light oil for baking.
The truth is that sunflower oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil are all terrible for you. For more on bad oils go here.
Small Change #5: Eggs
The key word is "pastured eggs." This is what you want. Free-range could mean they have a small outdoor area they never see. Cage-free could mean 2000 chickens are crammed into a building instead of cages. Organic could mean the chickens were fed a diet that was organic. Omega 3 means the chickens were fed a diet high in Omega 3.
These are not the best eggs. The best eggs come from pastured chickens who are allowed to scavenge, scratch, and peck for food. They eat a diet of bugs, grubs, green things, and such.
Instead of yellow "yellows," pastured eggs will usually have bright orange "yellows." The color of the yellow in the egg is a reflection of the quality of the hens' diet. Hens who eat an insect-rich diet will have the darkest yellows. Our chickens, which are literally all over the place, eat whatever they want. They have no cages, no yard, no boundaries whatsoever. This of course means they are in my flowers, eating my tomatoes, and pooping on my driveway. It also means I have some pretty healthy eggs with yellows that glow in the dark.
I have heard an argument that the reason free-range eggs have the brighter color yolk is because they are fresher. This is not true. When DH attempts to grow grass, we always lock our chickens into a fenced in area. During this time, we feed our chickens a healthy diet of bagged chicken feed from our local feed mill. All the yolks turn pale yellow during confinement. All of them. Guess what happened when we let the chickens back out? The yolks went orange again.
So, it's the confinement of the chickens that affect the color, not the "freshness."
Small Change #6: Milk
We have two jersey cows who eat grass everyday. This is where our milk and dairy products come from.
If you live in a place where you can get your hands on raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk, you are blessed. These diary products are illegal to buy and sell in many states (including mine). Which is why I own milk cows.
If you haven't heard of CLA — the wonder fat — let me introduce you. CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) increases muscle growth, decreases body fat, improves insulin sensitivity, inhibits and prevents various cancers, enhances immune system, and lowers cholesterol. Top natural sources for CLA in the diet are meat and raw milk from grass-fed animals.
CLA alone is enough of a reason to drink raw milk from grass-fed cows. It's a miracle. I have a friend who's father grew up on a diary farm. That man drank raw milk his entire life; he has never taken antibiotics.
For more on the benefits of raw milk go here.
So many of the foods we prepare have some sort of dairy product in them. If you begin using healthier dairy products, this one change will overflow into many of the meals you prepare.
Small Change #7: Pastured Meat
You don't have to move to a farm and raise pigs in order to eat healthy, pastured meat — you just have to find a farmer (or market) who does.
Raising pigs is an adventure. They have personality, are easy to raise, and can grow from a 30-pound piglet into a 300-pound hog in 3-4 months. If you like dogs, you will probably like raising pigs. They bark, growl, and want to play with you. Raising pigs is also a good idea if you like bacon, sausage, ribs, pork-chops, and ham.
If you can raise pigs, you should. If you can't, go buy some pastured pork.
There are good feeder pigs for sale if you want to find them. I see them at the sale barn. I see them on Craigslist. I hear about them at my local feed mill. Many farmers markets even have folks raising & selling pastured pork. If you do some looking, you will probably be able to purchase a pastured hog or 1/2 a hog for your freezer.
Possibly the best part of pasture-raised pork is the lard. Lard from pastured pigs is not the same as the stuff sold in cans at grocery stores. Lard from pastured pigs is incredibly healthy. It is high in cancer-preventing nutrients, Vitamin D, and CLA. It is very good source of monounsaturated fatty acids — that same heart-healthy fat found in olive oil and avocado. Once you have jars of lard in your basement, you can use it for everything! Frying eggs, baking pies, french fries, chap-stick ...
I think it's worth the search and expense to invest in a healthy hog for your freezer.
We let our cow raise our beef for us. Our steers are raised on pasture and mamma's milk. They spend their days grazing and napping on the soft grass in the sunshine. Research has shown that meat raised on pasture provides up to five times more nutrition than meat raised in confinement.
Finding pastured beef is even easier than finding hogs. If you have the freezer space, buying a cow or a half of a cow is always the cheapest way to buy steaks. Go here to learn how to buy a cow and what you'll get.
A phone call to the local extension office may be all it takes to find a list of farms in your area raising grass-fed beef. Because of the growing demand, pastured beef is pretty much readily available.
Organic, pastured, antibiotic-free chicken is pretty easy to find these days. We raise our own meat chickens, but if I ran out I wouldn't hesitate to purchase the good ones from the supermarket.
It just doesn't get any more organic, natural, or chemical free than shooting your own meat in the woods. Fall is deer season here in Kentucky. Even before we moved to the country, DH made it a point to find areas he could hunt. We were eating fresh venison for years before we owned our own land.
Small Change #8: Grow a Garden
One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to obtain healthier foods is to start a little garden. It doesn't have to be fancy or huge. It could just be a few vegetable plants added to your landscaping or a few pots on the back porch.
I love, love, love my garden. There are few places I would rather be. I enjoy growing food and preserving it, too.
When you grow your own veggies and fruits, there is no question as to how it was grown, what was sprayed on it, when it was harvested, or how far it traveled to get to your plate. It's fresh, farm-to-table food at its finest.
Imagine how healthy your meals, baked goods, and even desserts would be if you only changed these four things:
• Fresh organic flour
• Honey or maple syrup instead of sugar
• Raw dairy
• Free-range eggs
You could eat chocolate muffins for breakfast and it would be healthier than just about any box of cereal.
A lot of work and expense goes into eating healthy. Although it is not an easy road, I think it's worth the sacrifice. Even just making a few changes can have a big impact on your health.
Start small, start today. You'll be glad you did.