Reducing the Complexity
Simplify: A term that means to reduce in complexity or difficulty. However, life is anything but uncomplicated. As individuals, we have certain responsibilities both in our personal and professional lives. We may have a business to run, a degree to complete, a trip to take, children to raise, or any combination of those or similar duties. As a result of the often chaotic nature of life, we look for simple ways to help us manage our time and resources in the most efficient ways possible. One way to “simplify” is by taking advantage of pre-packaged food items at the grocery store. Not only does this help reduce the preparation and cooking time of meals, but it also minimizes the element of meal planning. However, what we gain in time, we often lose in nutritional value and quality. The real question – are we really simplifying our lives by purchasing and consuming food items with a long list of complex ingredients? In other words, do we really know what’s in our food if we didn’t have a hand in its creation? The good news is there are very easy ways to simplify our meals and still keep up with a quick-paced lifestyle.
What is a processed food?
Processed foods are commercially prepared or manufactured items designed for easy consumption. Convenient? Yes. Healthy and nutritious? Not so much. Examples of such foods include deli meats, some baked goods, soda, potato chips, sugary cereals and breakfast items, canned fruit in heavy syrup, white flour products, some frozen foods (chicken nuggets for example), and foods with artificial ingredients, sugars, and preservatives. Typically, these types of foods are found at the center of a grocery store or market rather than the perimeter where produce and fresh food items are displayed. In general, processed foods contain higher levels of sodium, sugar, preservatives, or other unnatural ingredients. While these foods may be inexpensive and easy, they often run cheap on quality and nutritional value. As a result, we consume far less fiber, fewer vitamins, and more trans fats, sugar, and salt. If these types of foods comprise the majority of an individual’s diet, overall health and well-being can become compromised.
Is it possible to remain committed to the principle of simplicity without sacrificing time, money, or health? Simply stated – yes. This is not to say that it is possible or even realistic to cut out every processed ingredient in our lives. But is it reasonable to live and eat clean? Yes. The philosophical underpinning of eating and living clean should be to reduce the complexity of the ingredients we consume in an attempt to promote and achieve an optimal level of personal health, well-being, and nutrition. In essence –it is a lifestyle that embraces a balance of physical activity and unprocessed foods.
- Eat as close to the earth as possible. This means choosing “whole foods” over a version of a food. For example, select fresh or frozen fruit (without added sugar) over fruit juice cocktails or sweetened canned fruit. Choose lean proteins such as chicken breasts or lean fish rather than processed lunch meats or pre-seasoned or marinated meats.
- Go for the grain. When shopping for bread, pastas, or rice, choose complex carbohydrates that are rich in whole grains and high in fiber. To ensure the quality of the product, check the food label. The first ingredient should indicate “whole grain” or “whole wheat” – avoid products that say “enriched” or “bleached”.
- Less is more. Consider the number of ingredients you would need to make homemade breads, crackers, granola, or any other baked-goods such as a cake or pie. How many ingredients would you need? Less than 10? More than 50? The food label on any product provides an “x-ray” for the consumer to examine prior to buying the product. A food label that lists a significant number of ingredients for a relatively simple food should be questioned.
- Beware of Chemically Charged Foods. Building on the previous point of “less is more”, use the food label to your advantage and be cognizant of chemical ingredients like sodium nitrite, aspartame, or other “foreign” contents. Ask yourself, “would I need this to make this myself?” If the answer is no, move on to the next product.
- Hydrate: Hydration is always critical. Whenever possible, consume an adequate amount of water. The recommendation is 8 cups of water per day. Drinking water not only hydrates, but can stave off “psychological hunger” as well.
- Favor healthy fats. Fat is a necessary part of the diet; however, for fat to be a dietary benefit we must choose the right kinds of fats. Look for fats that are unsaturated such as avocados, nuts (walnuts, pistachios, and almonds), natural peanut butter, and olive oil.
- Move! The key to long-term healthy weight maintenance is physical activity. It is critical to prioritize daily movement. Being physically active does not necessarily mean it has to be done within the confines of a gym. Take advantage of walk breaks, outdoor activities, or classes. As long as you engage in an activity that you enjoy, the rate of success is much higher.
Eating and living clean doesn’t mean every product you purchase must be organic or that you must spend hours in the kitchen making every meal from scratch. Eating and living clean means reducing the complexity of what we consume on a daily basis to optimize personal well-being.
Here’s to living a better life – one that is cleaner and healthier.