Since I started living in the US, my search for quality food has become an obsession. When I began building healthy meal plans, I questioned where the ingredients should come from. Bit by bit, I started to uncover a very ugly truth. “Convenience food” in American supermarkets is loaded with harmful low-quality ingredients. These ingredients are preservatives that extend shelf life of the product. Reading The Food Babe Way was very eye-opening for me regarding the truth about packaged foods.
Good health begins with good ingredients!
Having a basic understanding of the difference between low- and high-quality ingredients is a great start towards better health. Cooking nutrient-dense meals at home from scratch is much healthier than buying “convenience food”. Just begin with quality, fresh ingredients.
What are quality ingredients?
Butter is a staple in French cuisine. When enjoying a French meal, the more butter the better! However, let’s get one thing straight: butter should come from grass-fed cows, not just organic. Organic just means that cows were fed organic corn which is not a part of their natural diet (grass). This also does not specify pasture-raised standards, and the cows are still kept in feed-lots. Kerrygold is the most famous grass-fed brand here in the US, and my personal favorite.
As with butter, I only use meat from cows that were grass-fed. Eating animals that were well treated and led happy lives pass their health and nutrition on to you. If you can find grass-finished meat, even better!
If I don’t know where the meat is sourced when dining out, I always choose a vegetarian dish. We don’t need to eat meat at every meal. The quality of meat is even more important to me than eating organic vegetables. If you enjoy eating organ meats, you can eat liver once per week while eating vegetarian meals the remainder of the week. By meal planning accordingly, your nutritional needs will still be met.
By now, you know which cows produce the healthiest milk! You got it: grass-fed.
I personally do not drink milk, and use very little of it in my cooking. I limit my use to a few traditional French recipes that call for it, mainly quiche. 2% fat or whole (4%) are great choices, but always avoid low-fat and fat-free. These varieties add sugar to improve flavor in the absence of fat.
If you have access to a local farm that sells fresh unpasteurized milk, this will be your best option. Unpasteurized dairy is full of vitamins and nutrients, just as nature provides it.
The most nutritious eggs come from happy chickens. Happy chickens are free to wander outdoors and eat their natural diet of grass, worms, and bugs. The eggs these chicken lay have much bigger and darker yolks than conventional eggs, and they are filled with nutrients. They even taste much better! This article contains detailed information about the different kinds of eggs you can find in supermarkets. The next time you buy eggs, you can make an informed decision.
I wrote a full blog post describing how to choose the best fish for your diet, and the planet. Vital Choice is one of the best online source for high-quality, wild-harvested seafood. Making an educated decision about what types of fish you buy will make a big impact on your health (and the planet).
Vegetables & Fruits
In a perfect world, vegetables would come from your own garden. However what is most important is to choose organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. This will reduce the amount of toxins in your body, ingested as a result of pesticides and herbicides used on conventional produce. Although choosing organic does not guarantee optimal soil quality, they’re still a much better option than the alternative.
If shopping on a budget, get familiar with the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists to find out which foods have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides.
Not all olive oils on the market are the same quality. First, seek a dark bottle (olive oil needs to be protected from exposure to sunlight) and choose unrefined extra-virgin olive oil for dressings, dips, and for finishing.
Light olive oil is a refined oil that has a neutral taste and a higher smoke point. Use light olive oil for baking, sauteing, grilling, and frying. Both extra-virgin and regular olive oil can be used in baking and cooking, just keep in mind their differing smoke points.
Other vegetable oils are not healthy fats. Corn, soybean, sesame, cottonseed, and canola oil are especially bad. Traditional diets never used these types of over-processed oils in the past. The only oils that your body will recognize are olive oil and coconut oil.
Flour, Bread, and Pastries
I love bread (I’m French!) but I will think twice before eating conventional wheat. Again, always choose organic. Conventional wheat is sprayed with glyphosate in the US, however it is not used in most countries in Europe. Here is where you can learn where Glyphosate is banned and why.
Following these guidelines will ensure you’ll get the most nutrition possible when preparing your meals. Your body will thank you!