I mean that: if you're reluctant to change your diet, why?
I can think of several reasons why people resist.
- If you've been a heavy consumer of processed foods, you're probably so used to them that you actually prefer them to unprocessed foods.
High levels of salt, sugar, fat, and "flavor enhancers" have an addictive quality as well, particularly sugar. (I read once that some doctors in Britain consider sugar to be a drug, it's so addictive!) Moreover, humans evolved to like fats and sugars, substances that would help through times of scarcity. The food industry knows this and has the populace hooked on sugar, artificial flavors, and other undesirable ingredients. It's not an accident.
- People can be resistant to change
Change always involves a learning curve. In this case, change might mean learning to read labels--that's time-consuming--learning to cook differently (much cooking from scratch), learning to appreciate the taste of natural foods. It might mean giving up some of your favorite foods, like carbonated beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
- You may think you don't have the time to cook whole foods, or even the knowledge.
The entire idea might bring to mind endless hours of standing over a pot, boiling beans and cooking brown rice. (And that doesn't sound really appetizing, either, does it?)
- You may be concerned about the expense of using whole foods.
You see the price of organic vegetables and fruits compared to conventionally grown produce and wonder how you can afford it. You get sticker shock if you see the price of grass-fed beef. And so on.
Let's start with my first point. After a while of eating unprocessed foods, many processed foods will no longer be palatable. At a restaurant not so long ago, I opened a packet of crackers to have with my soup, took a bite or two, and felt a coating on the roof of my mouth. I checked the label, and sure enough, trans fats. My spouse and I have had several experiences where foods that we used to enjoy we can't even endure (had to throw out an entire package of smoked sausages while camping, they were so offensive!). Somewhere in the last few years I chanced upon--and I don't recall the circumstances--a Tater Tot, a beloved food in my youth. I almost had to spit it out, it tasted so like unnameable additives to me. And fast food? Haven't had any in years. My daughter has, and she nearly got sick, probably from the overload of sodium (if you've seen Supersize Me, you'll know what I'm talking about.)
So trust me, you will develop a preference for the good stuff. You'll do so even faster if you try your best to make your meals flavorful and appealing--which isn't that hard to do. You don't have to be a gourmet chef!
Change doesn't have to be hard
To take the second point, resistance to change: change can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. You'll probably want to ease into it, adding unprocessed foods and eliminating processed foods gradually. It's hard for some people to give up the familiarity of those labels and boxes they've reached for for years. But do try to decrease your intake of processed food and look for alternatives to the packaged stuff you've always counted on.
As for reading labels, after you've done it a few times, you pretty much know what to avoid unless you're using a particular product for the first time. In fact, there will be whole areas of the supermarket that you ignore, knowing what horrors are on the shelves! it's quite freeing to breeze past displays and acres of shelves devoted to instant meals and junk food knowing you don't have any choices there anyway.
Thinking you can't give up your junk food? Try replacing it with healthier choices. We like to buy sunflower seeds--not Planter's, which have additives and sugar added, but the supermarket brand our store offers; the only ingredients are seeds, oil, and salt. Tree nuts or peanuts are good choices, too. We also make granola and snack on that. Dried fruits that haven't had a lot of sugar added can be all right, but I find many of them (even unsweetened) too sweet for my taste. As for baked goods ... unless you know of a bakery that doesn't use mystery ingredients, you might have to make your own. Whole-grain crackers are also a good choice, provided they don't have lots of additives. And of course fresh fruit or cut-up raw veggies are excellent choices. Sure, everyone gets a craving for some junk food or other once in a while--even I want potato chips now and then. It's wise not to make a habit of it, is all I'm saying.
Cooking whole foods
Worried about the time it might take, or how to actually cook whole foods when you've been used to microwaving, using "convenience" foods, and getting take-out? I have another whole page just on cooking tips alone. There are many ways to handle the time dilemma, so check out my page. I cooked mostly whole foods even when I worked and had kids at home, so you can do it, too.
Whole foods can be affordable
There's a perception out there that whole foods are unaffordable for many people. Unfortunately, for very low-income people, that's probably true (whole foods are often inaccessible to them as well, as in urban centers). But if you're reading this, you can most likely afford whole foods. It's all about buying what you need, buying less but better food, and planning.
Why do I say "less food"? Well, most Americans buy more food than they need, on a calorie basis. I'm all for having a well-stocked fridge, freezer, and pantry--in case of disaster, I want to be able to eat for a couple of weeks--but Americans tend to buy a lot of high-calorie, low-nutrient "food." Take a look at your cash register receipt and note what's on there. If you're buying pop, snack foods, "juice" drinks, bottled water, Twinkies, "convenience" foods, frozen pizza, etc.--well, that adds up. That's money that could be spent on real food.
If organic produce is too expensive for your budget, buy conventionally grown produce, but do buy fresh vegetables when you can. In the summer, you might be able to grow your own, depending on space available for cultivation. Avoid buying out-of-season items, like strawberries in January or asparagus in December. Frozen vegetables and fruits without added sugar, preservatives, sauces, etc. are also acceptable, and may even have more nutrients than the veggies in your supermarket's produce section, as fresh veggies lose their nutrients quite rapidly.
Our supermarket sometimes runs "10 for $10" sales, both in the frozen section and for groceries on the shelves. Take advantage of these if you have freezer and/or pantry space (keeping in mind the ingredients, of course). If you can, buy a chest freezer; you can take advantage of sales that way, for both meat and frozen goods, not to mention having space to store your own home-cooked meals for weeks. Having cooked food, such as soups, spaghetti sauce, casseroles, etc., in the freezer makes it simple to prepare a quick meal without relying on packaged foods, fast food, or take-out.
Don't ignore "manager's specials" on items nearing their sell-by date. Take advantage of the special and plan to use it right away.
Right now we have the second of two 18-pound bags of Texas Ruby Red grapefruit in our fridge, which we got for $5 or $6. There are only two of us, but the grapefruit keep well. I juice some of them, sometimes with juice oranges bought on sale, and the rest we eat on many happy mornings, being big fans of them. This is the sort of thing to keep an eye out for. I don't think they're organic, but they're good eating and they're whole food.
What about meat, poultry, and fish? There's no denying that buying free-range meat and poultry and wild-caught fish is much more expensive. But here's the thing: Americans don't need to eat as much of these things as we do. Meat, poultry, or fish two or three times a week is not a hardship. With meat and poultry, boneless will cost more (but there's no waste), and specific cuts, like chicken breasts, will cost more per pound than a whole chicken. Bones have a use, though, one that's often forgotten in modern life: they are great for making homemade broths and contain gelatin, which can be enormously helpful to human health.
Eggs I won't compromise on; I just won't eat the run-of-the-mill eggs any more. They have a combined metallic and fishy taste to me. We buy organic free-range eggs and pay the price. Eggs are still a good bargain, though, when you consider the protein and various vitamins and minerals in such a small package.
Dried beans provide a lot of protein for a small price. They are used the world over, cooked in an infinite number of ways, paired with grains or small bits of fish or meat, made into soups, stews, fritters, and skillet dishes. In my page on cooking, I'll have more to say about them and how they don't have to be time-consuming to cook. If you can get canned beans without added sugar and other stuff, they're okay, too, although not as tasty as dried beans you cook yourself.
Don't you deserve to eat what's good for you, instead of what depletes your health and energy? With some meal planning and maybe a cookbook or two in hand, most of us can, indeed, afford whole foods.