|Photo by Johnny Martinez on Unsplash|
The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.
A friend sent me a chicken soup recipe that calls for 16 ingredients. Sixteen. Including ditalini pasta, whatever that is. (Okay, I Googled it. It's the pasta I've seen in macaroni salads.)
I have a small kitchen, which means I don't store ten shapes of pasta. I don't store six kinds of flour. I don't keep 25 herbs and spices, since I'd probably use the same eight or nine all the time while the others just got stale. I don't want to shop for a bunch of ingredients, and I don't want to fool with washing, prepping, and measuring all of them.
Simple food is healthier, cheaper, and easier.
Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, suggests that we shouldn't eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food. Well, my great-grandmother would have recognized fried frog legs, lard, and biscuits with sausage gravy, which might not be what Pollan has in mind! He's talking about real food, as close to natural, unmodified, and unprocessed as you can get. Organic seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, cheeses and yogurt, free-range eggs and meats, wild-caught fish.
That doesn't mean I never buy packaged food. Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, and frozen fruits and vegetables are all processed and packaged, but they're still real food.
Have you noticed how certain foods or nutrients get labeled "super" or "evil," and we dutifully change our eating habits to match? I remember when butter was declared unhealthy, and my mother switched to margarine. My grandmother predicted that someday margarine would be considered unhealthy. Of course she was right -- it's made with trans fats.
Highly processed foods are less nutritious than simple, unmodified foods.
But the food industry is skilled at promoting foods free of the "bad" ingredients or fortified with the "good" ones. For example:
- Craisins, dried cranberries marketed as a naturally fat- and cholesterol-free snack, contain lots of refined sugar and none of the iron, potassium, and other nutrients found in plain old raisins.
- Reduced-fat peanut butter, which saves all of 10 to 20 calories per serving over nut butter made solely from roasted peanuts, has added corn syrup, sugar, and hydrogenated oils.
- Oroweat Oat Nut Bread does contain oats and hazelnuts, but its primary ingredient is enriched wheat flour, a refined product which lacks the fiber and more than a dozen nutrients found in whole wheat.
Simple food won't break your budget.
A lot of it can be found in the produce section or in bulk bins. Besides, a lot of processed foods (especially snacks and beverages) are quite expensive. Organic dairy, eggs, and meats can be pricey, but eating smaller portions of those things is actually healthier for you, and it's easy to get a lot of your protein from plant sources.
Simple food can be raw.
Think of large salads made with all kinds of dark, leafy greens, diced cucumbers, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, thin slices of red onion, and shavings of Parmesan cheese, drizzled with a dressing made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Other non-cook options include hummus with celery and carrot sticks, half an avocado filled with fresh salsa, or cottage cheese topped with fresh, seasonal fruits and sprinkled with raw nuts.
Some simple food is quick and easy to cook, and some can cook slowly, without a lot of supervision.
I like old-fashioned rolled oats cooked with a diced apple or pear, or scrambled eggs on whole grain toast. Or pinto beans simmered in a slow cooker with diced onions and bell pepper, garlic and crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of cinnamon.
My favorite chicken soup recipe calls for some leftover chicken (originally roasted with garlic, black pepper, rosemary sprigs, and a lemon -- or I use part of a rotisserie chicken from the deli), chicken stock (or organic chicken broth), chopped onion, carrots, and celery, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Sometimes I add some diced red skin potatoes or a pinch of red pepper flakes. Healthy, easy, affordable -- and a lot fewer than 16 ingredients. My husband likes grilled or baked pork chops marinated in fresh lime juice, olive oil, and crushed garlic. Four ingredients and simply scrumptious.
And simple desserts? A juicy sweet tangelo. A bowl of picked-this-morning local strawberries topped with plain yogurt and a drizzle of honey. A couple of ripe apricots. A baked Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apple. Or a piece of extra-dark chocolate. Real delicious simple food.