[This is the third post in a long series. You may wish to start at the beginning. Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week. Just that I will eventually finish it, someday. Unless I get hit by a bus.]
So, if I don’t buy into any of the nutritional tribes I talked about last time, what is my personal food philosophy? What is my diet? (And remember: “diet” means the food that you eat all the time, not a temporary menu change for losing weight.)
Well, until about a year ago, I didn’t really have one. I had managed to cut sodas out completely, almost by accident,1 and I’d radically reduced my McDonald’s consumption,2 but not eliminated it completely. My beer intake had declined to the point of near-non-existence. As a family, we were eating more organic foods and cutting out a lot of the pre-processed meals. But there was no real guiding principle behind any of it. Until one day, The Mother said, “let’s do Whole30.”
Now, Whole30 is a form of paleo, and I’ve already given you my views on the paleo tribe. So, on the one hand, I wasn’t completely on board. But, on the other, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right, and, if The Mother is going to do something, it’s just easier to say I’m going to do it too. So I started looking into it. And it definitely has some upsides.
I’m not going to try to convince you do the Whole30 yourself—that’s above and beyond the scope of this series—but I’ll just give you a couple of reasons why I found it helpful. Basically, the program involves cutting vast swaths of food types out of your diet, but only for 30 days: after that, you add them back in, slowly, preferably one at a time. This allows your taste buds to “reset,” first of all. If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, everything you eat is too salty and too sweet. When you cut out all that stuff, everything tastes remarkably bland for about a week or so. Then everything tastes fine again. Then, when your 30 days is done, you’ll find that you can’t really go back to the same crap you were eating before, because it now tastes awful. This is a good thing.
Your digestive system will reset as well. There’s a decent number of things your body is simply tolerating right now. Give your body (and in particular your gut) a chance to live without the constant bombardment of that stuff for a while, then, when you try to go back, your body will happily tell you just when to slow down. You can listen to your body and trust it to know when things are bad for you ... but only after you recalibrate it to real food.
There’s also some stuff in the Whole30 program about not replacing things. For instance, if pizza is your downfall, don’t just start making pizza with almond flour instead. Almond flour is perfectly fine on the Whole30 plan. But the point is to break your bad habits, and almond flour pizza or almond milk ice cream or sweet potato chips is not helping you do that.
But, as I say, my goal is not to convince you to try the Whole30 program. Rather, I’d like to talk about what you can and can’t eat during that 30 day period and how I’ve modified that to suit my own needs.
So, the first thing to say is that when you look at what Whole30 wants you to cut out, it seems impossible. In fact, it is technically impossible, unless you never eat out. It’s just completely impractical to try to quiz your waiters to that level of detail about what’s in the food they’re serving you.3 But that’s okay. Even if you’re only hitting 95% of your goals, you’re achieving a massive improvement in your diet.
Now let’s look at each category of things that they want you to cut out and see if we agree with where they’re coming from:
No added sugar of any kind. This the big one. It’s huge, in fact. There are very few things you can buy at your grocery store that don’t contain any added sweeteners, even if you’re shopping at Whole Foods. And companies have gotten insanely good at finding new names for sugar. “Evaporated cane juice” is one of my favorites—it’s even more ridiculous than referring to water as “hydrogen dioxide.” How do you think they make sugar, anyway? But the main point here is that you’re not just cutting out high fructose corn syrup, which I think most people already agree is pretty terrible for you, but even the healthier versions: your honeys, your molasseses, your raw organic cane sugars. I agree with this one, for the most part. I was willing to give them all up for 30 days, and I’m still pretty selective in how much I allow currently. Get used to food without all the extra sugar first, then you’ll be better able to keep your total amounts down. In the salads that I’m going to show you, the amount of sugar or other sweeteners will be remarkably small (and zero for some of them).
No grains. This is one is pretty damn big too. Mainly because corn is a grain, and corn is also in just about everything you buy at the grocery store. (This probably has something to do with the nearly 7 billion dollars per year in corn subsidies.) This not about removing gluten from your diet;4 this is about all grains. Whole30, being paleo, will tell you this is because primitive man never cultivated grains. I say that’s a silly reason. Better to focus on the fact that grains are nearly pure carbs, which are not only bad from the paleo standpoint, but even worse from the Atkins standpoint. And the first thing your doctor will tell you cut down if you start developing diabetes. My family has a fair amount of that in its history, so cutting out grains was a no-brainer for me. Hard as hell, of course, but I couldn’t really argue with it. There will be no grains of any kind in any of our salads.5
No legumes. This is one of those things that doesn’t seem so bad at first. No beans: well, I like beans, but I can live without them. They’re pretty damn starchy, so I can’t really argue with the nutritional advantage. No peanuts: now it’s starting to sting. Peanut butter is one of the healthiest things I used to eat, really. Shame to lose that. But it turns out that cashew butter is pretty damn awesome, especially if you mix a little almond butter in it. So I’m okay there. But here’s the one you forgot was a legume: soybeans. And soybeans are in just about everything in your grocery store that doesn’t have corn in it (and most things that do, as well).6 And the problem with soybeans is, first of all, the same as it is with corn: we just plain eat too much of it. Even when something isn’t bad for you, eating massive quantities of the same thing is probably bad for you. But, worse, soybeans (along with corn) are one of corporations’ favorite things to genetically modify, if you believe that that sort of thing is bad, plus there are new studies suggesting that the compounds in soy that mimic estrogen are pretty awful for us too. So I’m down with cutting out soybean oil, as really really difficult as that may be. None of the salads I present in this series will contain any legumes at all.
No dairy. And here we hit the first place I disagree with Whole30 completely. I actually don’t drink milk any more because I’ve become fairly lactose intolerant as I’ve gotten older. But who can live without cheese? I would miss sour cream as well, though I could live without it, but there’s also yogurt. Assuming you’re managing to find yogurt which has not been infested with high fructose corn syrup (a difficult proposition, granted), that’s a pretty healthy product right there. Also excellent in helping keep your digestive tract on ... well, track. As I said last time, I’m unwilling to give up dairy just because cavemen hadn’t gotten around to domesticating cows yet. So there will be cheese7 in some of these salads. But often that will be easy to omit if you don’t agree with me on this one.
No alcohol. Twaddle. First of all, new studies show that alcohol in moderation can actually help reduce your risk of a heart attack. But for me it’s not really about drinking. It’s practically impossible to go out to eat without encountering some sort of sauce containing wine—especially if the restaurant is Italian. Hell, even most dijon mustard has wine in it.8 Now, I still respect the restriction on grains, which means no beer (or not very often anyway). Also no whiskey or derivatives, and no rum (’cause, you know: sugar). But vodka and tequila and gin are okay ... and wine. Still, there will only be alcohol in any of our salads if your particular brand of dijon has wine in it.
No fries or chips. Originally this rule was no potatoes. But then they realized that it meant people were avoiding relatively healthy things like potato leek soup and aloo gobi and just eating sweet potato chips and sweet potato fries instead.9 Not ideal. I mostly respect this—I’ve cut potato chips down to no more than once a week, and fries to even less than that. But there won’t be any chips or fries (or potatoes, for that matter) in our salads.
No carageenan, MSG, or sulfites. Well, first of all, there are natural sulfites in wine, and also balsamic vinegar. But those are not the sulfites that Whole30 is attempting to ban.10 It’s the sulfites used as preservatives. In fact, this whole rule is about avoiding food additives, as far as I’m concerned. There’s lots of debates about this sort of thing, and “additives are bad” is a bit like “drugs are bad” (which is to say, lumping all of them together is pretty silly). Nonetheless, simpler is better in my opinion, so additives in our salads will be few to none.
So that’s what I got out of the Whole30 plan in terms of nutritional goals for myself, and my salads. My nutritional philosophy isn’t really Whole30, or even paleo at all. Or any other tribe. It doesn’t have a name, and I don’t feel compelled to give it one. I don’t follow it slavishly, and you needn’t follow it all, if you have your own ideas. Or you can feel free to follow it partially: adopt some of my salads and reject others. Personally, I’m pretty happy with this level of selectivity: it cuts out a lot of things which are most likely bad for me, but completely eliminates hardly anything. I tend to believe in “everything in moderation,” but moderation can mean pretty small amounts of some things, and pretty hefty amounts of others. Preferably all-natural organic others.
And at least now you know where I’m coming from.
Next time, we’ll go shopping.
1 Which is an amusing story in itself, but too long to go into here.
2 Thank you, Morgan Spurlock.
3 And likely they wouldn’t admit to every last ingredient anyway.
4 Although I’ve tried avoiding gluten as well, even after reintroducing grains into my diet. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me personally, but it does for The Mother. So that’s something you’ll have to experiment with yourself.
5 Okay, technically speaking, the shredded cheese I use for one salad has corn starch in it to prevent caking. But I’m willing to allow that much.
6 If you need more sources than just me to tell you that nearly everything you buy in your grocery store contains either corn or soy or both, I’m happy to oblige. But just go read labels. It won’t take you long to figure out this is correct.
7 And other dairy as well. But mostly cheese.
8 Not all, admittedly.
9 I know I was.
10 They already banned wine with the “no alcohol” rule and vinegar is an explicitly listed exception to the rules.