April 2, 2012

What's Healthy, Anyway?

It's not always spelt muffins, home-grown veggies, and green smoothies at our house. We know how to cut loose and enjoy the finer things in life, too. See? Meet the Great Northern ale, made by the brewers at the Draught House in Austin. Ryan was a huge fan—normally, I shy away from hoppier beers. That sunny afternoon, I enjoyed a pint of Alteration from Hops & Grain.

There are things in life, like finely-crafted beers, that are always worth it. But how do you keep the way you eat in check?
Part of having a sustainable diet is making provisions for things you really enjoy. We both love beer, chocolate, cheese, and salsa; all of which we enjoy in moderation. (Except the salsa, which we can both eat buckets of in a single sitting. It's ridiculous. At our favorite Tex-Mex place nearby, the waitstaff know to bring two bowls to the table.)

Many times, people ask me how I do it, how I deprive myself of certain things (meat, Cheetos, eating out during lunch, etc.). But the secret is, I truly don't feel deprived of anything. Instead, I feel grateful that I am able to eat the things I want to eat, knowing they're good for me (9 times of 10). And despite the occasional veggie burger and fries or cheesy plate of enchiladas, I feel like my overall diet—as in the way I eat, not a means of losing weight—is healthy. 

Ryan and I both try to encourage people we know to eat more sustainably, which to me, translates to healthy. It's easy in a place like Austin, where grocery stores are packed with organics and minimally processed foods, and restaurants offer a bevy of options, many of which are locally sourced and seasonal. Even our favorite beer hangouts boast sustainably crafted ales and locally made cheese plates!

We stay healthy by eating wholesome, clean foods. Nothing processed makes its way into our home, and we think twice before eating out.  

But in smaller towns, that kind of selection is not the norm. It's often a choice between two chain restaurants that serve many processed items, or going to the grocery store that's devoid of organic choices and offers minimal whole grain options. 

In that kind of situation, what is best? How do you eat sustainably and healthfully if your options are so dismal?

Here is what we encourage our family in small towns to try to do; in fact, these are the same rules we follow when traveling:

• Follow the sage advice from Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." 

• Purchase organics, shop at the farmers' market, or grow your own vegetables whenever possible. 

• Eat only free-range, grass-fed beef and cage-free chicken, and sustainably raised/harvested pork, fish, and other meats. Choosing meat wisely is especially important.

• In the absence of an organic option, be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly; try a vinegar spray to knock out any lingering yucky stuff.

• When eating out, choose a mom-and-pop restaurant over a chain. Try to order real food, not processed food.

• It's ok to cave once in a while. Let yourself off the hook and understand that, despite your best efforts, eating whole and sustainable foods is not always possible day in, day out.

What does healthy mean to you?