Over the years, my family have been on quite the food journey, to get to a place where we can embrace our own version of real food (what works best for us). To me, real food is less processed, less nasty chemicals, more nutrient dense, AND whatever foods you can happily digest and nourish yourself with.
To get to that food philosophy has seen quite the variety of dishes being served up at our dinner table (or let’s be realistic, on our laps in the loungeroom!)
Let us start at the beginning of what has influenced this journey. My grandma was from an era where you baked from scratch, preserved the harvest, and made the most of every bit of ‘real food’. My parents had both grown up in the country, where many people grew and raised some of their own food, and at one point we lived on a farm.
During my childhood, I ate the Standard Australian Diet (SAD) for most of my life, with a balance of home cooked favourites, vegemite sandwiches in my lunch box, and treats reserved for special occasions and parties.
Whilst I am grateful for the consistency I was raised with (and the great quality, fresh food we have in Australia), I grew to love variety, and exploring all the possibilities that you can expose your tastebuds to. I discovered textures and flavours, but I also discovered how food can be medicine… and when it isn’t.
FOODIES & FOOD FADS
Oh, I still remember the first time I had pesto as a teenager at a friends party, whose parents were ‘foodies’. I was so hooked on pesto, one year I remember making the most of the overgrown basil in my parents backyard, making jars & jars of pesto to take back to uni.
I remember eating spicy Thai with my Mum, when the first Thai restaurant opened up in our town, with its plastic tables and delicious aromas!
When I was travelling overseas, I loved eating exotic food, like nasi goreng and chicken satay in Bali; fetta, tomato, cucumber and olives for breakfast in Turkey; ridiculously large rounds of cheese in Europe; Stilton and Broccoli pasties or Chip Butty in London on my way home from night duty; exotic game meat carved off large kebabs in Africa; ceviche of unknown seafood in a tiny town on the Guatemalan Caribbean coast; a weird mixed grill in Nicuragua (from which I ended up very sick); amazing Cajun and Creole food in the Deep South, and SO many more food memories.
All these amazing experiences for my taste buds, but I was always glad to come home to my Mums rissoles, mash and gravy.
In my early adult life I became influenced by diet fads, like low sugar, and low fat, which I thought was ‘healthy eating’. I bought low fat dairy. I substituted cream with Light & Creamy. I watched Oprahs chef make lean mince burgers juicier by adding in grilled veges. I bought Teflon pans, and used a splash of low-salt stock, instead of oil or butter.
I remember imploring my Mum to switch to low fat dairy and margarine, which I now look back at with embarrassment and a touch of hilarity at my own holier than though attitude.
Before my husband and I had children, I started meal planning, and cooked something different every night. We rarely repeated an exact meal, I was too busy flicking through cooking magazines and cook books, choosing different dishes to try, or coming up with my own recipes! Sadly once we had a baby, there were a lot of packets of rice or pasta meals, with cooked chicken added in, especially during periods of baby-no-sleeping!
FOOD CHALLENGES & CHANGES
In 2008, my husband and I became more aware of issues within the food industry, and also the influence it was having on the environment, so we incorporated ethicurean/ eco-eating, as well as other lifestyle changes we were making, and our big foray into Urban Homesteading.
Over the next few years, we undertook a few food awareness challenges, like a Fair Trade Chocolate Month, and an Eat Less Meat challenges (yes, there was a lot of tofu and legumes being consumed!) As part of our ‘survironmentalism’ phase, there were various attempts at supporting resilient food sources by being locavores, including trying to source and eat SOLE food (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical) in 2011.
In amongst this, besides my husband needing gluten free food (he has Coeliac Disease) we also found that my son required a cows milk dairy free diet for health issues. We went through a period of having no dairy at all, which was challenging, but then found his symptoms did not return when eating goats milk and goats milk dairy products. Yay! So even though we were trying to support local/ Aussie made food, we found ourselves buying a brand of hard goats cheese that came from the Netherlands! (He now tolerates cows milk dairy).
In 2012 we undertook another challenge which was life changing, really, and which I titled The Year of Eating Nutritiously. Through some blogs that I was reading at the time, I had discovered Nourishing Traditions, and wanted to transition to eating ‘real food’. Whilst I never got into the Nourishing Traditions book (a bit cumbersome) or recipes, I really liked Real Food: What to Eat & Why by Nina Planck. It made sense, in terms of better health for us, better for the producers and farmers, better for the livestock, and better for the planet. Eating real food is about more than how it tastes and makes you feel.
THE (BUMPY) ROAD TO REAL FOOD
So in 2012, gathering more information and research, we made a lot of changes to what we ate, including:
- swapping to full fat dairy (including eating butter, instead of toxic margarine. I shudder when I think about how I fed my kids a soy based margarine for a number of years thinking it was better for them!)
- eating grass fed meats (including the fats/ lard, cooking on the bone, trying to include more offal)
- making my own stock/ bone broth (for which I bought a pressure canner to be able to bottle it & store in the pantry)
- making and eating fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, dilly cucumbers, kefir, kombucha)
- eating more organic and seasonal produce, along with the home grown produce we were already growing
- eliminated soy products (except fermented soy like tamari) – so many gluten free products have soy flour in them!
- started using coconut oil (I am one of those crazy coconut oil people), and other healthy fats, like macadamia oil & olive oil
- started using nutrition-dense salts, like Himalayan rock salt
- reduced refined sugars, started using honey instead of sugar, experimented with more ‘natural’ sweeteners
- reduced processed/ convenience foods
- stopped heating in plastic, continued without using glad wrap or foil, or using any non-stick cookware or appliance
We also switched to drinking filtered rainwater (instead of tap water) and we now have a fluoride and chlorine removing filter in our Southern Cross Pottery water filter, which we filter tap water through.
We also became part of a local Herdshare and were receiving about 10 litres of raw milk a week. Although for some, raw milk can apparently be tolerated better than processed milk, my son and I couldn’t drink the raw milk without GI consequences (so we continued with goats milk).
My daughter didn’t really drink it either, as I was concerned when the milk started coming in dirty buckets, pickle jars and other weird containers! So my husband was the only one drinking it, but in the end, the volume of raw milk and the unsuitable arrangements meant that he ended his share.
Other aspects of ‘nourishing traditions’ that I found difficult to incorporate including soaking or activating grains and nuts. I did do it on occasion, but found it too time consuming.
After doing a lot of lacto-fermenting (using Pickl-It jars), I also stopped making and eating/ drinking it so much in the last year. For a long time I nurtured kefir grains and grew kombucha scobys, and watched bubbles form in salsa or dilly pickles. I like the taste of the fermented foods, but just didn’t feel I was getting any amazing gut health from it (which is probably because I was so messed up by FODMAPs at the time, but didn’t know it). I know lots of people love fermenting, it is a big part of many cultures.
Another part of Nourishing Traditions is to eat more offal, which we did not really get into, though I do like pate on toast, or on crackers, I never got around to making it. Although I was exposed to offal in my childhood, like Lambs Fry & Bacon (liver) and Steak & Kidney Pie, it is something we just didn’t end up incorporating.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS ANCIENT – THE VILLAGERS FACE OFF AGAINST THE CAVEMEN
So, did our adaptation to ‘real food’ as traditionally eaten by many cultures and peoples around the world, make us miraculously healthy and happy? No. But then, maybe we had not been strict enough with it, or maybe I needed to be chugging daily mugs of bone broth and lacto-fermenting every mouthful I ate? It works for many people, we just needed to make out own adjustments.
In late 2014, in an attempt to improve some chronic health issues (and hopefully shift some weight), I decided to try going Paleo. Several friends had success doing it, and it wasn’t a huge transition after all my years of giving up certain foods, and embracing alternatives. Then a month later I went all out with a 30 day Whole 30, convinced that I too would achieve tiger blood elation. I went fully gluten, legume and grain free (including avoiding rice and rice noodles). I swapped dairy for coconut milk, and ate more nuts, eggs and sweet potatoes than I ever had. I really focused on grass-fed/ pastured meats, and ate lots of fats and less carbs.
I ate vegetables, bacon and eggs for breakfast most mornings, and lettuce wraps for lunch. I sourced sweet potato noodles, a special Thai fish sauce, and bought several cookbooks, including the Nom Nom Paleo cookbook (which does have some good, no fuss recipes in it that I still use). I didn’t drink alcohol, and had chai tea with coconut milk (and various forms of Bulletproof coffee). Sugars, including fruit sugars, more natural sweeteners and hidden sugars (like in bacon) were out. As were making treats that resembled your usual comfort foods, even if the ingredients fit within the guidelines.
The rules were so strict, but there is a lot of support and recipes to stick with it, and not slip up or give in to temptation (or you have to start your month again), like those who realised that their bacon/ fish sauce/ tea ingredients were not on the ‘approved’ list. Or those who couldn’t resist the temptation of hot, crunchy, organic potato chips, cooked in coconut oil, and served with the tears of mermaids.
Whilst I did the whole month with only a couple of cups of tea with a dash of milk (towards the end of my 30 days), my chronic sinus, skin and GI health issues were no better. I had no improvement in symptoms, or any sudden bursts of energy or ‘tiger blood’. I didn’t lose weight. I felt worse. OK, it was only 30 days, so maybe sticking with it for longer might have helped, but the thing that stopped me was… my psoriasis came back, after years of not having it!
Looking back, I think the sudden increase in nuts and eggs possibly caused this. Instead of rushing in to doing the Whole30, a bit more research and thinking about my own health history, and I would have known that the Auto Immune Protocol may have been what I should have followed.
What can make one person feel awesome, full or energy and be glowing from the inside out, can make another person sound, look and feel like a bloated whale with a hangover. What I learnt is that everyones ideal eating habits to optimally nourish their bodies is UNIQUE…
LOW FODMAP, GLUTEN FREE, REAL FOOD
Eventually in early 2015, after a diagnosis with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (I had actually been suffering from IBS for many years) and recommendations by my gastroenterologist and dietician, I have found positive results by following a Low FODMAP way of eating. It had always seemed confusing, and when a colleague told me she couldn’t eat garlic whilst following it, I thought there is no way I could ever do that!
But it turns out, it has made such a difference, that the sacrifices and challenges were worth it. Plus the Monash University have an app, that makes it very easy to get started with making changes, and I use it when doing the shopping or eating out.
We started on the Low FODMAP diet by substituting lactose-free dairy, which made a huge difference immediately. My husband really noticed the changes, which is funny, after all the time he insisted on drinking litres and litres of raw milk! There are many products available with the lactase enzyme added, or you can even buy little lactase tablets that you can take prior to consuming lactose.
So many foods that I love (garlic, Spanish onion, mango, watermelon, stonefruit, apples, honey, sweet corn, avocado, asparagus, beetroot, cashews, sugar snap peas, peas) were all out, or some are only suitable in very small amounts (sweet potato, hommus, cabbage, celery).
Ironic that so many things I started eating more of during previous ‘diets’, because they are ‘healthier alternatives’, turned out to be the cause of much of my misery, like honey, oh, how I loved my honey. I also ate a lot of apples.
But the Low FODMAP diet does not mean you have to give up your favourites forever. After you have done a full elimination diet, you can trial reintroducing some categories of foods carefully, and see how you do with them.
I have not done this, as I have not so far found the time to be super strict, rather having enough success with generally reducing all the ‘no-go’ foods, knowing occasionally I will eat garlic or onion whilst out to dinner, or won’t be able to resist the odd tango with guacamole, or short love affair with a big juicy mango. I just do the best I can most of the time.
I have also found ways to substitute my beloved foods, like using Cobram Estate Garlic Infused Olive Oil (they also do a great Roasted Onion Infused Olive Oil), which goes into everything from casseroles to pesto to marinades to salad dressings, anywhere I would have normally used garlic. Or only using High FODMAP foods for things my kids or husband eats, like using apples or stone fruits in their fruit leathers, or his breakfast cereal.
Recently in late 2015, my 10 year old daughter was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease like my husband (he was diagnosed when he was 5 years old) though she had no GI issues like he has with gluten, but fatigue was her big symptom. We are now a gluten free household, though occasionally I will eat gluten (like that delicious sourdough bread I couldn’t resist) and our son has gluten when on sleepovers, or from school canteen.
Despite the positive results from finally going Low FODMAP in mid 2015, in the last 12 months, we unfortunately went backwards with our eating habits, with convenience and comfort foods taking over as I faced stressful work situations. Now since April 2016 when I quit my job and I am working from home, we have settled into a situation where we can once again embrace real food, make so much more from scratch, and using organic ingredients, with my husband and I sticking to a Gluten Free Low FODMAP ‘real food’ diet as much as possible. I am realistic that sometimes toasted sourdough with salted butter and honey does happen. Or pizza, chocolate freckles and chips for a party. And, shock horror, a lettuce burger from Maccas whilst on the road isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Real food is less processed, less nasty chemicals, more nutrient dense & what you can digest.
WHAT IS ‘REAL’ FOOD?
Instead of telling you why so much of the modern food industry isn’t good for us (or the livestock, or the planet), or getting into the soy controversy, or phytic acid debate, I will tell you what we DO aim to eat. Most of the time. (Not being stressed or neurotic about it is a new mantra of mine. If I buy a packet of gluten free biscuits, I’m not losing sleep over that).
- lots of vegetables, fruit & herbs (organic, where possible – we grow a supplemental amount of chemical-free vegetables, fruit and herbs, and raise a supplemental amount of eggs and honey. We do not produce enough of anything to completely feed our family year round)
- carbs from white rice, gluten free pasta, potatoes & sweet potatoes, gluten free flours (kids have legumes sometimes)
- free range eggs (’cause chickens ain’t got time for that cage business)
- pastured/ grass fed beef and lamb, free range pork and chicken (I like to cook with the bone and the fat, to retain the flavour, plus I still make my own stock/ bone broth, and lard)
- some seafood (sustainably sourced, where possible)
- plenty of healthy oils, cooking/ baking with butter, coconut oil, macadamia oil, lard, and some EV olive oil in salad dressings
- full fat, organic, pasture-raised dairy (cheese, butter, cream, thanks cows)
- gluten free foods, cereals & flours (tapioca, rice flour, corn or maize flour, cacao powder, vanilla powder, puffed cereal, cereal flakes)
- less sweeteners, using those suitable for Low FODMAP (cane sugar, maple syrup) but trying to get less refined or organic types
I think good food is about more than just the components or ingredients of what is on the plate in front of me. I also think about the way my dinner was grown, raised, produced, processed, stored, distributed, cooked, enjoyed, or shared. I even contemplate how it will be handled when it has crossed the inevitable line to become waste or compost. I prefer to use cooking and storage methods, and equipment, with less toxins too (and am working on finding an alternative to baking paper/ muffin papers etc).
Good food is about more than just the ingredients of what is on the plate in front of me.
WHERE WE BUY OUR REAL FOOD & GROCERIES
- weekly deliveries of organic produce, dairy, some groceries from Doorstep Organics
- weekly deliveries of meat, smokehouse/ deli items, and eggs from Jordos Chop Shop
- approx. monthly deliveries of bulk baking goods, coconut oil, gluten free, some groceries from Honest to Goodness, Santos Organics or Our Organics & Gluten Free
- sometimes shop at the local farmers outlet store, Choku Bai Jo, and occasionally from farmers markets
- miscellaneous stuff from mainstream supermarkets/ independent mini-markets
We try to be mindful of buying sustainable, fair-trade/ ethically sourced food, but sometimes there is a decision to make, as to whether you purchase produce or items which are produced close to you and would have less transport/ distribution impact OR a product you want to buy is produced further away, in a different state or country, but is grown or produced under more sustainable situation, and/or organically. Argh! Sometimes you just want to eat some damned food, not quarrel with your conscience about it whilst your imported toasted pine nuts go cold on your homemade pesto, served on Italian gluten free pasta.
On that note, I do buy products grown overseas when there is no reasonable Aussie grown alternative, when I feel the ingredients are beneficial or necessary for our gluten-free requirements, and I look for fair trade/ more sustainable options. I occasionally get the pine nuts because I think that is better than treating myself with French make up, or Belgium chocolate, or a box of Krispy Kreme.
read more of our adventures and stories
Did you ever imagine you would become a backyard beekeeper? Me neither! Yet here I am, donning the whites and smoking it up all in the name of apiarism…
Chickens give you eggs, give you poo, and eat your kitchen scraps, maybe even eat pests from your garden (& hopefully not your seedlings!) They are entertaining, and educational for us all…
Growing up with edible gardens, to going green, to preparing for zombies, to just eating real food! What an adventure…