by Tom Sims
Tom Sims searches the Valley for tips on eating healthy, buying healthy food, growing healthy food, and eating out healthy in the Valley, for this Healthy Eating in the Valley column. Feel free to share your suggestions of places and things to check out!
For some years now, I have been exploring the question: How do you eat for health in the Valley?
How do you do it when you have to find a common place to eat with people who have other needs, interests, or tastes? How about the changing demands of your physical condition, which require restrictions, additions, and special considerations and balances?
For over five years, I have been identifying random places and sources for healthy food in our Valley. We are a breadbasket for the world. We have so many varieties of fruits, vegetables, and animal products grown here that it should not be an issue.
Yet, it is.
Can we really eat for health given the obstacles?
I think we can.
At this time in 2009, I weighed almost 400 pounds. I would have been that heavy in a matter of months. I had high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol disease, gout, severe back pain, lethargy, esophagitis, GERD, a very high resting pulse, and most of all, obesity! I could lose 50 pounds with a diet, but it would stop there and then the weight would come back. I was exercising, but it took all my strength.
I tried to supplement my diet with important nutrients. I studied nutrition. I gave a lot of thought to food. I loved food. I still love food.
I was not making progress.
For a year, I had been considering bariatric surgery, a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. I finally decided to take the jump and had surgery on December 3, 2009. I chose to burn the bridges of the past and to open myself to the possibility that I would never enjoy eating again.
I valued life and my family. I wanted to be healthy for my grandchildren and for my ministry. I did not want to vegetate in unproductive living or die before I should.
I went for it. I kept studying the sorts of foods I needed to give me what I needed in my body. I experimented with recipes and places to eat. I decided to give up meat (which I think is what really cured my gout). I wrote about this in KRL and later, because of an iron deficiency, I added fish back into my diet. I am no longer a vegetarian, but a pescetarian.
I was cured of high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol disease, gout, severe back pain, lethargy, esophagitis, GERD, a very high resting pulse, and most of all, obesity! Some of the back pain has returned and a different sort of reflux is back due to a condition that is most likely unrelated to my surgery.
I do not have a specific gluten intolerance, but I have found I do better without many gluten products. I do not do well with much sugar. No one does.
Blast Pizza which is opening new locations, including one in the vastly improving food court at Fashion Faire Mall, is a place where, for one price, you can build your own personal pizza. They have all the veggies and, for an extra price, can even make the pizza on gluten-free bread. You choose each and every ingredient personally and there are multiple healthy choices. You can check up on their menus and ingredients online.
What do I do? Some of what I do was noted two years ago:
• Grow your own food in your own soil in a garden or a container.
• Buy from farmers at farmer’s markets, on the farm, or through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
• But at specialty grocery stores
• Be careful eating out, considering these tactics
• Share your meal.
• Read the appetizer menu and ask questions.
• Order à la carte
I still follow those guidelines, but allow me to go deeper.
First, I read labels, even the fine print. I look for certain things like sugar, carbohydrates, and even calories. I look at ingredients and I look for the order in which they are listed. I eat some processed foods, but they are way down my list of options.
I still go to Farmer’s markets and I talk to the vendors. I ask how they grow their foods and I ask for suggestions on how to prepare them. Recently, I focused on the one at Manchester, but they keep popping up. As Manchester goes through renovations and participates in the Better Blackstone project, it plans to continue offering this service to the community. Churches such at First Presbyterian downtown are getting in the act under the capable leadership of Mike Wells who worked in the food access arena with Fresno Metro Ministry for a number of years.
When I cannot get to the Farmer’s markets, I try to go to stores that buy local goods. When that does not work, I look in the organic section and the dried food bins.
The community garden movement continues to grow after I wrote about several such initiatives.
Eating out continues to be tough, but is getting easier. Restaurant food is often full of sugar and preservatives. It has a very high caloric content. They serve too much. There is always way too much bread on the table. Temptations are great.
So, I read menus like I am preparing for a final exam. I ask questions like the class nuisance. I explore options and combinations. If I cannot find à la carte items on the menu, I ask for them. I ask for favors. I reward favors with bigger tips. I share meals with my friends or my wife. We mix and match. We think creatively.
Eating out is tougher together, but it can also allow for more creativity. My wife is diabetic and avoids foods that will aggravate that. I am B12 deficient, prone to hypoglycemia, iron deficient, and generally conscious of getting the right vitamins and nutrients.
Here is a word: Stock up on what you need for breakfast. Sneak in vegetables with your eggs. Get at least a little of everything you need. It may not be available later. Have snacks on hand to supplement your needs. Eat a little between meals and eat small meals.
I must applaud unlikely places for accommodating us and our needs. McDonalds really will give you what you want: You can get an Egg McMuffin with no meat — or no bread. There are many combinations you can get and, if you are a regular, the staff will come to know your preferences.
Learn this phrase: Side Salad. It is a salad without frills. It is usually healthy and cheap. You will not get your proteins, but you could have a bag of nuts with you to put on it. Ask for a little oil on top and a lemon wedge. Make your own dressing right there.
At a Mexican restaurant, ask for a bowl of black beans or other whole beans. Ask if they are cooked in their own broth. They are protein rich and delicious. Stay away from refried beans if you are avoiding meat. They probably are made with lard. Cheese tamales are good (though fat and carb-rich). Cheese enchiladas work. I prefer a chili relleno.
I love Pho. Call ahead to the restaurant and ask if they can make vegetarian pho. About a third of them can do so. Pho always fills me, gives me a feeling of wellbeing, and supplies me with some important nutrients.
Spring rolls without meat are available at many Asian restaurants in the valley. They will, most often, contain rice vermicelli, thin rice wrappers, basil, mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and a small amount of sugar. They can come with or without shrimp. Shrimp is not all that wonderful for gout and is not really a fish. I generally avoid it.
I eat Italian food as a treat. I know that I am getting too many carbs, but I can eat a few cheese raviolis and take the rest home, major on the salad (which is very fresh and tasty at Luna’s) and just eat a tiny bit of their scrumptious bread.
We went to Sizzler today, with my grandson and mother in law for our anniversary. I got the salad bar. Frankly, they have all I need. I can get my vegetable and proteins. I do not have to get steak, chicken, or fried shrimp – but my dinner partners can. It is a great option. All I need is discretion and will power.
Frankly, the same is true at many buffets, although the options are somewhat fewer. They do, usually, have fish. I need as much of that as I can get. I also had the fish and chips today. I did not eat the chips (fries). I had some delicious salads I built myself. I cashed in some favors and good behavior for a taste of sweets. I had a great feast.
My mother in law only wanted a cup of chowder and the price was frightfully low. I would tell you, but I do not want everyone trying it. Oh, go ahead! It was about $2.50 or so.
My tips for a place like Sizzler are to release yourself from any sense of responsibility for gorging. Make your own salads with the dark greens, raw vegetables, light dressings, mushrooms, fruits, and other high value foods available. Discern and select on the basis of what you know to be nutritious. Avoid the fried and bready foods. Go easy on the deserts. Act like you are in a grocery store or your own pantry selecting what is best for your body.
Local food carts are really getting into the healthy foods program. I have written about them in the past. They are proliferating. I wrote about them in an article on CartHop and they are growing. Some are expanding into brick and mortar locations and some brick and mortar restaurants are taking it on the road.
It is a saga. The story grows and morphs and I am living it. It is a constant battle and the chief weapon is attention. We need to live gracious and relaxed lives, but we need to pay attention to our food. Food providers come and go. Advocates emerge and fade. I have written about some amazing food evangelists and providers. Some continue to serve the area; some have transitioned into other adventures. All have contributed.
The most important contributor and advocate is you. The market will ultimately provide what you demand. Demand it for yourself and demand it for those who are underserved in our communities. The healthier our people get, the healthier our communities and — the healthier our communities, the healthier we can become.
Still musing, exploring, and experimenting.