Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Families choosing only fresh, natural, 'real food' boast improved health, well-being

Published February 21, 2012 in the Commercial Appeal

As access to fresh, seasonal foods expands, many, including some Memphians, are taking a new approach to mealtime and grocery shopping that benefits not only their families, but the community as well.

Ditching processed, packaged and refined foods, they are seeking to put only wholesome, natural foods, dairy and whole grains prepared from scratch -- real food -- on their tables.

Many families are participating in movements with names like "100 Days of Real Food" or "The Real Food Challenge" to reinvent mealtime in a more healthful and Earth-friendly manner. Others take a less formal approach.

Miriam Wrye lives in East Memphis and is a stay-at-home mom to three young children.

"Meal planning and grocery shopping are two of my main 'jobs,' " she says.

She tries to buy as much whole food as possible because it has the most nutrients, and she believes it's best for her family's health.

"Raw fruits and veggies are the best, but even cooking these from their fresh state is better than getting them canned or packaged," Wrye says.

Wrye tries to put something fresh and green on the table every evening, like leafy greens or raw vegetables.

"I am learning to shop only the perimeters of the grocery store, where you find the freshest stuff like produce, eggs, meats and dairy. I also do my best to eat local and in-season," she says.

She believes her shopping habits boost the local economy: "Eating in-season is also fresher and cheaper than other produce that has been brought in from another country."

Wrye says there are lots of benefits of eating fresh, including improving our farming and food industry and helping our planet stay green and healthy.

"The biggest benefit is the gift of health when you choose to eat food that is closest to how nature has presented it," she says. "You get more vitamin and nutrient benefits than taking supplements alone."

Angie Stewart Forrester, a local food blogger, also tries to eat as many fruits and vegetables as she can, with an emphasis on what's in-season right now.

"This week, my husband and I are doing a take on spinach and mushroom quesadillas with mustard greens and wild mushrooms," she says.

When the farmers markets are open, Forrester buys the majority of her fruits and vegetables there. She also shops at The Fresh Market and Whole Foods because of their corporate buying policies that include regulation of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and certified humanely raised meats.

"Fresh foods taste better and are so much healthier for us," she says.

Forrester loves to cook and believes it gives her more control of flavors.

"When I cook, there's less sodium and less artificial flavors and chemicals than the prepackaged and highly overprocessed foods," she says.

Leigh Espy, a project manager who lives in Midtown with her husband and young daughter, recently adopted a diet that is a mix between the popular "paleo" and "primal" diets.

"The paleo and primal diets stress real foods, and meats without growth hormones and antibiotics, rather than processed foods," Espy says. "I now really just shop from the outside grocery aisles, and cook a lot."

She says she misses easy snacks like protein bars and granola bars.

"Giving up wheat was difficult -- no bread for sandwiches and no Memphis Pizza Café pizza!" Espy says.

She has discovered some tricks, like using eggplant in place of lasagna noodles, and prepping vegetables ahead for cooking later to save time. Espy cooks in bulk, so she always has leftovers to grab for lunch or another dinner. She keeps apples and almonds around for easy snacks.

"I was a pescatarian, so adding bacon back to my diet after 20 years was my compensation for giving up wheat," she says. Now that Espy is eating beef and pork, she buys hormone-free and antibiotic-free as much as possible, and buys at local farmers markets as much as she can.

Espy says she feels more clear-headed, her digestive problems are gone, and she handles stress better. She believes her transition to the diet was so successful because it started as a 30-day challenge from her trainer, Dexter Tennison, at Memphis Adventure Bootcamp.

"After the 30-day challenge was over, I felt so amazing that I decided to stay with it," Espy says.

Amy Pickle, who lives in Midtown and runs her own business, Pickle I.T., also found a link between her health and the way she eats.

Growing up, she would go to her grandparents' house every Sunday for pot roast, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread, blacked-eyed peas with fatback and butter beans. Around age 17, she started to make the connection between the her post-lunch "food coma" and the pot roast.

"I would literally be knocked out for hours after her meals," Pickle says. She became a vegetarian that year, much to the dismay of her Southern family. Then at 42, after feeling adverse effects from cheese, eggs and sugar, she became vegan.

"I find that a diet rich in whole foods -- foods that occur naturally in nature, not processed, abstinence from flour, sugar, dairy and meat, gives me tons more energy -- not nervous energy, but calm energy," she says.

Pickle believes processed foods create a heavy or toxic feeling in the body, in that they are filled with corn syrups that cause spikes in blood sugar and create an endless cycle of craving, eating and crashing.

"Eating mindfully has created a whole new relationship with food," Pickle says. "I no longer live to eat; I eat to live. I eat to sustain my body and mind in the most optimal way possible, to ensure a healthy body, mind and spirit."

"Whatever I buy at the market dictates what I'm going to cook for the rest of the week," she says. "This means that I cook along with the seasons, too."

"The health benefits are tremendous, as is the flavor of food," Pickle says. "Food tastes so much better when the ingredients have just been picked at their peak. Buying food locally helps create sustainability within a community. When we support local farmers, we support Memphis."

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