1. Give up refined foods: sugars, oils and flours.
The single most effective thing you can do for your health in the new year is simple: remove all refined foods from your cupboards. Give them up. Just like that. Yes, you may have paid good money for that bag of sugar, the gallon of vegetable oil or that bag of flour. Sure, you may think to yourself, “I only use flour (or sugar or canola oil) occasionally.” But, occasionally is still too often. Refined foods can leach micronutrients from your body, contribute to risk of autoimmune disease, cancers, metabolic disorders and heart disease.
To Do: Take a big garbage bag and throw out any vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated fats, white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, white flour, unbleached all-purpose flour, refined sea salt, iodized salt and any boxed or packaged foods containing these ingredients.
2. Enjoy more sunshine.
Most of the population, both children and adults, suffer from insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels. Blame an indoor society coupled a near-paralyzing fear of skin cancer that has kept people covered up and slathered in carcinogenic sunscreens. Yes, many sunscreens contain carcinogenic compounds. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Slathering yourself in cancer-causing chemicals to, well, avoid cancer? As a result of an indoor lifestyle coupled with a solar-phobic health community, our nation’s vitamin D levels are suffering. Low vitamin D levels are linked to cognitive dysfunction, depression, autoimmune disorder, cancer and heart disease. Instead, cut yourself a little slack and go outside – dare I say it – without sunscreen. If you’re particularly concerned, use a touch of coconut or sesame oil on your skin both of which have some protective effects. Remember to cover up before you burn, so bring a wide-brimmed hat or loose, long-sleeved clothing to avoid the pain of a sunburn.
To Do: Head outside today, or tomorrow, and don’t cover up in sunscreen. Let the sun warm your face and skin and play to your heart’s content.
3. Choose only grass-fed, pastured and wild animal foods.
Grass-fed, pasture-raised and wild caught animal foods are deeply nourishing. Indeed, for thousands of years prior to the advent of industrial agriculture, these were the only animal foods we knew. The manner in which an animal was raised does make a difference, not only to your health but to the health and vibrancy of your local economy and environment. Grass-fed beef and red meat is a richer source of conjugated linoleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene and retinol than the meat of conventionally raised animals. Moreover, grass- and pasture-based ranching provides environmental benefits as well – nurturing the local fields, improving the diversity and proliferation of native flora and fauna.
4. Eat more fat: butter, lard, tallow and olive oil.
Fat nourishes our bodies just as it nourished the bodies of our ancestors. Examinations into traditional peoples indicates that most traditional societies reveled in fat – with some peoples consuming up to 80% of their daily calories from fat alone. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble; that is, your body needs fat to properly absorb, metabolize and utilize these critical nutrients. Without wholesome fats, your body is operating at a nutritional loss. Moreover, you’ll miss their unctuous quality and the fullness of flavor they lend to the dishes you produce in your kitchen.
5. Make mineral-rich stock every week.
In our home, mineral-rich stock makes its way to the table every day: a soup, a reduction, a gravy. Incorporating homemade stock into your kitchen is one of the most important improvements you can make for the health of your family. Properly prepared, homemade stock is rich in micronutrients – calcium, magnesium and other minerals as well as more elusive nutrients such as glucosamine chondroitin and collagen. These important nutrients play a role in your body’s ability to respond to infections and attacks, which is why chicken soup may be thought to have curative powers. Besides, a good homemade stock can add subtle nuances of flavor to your dishes and a charm that is lacking in the boxed and canned broths you find at your supermarket. Stock is affordable affordable to prepare as well – requiring only vegetable scraps, water and a few bones – making nutrient-dense food almost free.
To Do: Set aside some time, every week, to prepare at least one gallon of stock. The active preparation time takes minutes, and you can use stock in soups, stews, gravies, reduction sauces, as a beverage, for preparing grains and for braising vegetables.
6. If you eat dairy, make it raw or cultured.
If you eat choose to eat dairy, take great care to make sure you’re eating high quality dairy products in the new year. Fresh, raw milk, cream, butter and cheese from cows fed on pasture is a food held sacred to many cultures and regions across the globe: the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. These wholesome dairy products are rich in food enzymes, beneficial lactobacillus bacteria and natural vitamins that are otherwise destroyed by pasteurization. And while raw milk is not a panacea for every ill, when fresh milk comes from healthy cows, it is deeply nourishing. For those who may not be able to tolerate or who choose not to consume milk on its own, cultured dairy products like yogurt, crème fraîche and bonny clabber offer a nice alternative. Culturing dairy products helps to restore beneficial bacteria to the food, during that process sugars are metabolized reducing the food’s overall glycemic load. Butter, ghee (clarified butter), fresh cream and raw milk cheese deserve a place in every kitchen.
7. If you eat grain, always sprout, sour or soak it first.
If you choose to eat grain, always sprout, sour or soak it first. Grain is not an essential or important aspect of a wholesome, nourishing diet. There’s nothing you can find in grain that you can’t find in greater quantities elsewhere. While a crusty loaf of sourdough bread dipped in a fragrant olive oil might be a nice treat, it isn’t essential. Grain should be kept to a minimum, if eaten at all. If you choose to eat grain, this year make sure to prepare it properly in accordance with traditional, time-honored methods. You see, whole gain contains an antinutrient called phytic acid which binds up minerals preventing their full absorption. Which means all those whole grain cereals, crackers and cookies aren’t doing you or your family a lick of good. The effects of these antinutrients can be mitigated by souring, sprouting or soaking which combines whole grain with warmth and slightly acidic solution. This process activates phytase, a food enzyme, that effectively neutralizes phytic acid rendering the whole grain more digestible and its nutrients better absorbed. Make the effort, in the new year, to sour, sprout or soak your grain.
To Do: The next batch of bread you make should be sourdough, and plan meals ahead so you have time to properly prepare your grain for optimal nutrition. Give sprouting a try. If you don’t have time to soak or sour your grains, use sprouted grain flour (see sources) instead.
8. Learn to love liver, roe, kidneys, heart and other offal.
Liver, roe, kidneys, heart, tongue: no, they don’t sound all too appealing, do they? These organ meats are among the most nutrient-dense foods available and, for North American palates, their unique, mineral-rich flavor takes some getting used to. They’re worth learning to like, and learning to crave. Liver is an extraordinarily rich source of folate, vitamin A and B vitamins while roe is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins including vitamins A and E. These are potent, and strong foods so you needn’t eat them daily, but try to make sure that liver and roe appear at your dinner table weekly. Take care to prepare and eat other nutrient-dense offal periodically as well.
To Do: Purchase a tub of fish roe from your local fishmonger or online, and stop by your market to pick up some grass-fed beef liver or pasture-raised chicken livers. If you have trouble finding these foods locally, they are available online (see sources). A good first recipe is Sage & Chicken Liver Pâté.
Read More: Best Sources of Vitamins & Minerals, 10 Nutritional Powerhouses that Won’t Break the Bank, The Liver Files
9. Eat cultured or fermented foods daily.
Cultured and fermented foods play an enormous role in traditional diets. First born of practicality, fermenting and actively culturing foods offers benefits beyond its practical beginning as a way to preserve food without refrigeration. Indeed, the natural process of fermentation often increases vitamin content while reducing sugar content; moreover, fermented foods are teeming with beneficial bacteria – those wee beasties that interact with your body by strengthening your immune system, manufacturing vitamins in the gut and warding off pathogens. Make the effort to eat fermented and cultured foods at least daily. In our home, we eat small amounts of yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, sour pickles, kombucha or other fermented foods with nearly every meal.
To Do: Make your first batch of sauerkraut, homemade yogurt or water kefir. If you need a starter culture you can find them online (see sources), and if you need recipe inspiration pick up a copy of Get Cultured, my recipe booklet detailing delicious, nourishing recipes for probiotic foods.
10. Give back to your foodshed and to the real food movement.
Lastly, this year make the effort to give back to your local foodshed and to share in the real food movement. Support your farmers markets and CSAs through volunteer work. Support organizations devoted to real food, farmers and consumer rights with your dollars. Every little bit counts. Share your experiences with your real food journey with your friends: online through social media like Facebook and Twitter and off-line in real-world, one-to-one interactions. The movement is growing fast, don’t you want to be a part of it?
To Do: Contact your local farmers market (find one on Local Harvest), and offer to volunteer. Become a member of the Weston A Price Foundation. Give a donation to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.