The Hubs and I have state employee health insurance, and once a year, we have the opportunity to have some bloodwork done as part of an annual wellness screening.
Before the holidays, I got my numbers back, and as it turns out, I'm healthier than I was last year, and then I was healthier than I was two years ago. Yay!
Jeremy had his screening last week, and he gets the prize for the most dramatic improvement. Last year, his blood pressure was super-high. Like, the lady taking it said she'd wait 20 minutes and take it again because she figured it was just high from having blood drawn. Well, she waited and took it again and decided to go with the first reading since it was better than the second. She said he might need to see a doctor about going on medication if it didn't improve soon. This year, though, it's normal. High-normal, but nonetheless, it's below the cut off for high blood pressure.
The kicker is that we're eating more bacon grease and milk fat than we ever have. Yes, you heard me right. I love me some bacon grease, and I'm not shy about using it. And I switched to pastured (pasture-raised, no to be confused with Pasteurized) full fat dairy, save for milk, and there I switched to 2%. I even buy half and half for my coffee now instead of non-dairy creamer. And I exclusively use real butter from grass-fed cows.
So, how's it possible that we're getting healthier, from year to year, as opposed to unhealthier?
I'm asking myself the same thing. But I just finished reading Nina Planck's book Real Food: What to Eat and Why, I'm thinking that my body could be responding to the real food I'm eating and an absence of processed food in my diet.
It's been about three years since I became what I call a "conscientious eater." I TRY to eat according to the seasons, locally and sustainably for the most part. It's a lifestyle change. I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, which was my watershed moment. Then, I watched the movie "Food, Inc." and it changed my life forever.
First, I should tell you what my diet was like before three years ago. I wasn't hooked on twinkies or fast food or anything crazy like that. I was pretty health-conscious, but I think I just had it all wrong. I grew up in the Eighties, and rode the low fat and fat free wave through my teen years. My senior year of high school, my typical lunch was a diet coke and a snack-size bag of low fat animal crackers.
My mom is a nurse, and she cooked healthy meals, which we ate as a family at the dinner table just about every night. But back then, the conventional wisdom was to avoid saturated fat. Red meat was bad, and butter was pure evil. We did have sweet treats from time to time, but junkfood wasn't something that was a mainstay in our kitchen. My parents drank diet pop, and my mom didn't buy "the kids" regular pop. I started drinking diet pop when I was a kid since that is what was around the house.
When I moved out to go to college and started shopping for myself, my grocery cart looked a lot like what I had been eating all my life: skim milk, low-fat cheeses, frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, canned soups and frozen "lean cuisines", and diet pop. I rarely bought red meat or full-fat dairy and never real butter. I opted for turkey bacon, turkey sausage and ground turkey burger, because I thought it was a healthier option than the real products. I also used egg beaters instead of real eggs.
After I read more and more about food policy and really took an interest in where my food comes from, I slowly started switching over. I stopped buying meat at the grocery store and started buying from the farmers market. I stopped buying processed "convenience" food at the grocery store, and started coming up with ways to make as much of my food as I can by myself. Of course I enjoy cooking, so I see it as kind of a fun challenge. I've made my own pasta, bread, granola, baked goods, and waffles. I grow plenty of vegetables in my tiny backyard garden for the two of us. I prefer my own salad dressings and sauces to the bottled varieties. The one thing I haven't been able to master is cheese (and I've tried a number of times... It turns into great ricotta cheese, I just can't get the curds to really set up).
The biggest hurdle in my diet has been breaking my diet pop habbit. It's been a little over a year, and it hasn't been easy. That's not to say that I don't have a diet pop occassionally. I do, but the thing of it is now that I don't drink them regularly, is that they just don't taste right to me. I tried to cut out artificial sweeteners (calorie free and the caloric kind) altogether, and I think it has helped me become healthier. I feel better than I used to, anyway. Even if I'm not skinnier, feeling better is good enough.
Now, The Happiness Diet, a book that came out in December, is making some buzz. It's in the same vein as Nina Planck's earlier book: eat red meat and full fat dairy, as long as they're pasture-raised. The benefits of pasture-raised animal protein far outweigh any negative effects of saturated animal fat. And now, more evidence is coming out that the flawed nutrition advice of the 1980s, such as opting for low fat dairy, basing our diets on grains, and avoiding red meat is making us more unhealthy.
Just the other day, I was having a conversation with someone who was telling me that processed food is proabably causing cancer. I agreed, and I realized that the message of the food revolution IS getting out there. Regardless, I'm gonna continue to enjoy my juicy hamburgers, bacon and butter that comes from animals raised on green grass. It tastes better than that crap you buy at the grocery store, and apparently, it's making me healthier, too.