Small Steps to Big Changes: Read the Labels!

Read the Labels

It’s time for the next Small Step toward big changes! You can read other posts in this series here. As Big Man and I work toward eating more Real Food, one of the very important parts of the journey is becoming aware of just exactly what food is — and isn’t.

Small Step: Read the labels (and understand what they mean)

Why: Food isn’t always what it seems. Most packaged foods contain tons of chemicals and ingredients that have been so highly processed they aren’t even recognizable as food anymore. There are other negative things as well, like inordinate amounts of sugar and multiple GMO ingredients.

Difficulty level: Moderate-to-high. Actually reading the labels on the packaging isn’t that hard, and doesn’t take very long. The difficult part is deciphering the terminology and doing the research to discover what terms like “hydrogenated” and “natural flavorings” actually mean. Since companies are not required to label genetically modified ingredients, it is important to research individual ingredients to understand which are genetically modified. Additionally, it is important to research food producers and understand their policies about GMO ingredients, “natural” flavorings, and labeling practices.

My results: To be honest, I’m still learning what all the terms mean, and I don’t yet have a memorized list of OK and Not OK ingredients. I rely heavily on internet searching! But I have made a few positive changes. I no longer buy anything without reading the label first. And I do not rely in terms like “all-natural” or even “organic” to make my decisions. Instead, I make sure I understand every ingredient on the label, especially ones that are most likely to be GM. I also make sure I do a little research on the company that produces the items I buy. As much as we can, we support local and/or small companies that encourage honest labeling. We try to stay away from “natural” brands that are owned by Big Food corporations (for example, “Naked Juice” is owned by PepsiCo).

Worth it? Yes, though this definitely requires a fair amount of commitment. It’s more work than just assuming everything sold at Sprouts or labeled “natural” is OK and GMO-free. Honestly, it’s disappointing to realize that items we enjoyed, and companies we used to trust (*cough* Celestial Seasonings *cough*) are not as healthy and natural as advertised.

One of the benefits of this research is an extra push to make homemade, from-scratch food as much as possible. I was doing that already with some things like bread and vanilla extract, but I’m now committed to a “homemade as much as possible” policy. We have drastically cut down on the amount of pre-made things we keep in the house, and it’s been a good change for us. I love that our kids are learning to enjoy more real food, and moving away from boxed food has really helped keep our budget in check.

Conclusion: Some parts of this learning process have been depressing, like learning that so much of what is said on a label is either meaningless or a downright lie. Learning that Big Food has poured millions of dollars into fighting laws that would require GMO ingredients to be labeled. Finding out that some out some of our local, so-called “natural” companies (like Boulder Canyon Chips) have been bought out by huge corporations with no love for real food. But past all that is a great sense of empowerment and knowledge. I’m confident that I can read a label and make an informed choice about whether or not I want to consume those ingredients. I’ve found new small companies and local farmers who are trustworthy and do produce real food without GMOs. And my list of homemade-instead-of-store-bought foods just keeps growing. Did I mention the homemade versions taste so much better?

If you’re ready for a challenge, start reading the labels and finding out what all those terms mean. That way, you can decide to buy or not based on facts, not advertising or some wishy-washy “claims” of health.

Whether you’re brand new to label-reading or have years of experience, I’d love to hear any wisdom you have to share!

* This post contains links to other sites/blogs with which I have no affiliation and whose content I do not guarantee nor endorse. The Swagbucks link is a personal referral code that connects to my Swagbucks account.

Small Steps to Big Changes: Healthier Oils

Small Steps: Healthier Oil

Welcome to the first post in my Small Steps/Big Changes series! As I mentioned in the introduction, this series is all about a non-intimidating approach to self-sufficiency and a healthier, Real Food lifestyle. When Big Man and I started this journey a few months ago, the first thing I started researching was cooking oils. I’d been seeing more and more recipes that called for coconut oil instead of the vegetable or canola oil with which I was familiar, and I wondered why. What was the big deal about coconut oil? Was it just the current “trendy” ingredient, or was it really superior to other cooking oils? Let’s find out*

Small Step: Replace vegetable & canola oils with coconut oil

Why: Vegetable and canola oils are full of polyunsaturatedfats (PUFA), are endorsed by the USDA and Big Food, and easily go rancid. Coconut oil is used in traditional cultures and cuisines, is minimally processed, has many uses beyond the kitchen, and is highly praised by Real Food enthusiasts.

Difficulty level: Minimal. Coconut oil is easy to find (grocery stores, warehouse clubs, Amazon, or sites like this), there are many different brands, and it stores in the pantry just like vegetable and canola oils. The only downside is that coconut oil ranges from somewhat to much more expensive. So far, I’ve been buying coconut oils in the mid-range of the price array (e.g. Spectrum brand). I feel that’s a good balance of decent quality and affordability. I’m not yet convinced that the “Gold Standard” coconut oil brands are worth their price tag for our family.

My results: I’ve had great success with coconut oil! It’s a little strange at first, because it is solid at room temperature so sometimes it must be melted before using but that is easy enough. I keep both virgin (unrefined) and refined coconut oil on hand. The virgin oil has a slight coconutty smell and taste, so I use the refined oil in cases where that taste would clash with whatever I’m cooking. I use it to coat the pan before cooking meat or veggies, and just substitute it 1 for 1 for vegetable oil in baking applications. Sometimes I also sub it in for half the butter in a sweet recipe to get nutrients from both types of fat. Coconut oil is also great in making stovetop popcorn! I appreciate that it is versatile both inside and outside the kitchen. It works nicely as a body lotion and is great to hydrate the ends of the hair to help prevent split ends.

Worth it? Definitely. I’ve been very happy using coconut oil and seeing how well it performs in many applications. I like knowing it is much less refined and processed compared with vegetable and canola oils. Plus, vegetable and canola oils are nearly guaranteed to contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), a.k.a. creepy science experiments I don’t want to eat. (In my research, GMO’s seem to be far less prevalent in coconut production, though I don’t know for sure that all brands of coconut oil are GMO-free).

Conclusion: After using coconut oil for a few months and researching its benefits, I’ve come to believe that coconut oil is a far better choice than vegetable or canola oil. I don’t believe it is a “miracle food” as is sometimes claimed, but I do feel confident it is a healthy choice for our family. Plus, it makes some yummy cookies!

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with coconut oil!

* This post contains links to other sites/blogs with which I have no affiliation and whose content I do not guarantee nor endorse.

Small Steps to Big Changes {New Series}


Big Man and I have been making some big changes to our family’s lifestyle! While some of the things we want to do (like raise chickens) will have to wait until we move to our “homestead,” there are quite a few changes we’ve already incorporated. The two biggest areas we’ve been focusing on are DIY projects and food. Most of the DIY projects have been small, like replacing store-bought things with homemade versions. The food changes have been more substantial, including seriously challenging our perspective on food: what it is, where it comes from, how to produce our own, and where to buy what we cannot make ourselves. We’re moving toward a (mostly) Real Food diet, and choosing to buy our food from places other than the supermarket. It’s been an adventure, and we’ve learned a lot so far. I know there is still so much more for us to learn.

Honestly, researching self-sufficiency and real food can be intimidating and discouraging. There is so much information (and mis-information) out there, and everyone has an opinion. My goal with this series is to chronicle our adventures as we change our lifestyle choices. I’ll be writing about information we find, changes we make, things we find that are worth it (or not!), and helpful resources for anyone else interested in following a similar path. I promise that this series will NOT: make any sort of medical claims, tell anyone how they should be living, or judge people for the choices they make. There are plenty of sites out there that will do such things; tell you that you are a terrible parent for feeding your kids such & such, or that the only way to be a good Christian wife and homemaker is to cook exclusively from scratch and eschew modern “conveniences” like washing machines. This is not one of those blogs. I have no authority or desire to tell anyone else what they should be doing. That’s between them and God. My responsibility here is to make the right choices to my family, and this blog is merely meant to recount our progression on this journey.

If you decide to pursue self-sufficiency and/or real food, you may feel (like I did) that it’s a scary prospect. It’s a big deal to change where you shop, to have a list of “bad” foods to avoid, to feel like buying an item instead of DIY-ing it makes you a failure. To think about throwing out half the food in your pantry and replacing it with new ingredients that are far more expensive. To start reading labels and realize how hard it is to avoid non-food chemicals and GMO’s because they are present in practically everything. It’s tempting to become overwhelmed and give up. I really think the key to making lasting changes is small steps. Try changing one small thing and see how it works. We’ve been picking individual things to change/improve and once we feel comfortable with each change, we move on the the next one. This journey has already been a few months long and I know we still have a long way to go. But it’s been a successful adventure so far, and I’m excited to see what’s to come.

Each post in this “Small Steps” series will focus on one small change we’ve made, why we did it, how it worked, and if we feel it was “worth it.” I hope our experiences will encourage you to become informed, challenge the cultural norm, and be open to making new choices if God calls you to. I’d love to hear your experiences with self-sufficiency, real food, living off the grid, homesteading, and pursuing a life of simplicity, so please join in the comments!

Here are the topics we’ve covered so far!

Healthier Cooking Oil

Read the Labels

Stock the Pantry