What exactly do I mean by healthy?
Healthy food is just real food. To me, healthy means eating what we human animals evolved to eat: a very varied diet of minimally processed in-season fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts with some fish and lean meat. Above all, healthy food is meant to be enjoyed. Lately, healthy for me also means compensating for not being as active as would be ideal, and keeping my weight down.
Permaculturists often start by looking for a natural model. Evolution has had many billions of years to try things out, and healthy natural systems of all kinds are a hugely complex result of billions and billions of experiments. Luckily science bears this out: over-processing – taking things out and putting things into food that aren’t part of any natural system - leads to disease. My healthy diet is a kind of witches version of a CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, with a serious dose of lust for life and unwillingness to get pedantic, thrown in.
My basic recipe is:
Lots and lots of vegetables, as fresh and unprocessed as possible. Aside from the very starchy potatoes and sweet potatoes, as many as you can cram into the household’s meals. It is false economy to skimp on vegetables, but luckily it is also possible to run a very frugal and very gourmet household budget based on home-grown and local in-season organic vegetables.
A moderate amount of fresh fruit, not too much because fruit is high in sugar. Fresh, local, in season and organic if possible to maximise the antioxidents and minimise chemicals. And not juice! The fibre has been removed and most of the vitamins destroyed. Poppers are one of my pet hates – an overpackaged, over processed con.
Grains and Legumes:
A moderate amount of very low GI carbohydrates from grains and legumes: Oats, barley, wholegrain bread, quinoa, basmati rice, lentils, chick peas – there’s a huge variety to choose from. As least processed as possible, preferably organic – field crops are heavily treated with chemical fertilizers, weedicides and herbicides. The easiest way to keep it “moderate” is to treat carbs as early-in-the-day foods – more at breakfast, less at lunch, none at dinner. This is a great reference for learning about GI.
Seeds and Nuts:
A smaller amount of seeds and nuts like macadamias, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds (and sesame seed paste), pepitas, linseeds… It’s sad that there are so many nut allergies around that you need to be a bit careful about nuts in school lunches. Swapping lunch food may not mean your kids have the nutritionally balanced lunch you carefully constructed, but they will have a psychologically balanced approach to food! Seeds and nuts are dense nutrient sources, but also high in calories, so kids and very active people can eat more, while those (like me) who do too much sedentary work need to go a bit easy.
A smaller amount of dense protein from lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, low fat dairy products, tofu, and beans. There’s good ethical arguments for a vegan diet, at least when you consider the way most animal-based foods are produced. But as far as healthy is concerned, it’s hard to get past the benefits of meat, eggs, and fish as concentrated sources of nutrients. Finding ethical sources is too hard for every day though, not when there are so many good legume-based recipes.
A smaller amount of low fat dairy foods and a tiny amount of full fat butter and yellow cheese. Butter and cheese are only really healthy for the pychological benefits of enjoying food! But for women and kids in particular, dairy foods like low fat milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, ricotta, and fetta are such a good source of calcium that if you exclude them, you have to actually think about whether you’re getting enough. You shouldn’t eat much butter or margarine – both are high in saturated fat – so for the tiny quantities we are talking about, you might as well go for the taste. Butter is, moreover, a good source of some fatty acids and a decent source of fat soluble vitamins A, D and E, which besides everything else are good for immune systems, bone density, and sun damaged skin (like mine!).
A very small amount of olive, macadamia, grape seed, canola and other quality liquid oils, in glass or cans not plastic. Oil is very calorie-dense, but at the same time, it is important for all sorts of bodily functions, including, importantly, mental health, learning, and mood. This is another place where it is false economy to skimp. Plastics leach into oil, and some of the polymer reactants and additives that leach in are nasty, messing up hormones and metabolism. For example, look up Bisphenol A. in Wikipedia. I’d give good odds that this will hit the fan. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has a good brochure about the issue.
Sugar and honey:
A tiny amount of sugar and honey, again only really healthy because it tastes so good! You can up the benefits a bit by using the least processed kind of sweetener that works in the recipe, that is use honey, or molasses, treacle, or dark brown sugar by preference.
Alcohol and Chocolate:
A glass of red wine or beer, or a single square of dark chocolate, most days, savoured! If you tend to pour a glass of wine as soon as you get home as a way of telling yourself it’s wind-down time, try starting with a pot of green tea first.
The pictures on this page look so gluttonous, but in fact you could eat everything in them in one day and still be losing weight according to the CSIRO guidelines.
That’s the Witches Kitchen version of healthy!