One of my favorite childhood memories is helping my mom scoop the bulk items at our local health food store. I found scooping the oats or whatever it was into the bag to be completely mesmerizing. If I was really good, I would be treated to chocolate covered carob balls (still a rare treat for me). It never dawned on me that not everyone shopped at Boney’s (an East County San Diego institution that later became Henry’s that later became a Sprout’s) and that not every kid had a mom that even knew what carob was. It wasn’t easy to feed six kids a relatively healthy diet on a pastor’s salary, but my mom did.
Growing up, she gave me nuggets of healthy living wisdom that as I grew older I realized to be absolutely legit. Here are a few.
1. Your hair, skin, and nails are a litmus test of your health.
Basically, if something seems amiss in your hair, your skin (not just your face) or your nails, that’s a red flag that something is wrong internally.
If your hair is falling out, you need to check your stress levels, or there might be something awry in your hormones. Either way, that should be a red flag. If your hair smells really bad (it’s actually a thing), something is wrong. If your hair is slow to grow, that’s a sign that you may be low on protein intake or B vitamins.
If your skin is dry, suddenly breaking out, itchy with or without a rash or something else that’s out of the ordinary, you need to see what’s up with your diet. You could be low on healthy fats, eating too many unhealthy fats or greasy foods (hello acne), you could be low on an important vitamin or mineral. It can also indicate a food allergy or intolerance that you need to pay attention to. Your skin is far more than an indicator for beauty, it’s telling you how you’re doing.
Let’s talk about nails. If they are dry or brittle, that can as easy as needing more B vitamins or healthy fats, or something more serious like a thyroid issue.
Either way, friends, never ignore your hair, skin, or nails.
2. Never give in to the idea that processed foods are cheaper
It’s no secret that processed foods are havens of empty carbs, hidden sugars, tons of salt and fat, and loads of icky synthetic chemicals or preservatives that clog up your liver and skin. But often times folks on a budget turn to these foods as cheap ways to feed a lot of people. “Hogwash,” my mother would be quick to say. And I agree.
When I lived in Germany as a missionary, I lived on the tightest imaginable budget. If I turned to processed foods, it was for convenience and comfort, NOT because it was good for my body or my budget. The foods I could always afford was produce and other whole foods.
My mom taught me young: learning how to cook your food from scratch will not only save you money, it will keep you healthy.
Now, there are certainly plenty of ways to cook from scratch and end up fat. It’s up to you how much butter, sugar, fat or salt your put in your food (I’m looking at you, Paula Deen butter queen). But learning to prepare simple, healthy foods from scratch will help your wallet and your waistline.
3. Eat the rainbow (not made from food dye)
To be fair, I’m pretty sure my dad’s heart doctor shared this with my mom, who instantly shared it with me. Either way, it’s such an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients through your food. Natural colors in fruits and vegetables indicate the presence of phytonutrients and antioxidants which can help us stay happy, healthy, and looking young. Making sure you eat a rainbow a day will ensure you’re getting proper nutrition and help ward off disease. I’ll do a whole other blog post just on using antioxidants to combat oxidative stress
Reds: Raspberries, strawberries, peppers of all kinds, watermelon, cherries, chilies, pomegranate (my favorite!), apples, grapefruit, tomatoes, beets, radishes.
Orange: Pumpkin, sweet potato, butternut squash, acorn squash, carrots, bell peppers, oranges, persimmons, apricots, papayas, cantaloupes, mangos, turmeric root, goji berry.
Yellow: Lemons, spaghetti squash, golden carrots, golden beets (much sweeter and more palatable than regular beets), pineapple, summer squash, yellow bell peppers.
Green: Grapes, kiwi, kale, avocado, lime, bok choy, collards (please don’t stew them Southern Style and think you’re eating something healthy), okra (same), spinach, arugula, broccoli, green beans, peas, lettuce, celery, zucchini, cucumbers, asparagus.
Blue/purple: Blueberries, blackberries, purple cabbage, eggplant, black currant, purple potatoes, purple carrots, grapes.
White: Mushrooms, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, garlic, onion, coconut, maca root.
4. Eat to be healthy, not to be beautiful
That isn’t to say that health doesn’t naturally produce beauty, but if your goal in life is beauty, you’ll never find it. It’s like chasing a unicorn. Cultural standards of beauty are so changeable, as anyone who’s studied art history could tell you. If you lived in Peter Paul Rubens’ day, a reasonable layer of squishy fat was considered beautiful, while when I was growing up in the 90’s, malnourished, anorexic, razor thin models were considered beautiful. You can be considered absolutely beautiful and not be healthy at all, whether you’re on the brink of diabetes, “skinny fat”, or underfed.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be thin and beautiful. It took me YEARS to accept the body that I have and seek health rather than beauty. Somewhere along the way I realized I had been beautiful the whole entire time and didn’t know it. But I certainly wasn’t healthy. Mom preached a message of health, telling me I was already beautiful. Eat those healthy fats! Moderation in all things! Treasure the body you have, regardless of how you think it looks, or (heaven forbid) how you think it should look.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I salute the mom who fed me avocados as my first solid food and let me know early that living healthy and enjoying life was normal.