A couple of months ago, I read The End of Overeating, which got me started on a series of books about food. I worked my way through In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
After reading through these books and doing a bunch of auxiliary research, I came to the fairly disturbing conclusion that the food we eat from the grocery is sorely lacking in required nutrients. That's especially true for packaged, processed foods, but even the fruits and vegetables purchased in a typical produce section are lacking.
Studies show that fruits and vegetables grown without pesticides or herbicides have significantly higher levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants. And simple replacements of the missing compounds assumes that we have a full understanding of what's missing. We don't.
Additionally, breeding fruits and vegetables for high yield, uniform appearance, and long travel distance necessarily reduces other more important factors, like taste and nutritional content. Like I said, studies have found this to be true, but in retrospect, it's fairly self-evident. Evolution is a process of competition among zero-sum ends. If yield and long-distance travel win out, something else loses out.
With that introduction, over the past few months, I've slowly started working toward cooking virtually all of my own food. In the past few weeks, that has expanded to include breads and sauces. In short, the rule I try to follow is: "Only purchase items with a single ingredient in their ingredient list." And at a very minimum, a rule I got from Michael Pollan's books: "Only purchase items with a few ingredients, all of which are understandable."
It probably sounds like I've absorbed too much of San Francisco's culture, but I have to tell you, the quality of the food I've been eating has increased dramatically. For the most part, food tastes better, and even when it doesn't, I really enjoy putting together meals.
In order to make this happen, I've purchased a few pieces of equipment. First of all, I purchased a bread-maker. It cost only $100, and I've already made two loaves of pretty good tasting whole-wheat bread.
I also purchased a rice maker, which makes cooking brown rice myself actually possible. Trying to do it on a stove yourself is basically impossible (try Googling instructions on cooking brown rice).
I dramatically increased my consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, much of it locally grown. After a month or so, I can absolutely confirm that the quality and taste of the fruits and vegetables is significantly higher, and I've straight-up stopped worrying about the small differences in fat in things like whole milk and skim milk, since those items are mostly garnishes on fruits and vegetables. As a result, I've been able to focus on the taste of my ingredients, instead of trying to squeeze a few more grams of fat out of a meal, and I've still been able to lose a bunch of weight since I started (again, in retrospect, it's not all that surprising that eating a ton more fruits and vegetables, regardless of what else is in the diet, would result in weight loss).
From The End of Overeating, I also completely cut out snacks (snacks are actually a relatively new Western invention), focusing heavily on three meals a day, which increases the quality and enjoyment of actually eating food that I prepare carefully and well.
Finally, I joined a local CSA, which delivers a weekly box of vegetables. I got my first shipment today, which brought me 1.5 pounds of yellow peaches, 1.5 pounds black plums, 6 oz. blueberries, 1 pund summer squash, 1 bunch chard, 1/2 pund gypsey peppers, 1/2 pound lipstick peppers, 1.5 pounds heirloom tomatoes, 1 bunch greenleaf lettuce, 1 bunch red beets, 1 bunch nantes carrots, and 1 pound red onion. All from local farms, all organic, and all for just $30.
In the past, when I heard people talking about stuff like this, they sounded like kooky hippies, so I suspect that's how I sound to people as well. But if eating tasty, nutritious food that I prepare myself, losing weight and saving money is a kooky hippie thing to do, I'll take kookie hippie any day.