Food for Feel | Eating for Optimal Health

All of us have food we love and food we hate. My personal nemesis is green beans and mushrooms. My husband’s enemy is sweet potatoes, squash and pasta. Throughout our 15+ years of marriage we navigated these no-no foods with little issue. When it comes to “what’s for dinner” taste is paramount. Sure, smell and texture comes into play too. But there’s plenty of stinky (kimchi) and strange textured (brie) foods that I still enjoy. Like most of you reading this, we choose food for taste, not food for feel.

The Green Bean Monster

My hatred for green beans has origins all the way back to before I could walk. Specifically, green bean baby food (I’m shuttering even thinking about it). My mom has confirmed that even as a wee-little baby, I readily expressed my disgust for green beans. A spoonful of green bean baby food would go in, and a spoonful of green bean baby food would be immediately spit out. Nope, not having that.

My ill-relationship with green beans was cemented later in life during one of my first overnight stays with a friend. Dinner that night included canned green beans. Possibly the most vile foodstuff ever created. As I sat down to eat I worked my way around the plate, avoiding the beans. But as we got towards the end of dinner my friend’s dad urged my friend and her brother to finish all their vegetables. Mom chimed in “eat all your veggies, or you don’t get desert”.

I gulped and looked down at my plate. I really wanted desert. So I picked up a couple pieces of the green beans and hesitantly lifted them to my mouth. I held my breath and inserted the forkful and chewed. That was a mistake. A few minutes later and I was crying in my friends bed as said friend’s mom called my parents. Eating the green beans had grossed me out so much that I started gagging and finally upchucked dinner back onto the dinner table. If I was eating food for feel green beans had made me feel like crap.

Shifting My Food Paradigm

But what to do when the foods you hate are also the same foods that are good for you? If all we do is eat food for taste vs. food for feel can we ever overcome such ingrained hatred as my disgust for green beans?

Surprisingly, yes. As my husband and I have learned, there are often tricks you can employ to make things that were once synonymous with yucky, in fact tasty. About 5 years ago I was eating at my once favorite, but now defunct Seattle restaurant – Plum Cafe (not to be confused with it’s big sister, Plum Bistro). On the menu was all kinds of vegan delights (no, I’m not vegan, but I can still enjoy good vegan food!). One of the items regularly served was roasted green bean salad. Something I would never have ordered! But one day the server added them to my plate as a side dish. I squished my nose up and shoved them onto my husband’s plate. He munched on a couple and casually said “you need to try these”. I rolled my eyes. Nope. I hate green beans! “No, really, you need to try one”.

After a moment of serious contemplation I quickly popped a small piece in my mouth. Surprisingly, this green bean didn’t taste disgusting! No, it didn’t vault to the top of my all-times favorite food list. But it wasn’t that bad. The way the green beans had been prepped left the fresh flavor intact, with just a bit of dressing to accentuate the freshness. My food paradigm took a dramatic shift. What else on my banned list might be palatable? Since that day I’ve incorporated mushrooms, brussels sprouts, beets and more into my rotation. The tricked, I learned, to eat more foods for feel is to source the highest quality, best tasting ingredients and accent them with recipes that bring out their flavor. Or, completely bury them in soups like I do with mushrooms. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

Food for Feel

One thing that kept me coming back for more was how many of these foods made me feel. You’ll note that a lot of the foods on my “naughty” list are foods that are also synonymous with health. Green beans, for example, are fully of healthful minerals. While beets, mushrooms and brussels sprouts have also been connected with a plethora of good-for-you nutrients. I started keeping a food journal to help track how I felt after eating, noting what I ate, when I ate and how it “sat” with me. Soon I had documented an undeniable connection. Eating good food = feeling good. This was food for feel!

Todd was experiencing his own paradigm shift as well. For a while, we had gone vegan. But it left both of us feeling lethargic and generally just not well. For Todd it manifested in skin problems too. We were careful to eat a balanced diet and had already eliminated processed foods from our pantry long before – but something was missing. One day I picked up an issue of Acres Magazine. In it was an interview with Dr. Natasha McBride – founder of the GAPS diet. After reading about 1/4 of the way through the article I knew Todd would want to hear it and saved the rest for bedtime reading. What Dr. McBride was teaching – a diet that focused on gut health, rich in easy to absorb nutrition resonated deep in my soul.

The Enlightenment

I started reading books, blogs and articles and discovered that my nutritional education was woefully lacking. While I was already aware of some key tenants of healthy eating (eat the rainbow, eliminate processed foods and limit sweets). I was surprised by many things I didn’t know. For example, vegetable oils – pervasive in the American diet – are extremely suspect. Found in pretty much all processed foods (including my “healthy” granola), vegetable oils are often rancid and free-radical inducing. Sugar, too, is problematic for many of us. While I don’t have the time to dig into the details today, I encourage you to do some research yourself. In particular, I recommend Deep Nutrition to start your journey!

Today we don’t follow any particular diet. There are still days where we eat vegan, many days where we eat vegetarian and some days where we eat paleo. Particularly, bone broths have become a major staple. This time of year I crave a warm bowl of soup – a natural place to add some nourishing broths.

The Conversion

While both Todd and I have made strides towards more inclusive, healthier eating, there was still one vegetable that made Todd twinge – squash (well, that and sweet potatoes). For some reason most of his family has an aversion to winter squash. The solution has been to simply not include squash on the menu. To make up for it I order squash whenever traveling or at work dinners!

But recently we found ourselves in a pickle. We were visiting San Francisco. I was there for work and Todd was there for just one night as a side stop on the way home from Humblebee Farms in Paige, Tx. We both wanted something healthy and nourishing. I found Beloved Cafe and scanned the menu. It looked delish! But there was one problem, the very limited entree section didn’t have any dish without squash or sweet potato in it. Todd persevered, “just order whatever you think I’ll like best”. I opted for the Stuffed Delicata Squash, and ordered the Quinoa Bowl with Roasted Veggies for him.

Both were amazing. But even more amazing is that Todd actually ate the bits of roasted squash. He still tossed the longer chunks to my plate. But he noted that they didn’t taste all that bad. Success!

Later that week when I got home, I went to work to try and recreate the dishes we ate – something I like to do with pretty much all my favorite eateries. While I didn’t quite manage to make an identical dish, it was still yummy. And the best part is how we both felt after eating.

Menu Revamped

Since our visit to Beloved Cafe I’ve made additional dishes that featured squash. While Todd still maintains he doesn’t “like” squash – he does love how it makes him feel.

With the thermostat in Seattle cranked to “winter blast” (ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating. But 50 degrees feels really cold to me after being in Austin for 10 days), comfort food has been on the menu. This week I make the very first squash soup ever in our 15+ years of marriage. Healing Thai Butternut Squash Lentil Soup. It is divine tasting and better yet, it makes us feel good. Food for feel is here to stay!

Photo credit: Photo by Blair Fraser on Unsplash