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Healthy Living Expo September 20-21, 2018

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You CAN Cook!

by Chef Joan Cunningham

If you could do one single thing to change your health destiny, would you do it? That new single thing is to learn to cook - the set of skills that we humans use to transform raw food into fuel for living. Cooking is what separated us from all the other species on the planet, gave rise to our larger brains and smaller digestive systems, and is arguably responsible for “civilization” as we know it. Because food and nutrition is the foundation of health, it is also the single, most important thing we can do to improve our wellbeing, as well as that of our loved ones.

I was lucky. I grew up in a household with a mom who would never have dreamed of opening a box or a can to make anything. Doris made everything from scratch, including a weekly batch of cookies for our lunches and after-school snacks. In sixth grade, I remember trying to talk one of my classmates into swapping the Hostess Ding-Dong in her sack lunch for a couple of my home-made oatmeal raisin cookies. She didn’t go for it. Woe for her, and shame on me (Mom, I’m so sorry!). Later, in college, I took a nutrition class for my minor in preschool education, confirming what Doris had been trying to impart and demonstrate through the previous 19 years -- processed food may be fast and easy, but that convenience comes with a cost -- the loss of nutritional value.

That was the early 70’s and by today’s standards of processing, we were so naive. Surveys show we’re cooking less and buying more prepared foods every year. By allowing Big Ag and Big Food - i.e., industrial food monopolies - to process (note that I did not say “cook”) our meals and fill them with sugar, salt, and bad fats, not to mention the awful chemicals they use to increase the shelf life and make the food “look” fresh, we have been duped. This move has changed our taste buds. We no longer know or appreciate what healthy, real food tastes like. Our waistlines have continually expanded over the last 40 years, and the majority of healthcare costs are now spent on conditions that were virtually unknown 100 years ago! Let me say it again - food is the foundation of our health, and when you outsource its preparation, you have no idea what you’re going to get. Three or more times a day, we make an incredibly important health decision. Will the next meal be an edible, food-like substance heated in the microwave, or will you choose to spend a few minutes preparing something that will nourish, sustain, and connect you to the world and to those around you?

It came to me a few years - and about 20 pounds - ago. I realized the only way I could exert complete control over what goes into my body was to make it myself. No one else cares about me or my health, or that of my family and friends, as much as I do. No one else will take the time to plan, to consider the meal or the ingredients with the care that I take. I made a conscious decision right then and there to minimize meals out, choosing instead to buy better ingredients with that money. My instincts were right on – research shows that people who cook at home are healthier!

Today, we are learning that our bodies are literally rebelling against the processed, prepackaged garbage that the food monopolies have lulled us into thinking were going to change our lives for the better. Time. Convenience. More time for what? For sitting and watching television? Staring at our computer screens? More hours for work? Cramming more “living” into lives that are already scheduled to the hilt? Yes, it changed our lives all right, but not for the better. Our bodies don’t recognize, and don’t know how to metabolize the glop, and the result is molecules of glop floating around, wreaking havoc in our bodies, also known as “inflammation.”

Inflammation is rooted in lifestyle, and one of its strongest corollaries is our food choices. Inflammation makes itself apparent through symptoms of illness, and ultimately disease. Many chronic conditions have direct links to inflammation - Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, bone and joint problems, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s. Just because you take medications to alleviate symptoms doesn’t mean you’re well - you’re just holding your symptoms at bay.

The good news is that a healthy diet - one in which you control what goes in - can help ward off many chronic and age-related conditions. By paying particular attention to the types of fats you are ingesting, choosing Omega 3 fatty acids (found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, and cold water fish) over Omega 6’s (processed vegetable oils like sunflower, cottonseed, and safflower) and trans fats, you can actually reduce inflammation. Quick-digesting, refined carbohydrates like sugar and flour use another mechanism to increase inflammation.

Our “learned helplessness,” fostered by the industrial food monopolies, can be remedied. When you cook - really cook - with whole food ingredients, you are the mediator between nature and culture, as Michael Pollan points out in his latest book, Cooked - A History of Transformation. And, in the process, you may find support for whatever ails you, whether it’s actual physical inflammation, or just taking time to slow down and appreciate the calming, meditative nature of chopping, the wonderful scents emanating from your oven or stovetop, sharing a thoughtful meal with those you care about. It may - just may - change your life for the better.

Cooking doesn’t need to be complicated. Using the highest quality whole food ingredients you can find and afford, whatever you make is going to be better than what the industrial food companies are serving. Don’t outsource your health to them. You CAN cook, and your health, your family’s health, and the health of our world will be better for it!

Find out more at The Intentional Kitchen,, or contact me, Chef Joan at



Tags: weight loss,nutrition,health,fitness,weight loss challenge,wellness,family time