Today we're laying out the nitty-gritty rules of the challenge and also presenting the first writing prompt at the end. Muse about your answers to the prompt, and come back next week to link up your posts or leave a comment with your answer.
Why six ingredients?The idea of lowering the amount of ingredients in the foods we buy and eat is that our bodies do best with foods that are close to what humans have been eating for millennia. The fewer the ingredients, generally the less processed and more natural the food.
However, the reason for six ingredients exactly? Frankly, Sam and I made up the challenge to suit ourselves. We'd seen various "real foods" and whole foods challenges that suggested limiting foods to five ingredients or fewer, but when we looked at a selection of the items we loved and that seemed wholesome (enough) to us, they had more. (Ha ha!) So we worked backwards until we found a level, along with the rules we also gradually came up with, that allowed us to eat the variety of foods we were used to and limited the amount of non-processed foods we would need to replace. Six it was!
In trying this out ourselves, we determined that six was a pretty reasonable number. It cuts out most processed and a lot of packaged foods, but it still allows for some condiments and treats, as well as homemade versions of what would otherwise be processed foods.
Here are the rules we came up with for ourselves. If you want to be stricter or less so, that's up to you (honestly!) — do what works for you and your family, and make some strides toward eating more traditionally. If you're not using our rules, I'd just urge you to come up with your own concrete guidelines and then stick to those for the challenge.
What counts as an ingredient?We decided early on that some elements should not count as ingredients, and there was some debating back and forth on what to include on this list. We wanted to preserve the spirit of the challenge (eating more whole and natural foods) without either unduly restricting wholesome foods that just had a bunch of yummy parts to them or making the guidelines so broad as to be meaningless.
It's easier to tell you what doesn't count:
- Fruits (this was a sticking point for us — we finally decided whole fruits and fruit pieces could be excluded, but fruit purees and juices could not, since they were primarily sugar)
- Spices and herbs
In other words, if a food product had any of those in its ingredient list, we'd skip over them when counting. If a soup was "Water, vegetable broth, carrots, beef, green beans, vinegar, garlic, black pepper," for instance, it would pass because it would count as just two ingredients: the beef and the vinegar.
If sub-ingredients were listed in parentheses after a single ingredient (for instance, "milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin)," we would count all the ingredients in parentheses and skip the parent ingredient in our count.
That's what we came up with, and you're free to alter the list to fit your own preferences or beliefs.
What about combining ingredients?That's fine! This challenge will almost certainly get you cooking. The way we play it, we buy foods with fewer than six ingredients each and then are free to combine them in whatever way we like to at home. You'll likely find many of your concoctions still fall under six ingredients (with the exceptions noted above) if the parts you're cooking with are whole foods.
What effect will eating the Six Ingredients way have on my health?I do want to touch on one thing: This is not a weight-loss diet. My weight didn't change over the time I switched to eating this way, and that's not the point of it. Anktangle wrote a very thoughtful post on just what "healthy" eating means.
Eating this way has made me more aware and appreciative of the natural flavors and textures of whole foods. I fully believe my body does better when it's eating what it's evolved to expect, so I'm gradually moving myself and my family ever closer to more natural choices when it comes to food. The research backs this up, and I can't go into it fully here, but I recommend the books Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes; Practical Paleo, by Diane Sanfilippo; Real Food for Mother and Baby, by Nina Planck; In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan; and Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, as a start, if you're as interested in the science as I am and want to begin some more research. I also found Fat Head, King Corn, Forks Over Knives, Food Matters, and Hungry for Change entertaining and informative documentaries if you want to watch your nutrition science!
How will Six Ingredients challenge me?It depends on how you've been eating before, but I know for Sam and me, it was definitely a transition: more to cook, more then to clean, fewer convenience foods, and less time for other things. We thought we'd already been eating pretty well, so it was a bit of a surprise to realize pretty much all our packaged foods (even the organic and natural ones) had to be phased out and replacements found or made from scratch. After awhile, though (about the length of this challenge, in fact!), it became second nature and no burden to shop with six ingredients in mind.
Do I have to get rid of everything in my pantry that doesn't qualify?We didn't! That's why we started telling you about the challenge a week ahead of time, and why it lasts for six weeks. Sam's and my rule was that if we already had it, we could use it up. (We're thrifty that way.) If you'd rather purge the pantry and give your goodies to someone else, or set those items aside to deal with after the challenge, that's totally cool, too. Over the course of the challenge, you'll gradually stock up on the better stuff.
What about splurging on treats or eating out?Here's where you're going to have to decide for yourself what your rules are. Sam and I decided to allow for eating out without worrying about ingredients lists. Obviously, if we'd wanted to, we could have found the ingredients lists for most restaurants, or skipped any places that were cagey about it. But, for us, this challenge was a way of transforming the way we ate day-to-day, at home, so eating out or eating at other people's houses we decided to let pass. You're welcome to put your own restrictions on eating out, maybe turning this into a low-spend month for you as well!
We also allowed ourselves occasional splurges when we were originally doing the challenge, though we'll try harder to stick to it right now since people are doing it along with us this time! However, we knew that we wanted this to be a long-term change in our eating and buying habits, not a temporary fix, so we wanted to find ways to keep ourselves from feeling deprived. You can decide whether you get a "splurge budget" or not and what it is: maybe a non-qualifying food daily or weekly, a particular food or beverage you simply could not part with without obsessing or going off the wagon, or an actual monetary allowance per week you can spend on "forbidden" foods. You can also allow yourself to have items with more than six ingredients if you make them yourself at home, from scratch, since that will likely slow down your consumption of such treats. The idea of the challenge is to push your boundaries a little for six weeks but also allow you to settle into a new way of eating that feels right for you long term.
What about pulling my family along for the challenge?Some partners and kids are resistant to change. Believe me, I get that! Fortunately, Sam was fully on board, but we have two pint-size picky eaters. I'd recommend talking it through with your family (they might surprise you and be excited!), but you're going to have to decide how much stress it will be to transition reluctant family members. If you're the primary cook in the house, you can begin subbing out your old ingredients or boxed meals for newer, traditionally prepared varieties, and it's possible no one will be the wiser. However, there might be certain entrenched favorites that are just too dear to a loved one to give up. In cases like that, you'll have to decide what feels right to you: making a clear change (laying down the law, so to speak, and refusing to buy or prepare foods yourself that fall outside the challenge guidelines) or making exceptions and allowing your family members time to transition as they need to. Sometimes we're just not ready for change but will be in the future when we've seen enough modeling, so there's always hope!
Are we missing any questions and answers? Write in or comment with anything else you'd like to see addressed, either now or as the challenge continues.
We hope you'll join us by blogging or journalling about the writing prompt each week. We'll introduce the prompt each Thursday and host a link-up for the answers the following week.
Writing Prompt #1
Writing prompt guidelines:
- You have till next week to think of a response to the prompt. Post your response on your blog anytime by next week.
- Next week's post (2/7) will have a writing prompt linky where you can link up your response.
- If you don't have a blog, you can leave your response in the comments on next week's post (2/7).
- Copy and paste the header below into your post to tag it as part of the challenge.
- Responding to the writing prompts is optional and just a fun extra way to play along! We encourage you to at least think out a response.