Cook from scratch.

Three simple words, picked from the documentary “Love Paleo” are noted on a page in my journal.

I bet my mom, or her mom wouldn’t be so taken with these words. And it was only around the third time that I watched this documentary, that they actually struck a chord with me.

They did so for two reasons.

Number 1: I realised that cooking my own food and packing my own meals for work had been integral in my success at getting in shape over the past year.

And number 2: I took stock, asked questions and realised just how few people around me actually cook their own food.

These were powerful realisations which led me to this question: if we are not controlling what we put in our and our families’ bodies, who are we entrusting this power to?

By the time I had settled into my Paleo lifestyle and was ready to start allowing myself the occasional treat – but was too lazy to make it myself – I started researching products which were free of the food groups I had eliminated from my diet (legumes, sugar, grains and dairy). Interestingly, I found quite a number of products catering for people who don’t do dairy, gluten, wheat or eggs, but very few which adhered to my specific needs.

You can’t always trust what the label says…

It was around this time that I picked up the threads of a conversion about a specialist bakery in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. Grumblings were that despite claims that the products were wheat- and gluten-free, people who were on restricted diets due to health issues, believed it was this particular bakery’s foodstuffs which were triggering their food intolerances.

Prompted by their suspicions, a group of cynics requested the products be tested to determine exactly what was in them.

While lab tests showed the nutritional labelling was not 100% accurate, the baker remained resolute that her items were free of allergens and to date she has managed to maintain a fairly loyal following.

So for the moment, the jury is still out as to whether her products are indeed what they proclaim to be.

More recently, I spotted a post by another specialist baker whom I started following on social media after having bought some of her delicious Paleo-friendly coconut flour biscuits.

Unlike the anger and defensiveness that dominated the debate involving the other baker, this business owner’s post was remorseful and her horror, almost tangible.

Turns out the baker she had outsourced the production of her goods to, had made her biscuits in a kitchen where regular wheat flours were used, leading to cross-contamination and as a result, traces of low gluten levels in a product that was marketed as being gluten-free.

The same baker had made another one of this business owner’s products with wheat flour instead of coconut flour, making the claims that the product was Banting-friendly, false.

“I am gutted,” the business owner wrote on Facebook. “I would never have willingly sold a product under false pretenses. Especially, since … these secretly added ingredients, not listed, can make people seriously ill.”

It’s not so hard to cook for yourself

So yes. It’s a minefield. And while I didn’t change my diet because of food intolerances – not consciously at least – I’ve experienced so many benefits of having eliminated, in particular, grains and dairy from my diet, that I’m simply not willing to risk unknowingly eating foods I wouldn’t ordinarily do, simply for the sake of convenience.

Apart from that, the reality is that once you do some research, you’ll find that many of the things we usually buy, are not that difficult to make yourself. Most importantly, however, you’ll have more control over what goes into your food.

And, says my very wise clinical psychologist friend, there’s something inexplicable that happens in the home unit when one cooks for one’s family – or even better, when the family members prepare a meal together.

Chances are, you’ll also spare your body having to deal with a long list of ingredients – many of them unnatural or overprocessed – found in prepacked foods. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the ingredient list of some of these “convenience foods” next time you go shopping.

And as a rule of thumb: opt for the product with the shortest list.