Simplifying Healthy Eating – Is It Possible?
Nov 01, 2018
Paleo, Plant-based, Ketogenic, Macrobiotic, Mediterranean, Blood type, Fruitarian, Raw, Raw Til 4, Starch Solution, Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, High-carb-low-fat, Low-carb-high-fat, DASH, GAPS, SCD, FODMAPS…Ah! There are so many diets in the world, and this is just a short list. Just take a peruse down the nutrition section of any bookstore and you’ll see the immense amount of contraindicating information in this world of nutrition. One doctor tells you to eat a ketogenic diet, while another tells you to eat plant-based. This diet expert says fruits are evil, but that nutritionist says to base your entire diet off of fruits. How are we to make sense of all of this competing information?
Honestly, I feel rather qualified to write on this topic of food and healthy eating, not because of my nutritional training through Naturopathic Medical school, but because I’ve personally tried many of the above diets over the last ten years throughout my quest to find the healthiest way of eating for myself.
It all started with the SCD diet (for medical reasons), which was quickly replaced by the more intense GAPS diet. After 2 years on the GAPS diet, my eating evolved into a paleo diet with an overlay of Blood Type Diet and Ayurvedic principles. I then ventured into the realm of food sensitivity testing and discovered that among my many intolerances was one of my staple foods; eggs. I immediately removed these from my diet and around the same time slowly began to reintroducing whole grains and legumes. Then came the opportunity to partake in a 10-day juice fast with a Naturopathic mentor. After this cleanse, my appetite for animal products naturally reduced and I found myself only eating fish and plant-based foods, the Seagan diet. Then the day finally came when I lost my appetite for fish as well and took on a completely plant-based diet.
The purpose of this article is not to talk about which diet is the best (there are plenty of those types of articles in the world already), rather my intention with this article is to focus on what most doctors, dieticians, nutritionist, health-bloggers DO agree on: the simple basics of healthy eating.
Let’s simplify healthy eating
I really believe Michael Pollan said it best in his book, Food Rules.
EAT FOOD NOT TOO MUCH MOSTLY PLANTS
However, here in this article, I am going to add my own spin to create my very own set of food rules.
1. EAT WHOLE FOODS
So let’s break this down a bit. What do I mean when I say “Eat whole food.” I mean foods that come in their whole form; fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains. Do not eat “food-like items,” such as Twinkies, candy, Oreos, hot-pockets, Lunchables, cup-of-noodles, etc. I also mean to eat olives over olive oil, coconuts over coconut oil or coconut sugar, dates over date sugar, hemp seeds over hemp protein, etc. Eating foods in their whole form is the way that nature intended. Foods that grow from the earth (that have not been genetically tampered with), were divinely designed to completely nourish people and animals. As soon as a whole food is processed, whether it be concentrated, bleached, pressed, isolated, etc. it loses nutrients that are often replaced with processing chemicals and/or preservatives. It, therefore, makes sense that whole foods offer the densest, cleanest, and most bioavailable source of nutrients available at the market. You’ll notice if you shop this way, you will find yourself spending most of your time circling the perimeter of the grocery store in the produce, bulk, and refrigerated sections, only venturing into the center aisles for the rare can of beans or bag of oatmeal. The center aisles of the store are where most of the food-like items live all packaged up in plastic, which is a perfect segue to my next point.
2. READ THE NUTRITION LABELS:
Believe it or not, I actually don’t care so much about the calorie, fat, or carbohydrate content listed on the nutritional labels. What I do care about are the listed ingredients. If the food you are buying comes in any packaging, make sure it only contains ingredients that you recognize as food! For example, I may buy a tub of organic salsa which contains the following ingredients: tomatoes, onions, diced green bell pepper, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, sea salt, jalapeno pepper puree, and vinegar. This product actually contains a large number of ingredients, however, they are all ingredients I recognize as real food. In fact, I could easily buy all the ingredients in this salsa and make my own version very easily, however buying it already made up in a packaged tub saves me the time and effort. Compare this with a box of dried macaroni and cheese and you find ingredients including: enriched macaroni product (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), cheese sauce mix (whey, milkfat, milk protein contrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, lactic acid, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, cheese culture, enzymes). There is not one ingredient in this food-like-product that has not been processed from its original source. Even the milk has been processed and divided into three separate food-like ingredients. It would be impossible for me to try to recreate this exact dish because these food-like ingredients are not even available for sale in the store. I could, however, buy whole grain pasta, milk, and cheese to make my own version of mac and cheese that would be much healthier (though still not an ideal meal), than this boxed form of mac and cheese. It is also concerning to me when I see “enriched” ingredients on a label because this usually means the product contains so many processed and nutrient-depleted that the company needed to add back in synthetically made nutrients.
3. EAT ORGANIC
Just do it! It is frightening how many pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers are used in American agriculture. These products contain constituents that are toxic to our endocrine system, central nervous system, and have scary correlations with rising rates of cancer. It is really best to stay away from conventionally grown foods whenever possible, but if finances are tight I recommended taking a look at the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen shopping guides created by The Environmental Working Group (EWG). The Dirty Dozen is a list of the most pesticide-laden foods, usually containing foods with thin or no peels, such as berries, leafy greens, celery, etc., which allow the pesticides to better penetrate into the food. No matter what your budget is, the conventionally grown version of these foods should always be avoided. The Clean Fifteen includes conventionally grown foods that are tested and found to have minimal to zero pesticide residues and are generally safe to eat in their conventionally grown form.
4. COOK YOUR OWN FOOD
Let’s face it, restaurant food is full of hidden ingredients that are usually not best for our health. Many restaurants use soy oil or canola oil for their cooking, which are both extremely processed oils, stripped of nutrients, that have a high rate of oxidation (that means they are likely to be rancid by the time they enter your mouth). Many sauces and salad dressings contain sugar another processed and nutrient-depleted ingredient. And we can’t forget that most restaurant food is laden with salt, salt, and more salt. Cooking at home allows you to know exactly what is in the food you are putting into your body. Cooking with loved ones also fosters a sense of community and even releases the bonding hormone, oxytocin, promoting a feeling of relaxation and happiness.
5. EAT MOSTLY PLANTS
I happen to agree with Michael Pollen’s statement of eating mostly plants. Who can deny that vegetables are good for health?
Every time we eat is an opportunity to receive the most amount of health-promoting nutrients as possible. For this reason, it is important to seek out the most nutrient-dense foods available. Nutrient-dense foods tend to be brightly colored, fresh, and well…plants! Dr. Fuhrman, an advocate for a micronutrient rich diet created an equation for health that follows as such: Health = nutrients/calories. This means in order to achieve the greatest health, we should strive to eat foods that have the most nutrients per calorie. Vegetables, fruits, tubers (including white potatoes believe it or not), and even grains are examples of foods with an excellent nutrient-to-calorie ratio. Foods with a poor nutrient-to-calorie ratio include oils, dairy, eggs, and meat…yes all the high-fat foods. Although they do contain nutrients, they are accompanied by many empty calories. They end up filling you up and satiating your hunger, but lack the adequate amount of minerals and vitamins. If you enjoy some of these higher-fat foods, make sure you do so sparingly to leave room for the more nutrient-rich plants!
6. COMBINE FOODS PROPERLY
High fat and high carbohydrate meals = metabolic stress! When it comes to metabolizing foods, our bodies prioritize the foods that are easiest to break down into energy. If there is alcohol with the meal, we will break down this first. The second easiest foods to break down are the carbohydrates in the meals from fruits, vegetables, starches, and sugars. Lastly, the body will break down fat because it requires the most energy to digest. When our body has received adequate energy from the meal, it will stop metabolizing the food and store the remainder in the body. In a high fat, high carb meal, any leftover fuel will be fat, which will be stored as fat in the body. Additionally, consuming fats with carbohydrate elevates blood sugar and insulin levels. It is, therefore, best to separate your high carbohydrate consumption from your fat/protein consumption.
Foods that are high in carbohydrates:
Grains, beans, tubers, corn, and starchy vegetables like winter squash.
Foods that are high in fat:
Meat, dairy, eggs, coconuts, avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds.
Foods that are low in both carbohydrates and fats:
Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, tomato, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, kohlrabi, radish, etc.
Fruits are best eaten only with other fruits or raw vegetables.
Examples of properly combined meals:
Baked sweet potato with a side of cooked vegetables, rice, beans, and salad.
Winter squash stuffed with quinoa and veggies with a side salad.
Veggie chili with a side salad. *It is important to note that small amounts fat will not burden the overall metabolism of the meal, such as 1/4 of an avocado, 1 Tbsp of nuts, etc.
* It is important to note that a small amount of carbohydrates from plants with not burden the overall metabolism of the meal.
A smoothie made with 2-3 bananas, 1 cup blueberries, a handful of spinach.
A mono-meal of one whole melon.
Examples of poorly combined meals
Steak and potatoes, fried potatoes, cheese pizza, peanut butter sandwich, donuts, etc.
7. FOCUS ON THE HEALING FOODS
I like to separate foods into three categories: Healing foods, Neutral foods, and Harmful foods.
Healing foods consist of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some people state that fruits are too high in sugar and should be eaten in moderation, however, these people forget that the sugars in fruits are bound to vital nutrients and are digested by our bodies in a much healthier way than processed sugar is digested. The glucose and fructose in fruit is an extremely important source of fuel for every cell in our body, and especially important for fueling our brain.
Neutral foods consist of grains, legumes, consciously raised meat (free of hormones, antibiotics, and fed the proper diet. The exception to this is pork, which is always in the harmful food category), and wild-caught small, cold-water fish (The SMASH fish – Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon, Herring). You may wonder why some of these foods are not in the Healing Foods category, such as salmon with its high omega-3 content, or legumes with their fiber content. In a healthy individual, these foods are very healthy to eat in their whole forms. However, in someone who is healing from a chronic or acute disease, these foods do not do much to support the healing process when compared with the Healing Foods. I do want to make a special note here that with meat and fish, it is best to keep their intake to a minimum (2-3 6-ounce servings/week due to their high-fat content).
Ok, I am coming out of the nutritional closet. I don’t like dairy, eggs, or pork (even if consciously raised). I also don’t like any sources of meat, processed sugar (honey and maple syrup are healing foods), gluten, corn, soy, MSG, citric acid, and any other food additives/preservatives. So why not dairy, eggs, and pork? Aside from it being a highly allergenic food, dairy has been linked with the proliferation of numerous cancers. If you think about it, the purpose of milk to turn a baby cow into an adult cow. That is a large task! In order to do that, milk contains high amounts of hormones and growth factors perfect for a baby cow. When those hormones and growth factors enter a human body, it can lead to unnecessary growth in the form of weight gain and fat accumulation, but more importantly, it can lead to an unchecked process of cellular growth and replication leading to the formation of cancerous tumors. Similarly, eggs are like little balls of hormones, adding this potential growth of cancer. Pork made it to this list for two main reasons. The first is that pigs are better at carrying parasites, bacteria, and viruses than other animals used for food, and these pathogenic organisms can ultimately lead to chronic disease down the line. The second reason is that pork contains a much higher percentage of fat than any other type of meat. Even when all the visible fat is trimmed away, a large amount of fat remains mixed in with the muscle fibers (the lean meat). So here you see I am starting to show myself more and more. I am not a supporter of a consistently high-fat diet. A high-fat meal here and there is not going to largely impact health negatively, but consistent consumption of high-fat dishes leads to accumulation of fat in the liver, muscle cells, and (of course) adipose tissue, which leads to diabetes, heart disease, and SO much more. Uh oh, did I just open a can of worms? There will be more on this topic to come on a later date!
In the future, we will be diving deeper into the three vital macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Make sure you stay connected to learn more about the truth of these building blocks to health.
Blessings of Health,