How to Begin "Cleaning Up Your Diet"
I have this as the first principle for a couple of reasons. One, it is, in my opinion, the most important. Thwo, this step only will help you eliminate the main food culprits causing excessive inflammation.
BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Simply put, EAT SIMPLE! Just like most things in life, if you stick to the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple and Stupid) guidelines you find it's not as hard as you imagine.
Choosing Fresh Fruits, Vegetables and Legumes
You don't have to say goodbye to canned and frozen version. But be sure to read the labels to look for added salts, sugars, preservatives and BPA lined cans.
FRUITS: Fruits are a source of natural sugars, which our body does need (more on sugars later). Our body can handle the sugars in fruits because they are balanced with fiber, enzymes, proteins, fats and other vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. It is the refined and highly processed sugars that are the real issue (again, more later), and excessive amounts.
Have you noticed that fruit is seasonal? Many of us have forgotten that fruits (and vegetables for that matter) have seasons. They are typically available year round. But, let me tell you a secret…if you eat them when they are in season in your area, you are going to to get the best nutritional bang for your buck. Apples, for example, are a fall and winter storage fruit. They are harvested in the fall, and can be cold stored for winter use. How many of you have seen a fruit filled tree in early summer….not here anyways. Most of the apples you get in spring/summer come from other countries (typically Mexico, Central and South American Countries). These fruits are picked before reaching full potential and shipped long distances. These are also, typically, irradiated and processed before entering our country to kill foreign bacteria, viruses, protozoan, and chemicals. If you want to have fruit with not only the most flavor, but the most nutritional value, pick local and in season (they will also be cheaper then too…supply and demand).
When choosing fruits, stick to fresh or frozen. Don't buy the canned or jarred varieties. These are full of added sugars. Frozen is the next best to fresh. Fruit is picked ripe, and frozen quickly, retaining their nutritive value. If you can't get fresh, seasonal, buy frozen as the next best.
Dried fruit is often full of added sugar and preservatives. Read your labels closely, and find versions that are just fruit. Better yes, learn to dry or dehydrate fruit yourself!
Many fruits are high on the pesticide use list. (THE DIRTY DOZEN). Going organic is expensive, and in some areas there is little available. Start by avoiding conventional fruits in the Dirty Dozen list as a starting point. This will immediately minimize the amount of foreign and inflammatory chemicals in your body. The good thing is, that many studies show that once switching to mostly organic, chemical levels in the body decrease quickly.
VEGETABLES: Vegetables are a must! Vegetables are an essential way of getting vital vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, essential fatty acids, proteins, and phytochemicals necessary for body functions.
Like Fruit, fresh and in season is best. Some vegetables can be stored and used year round (think fall and winter vegetables: cabbage, beets, potatoes). Traditionally these foods were grown for winter meals. Some vegetables are only available during short periods during the year…Asparagus is an early spring, short lived treat. There are so many amazing vegetables out there, don't limit yourself, explore some new ones. You may be surprised what you like. Example: We joined a CSA when we moved to Colorado. (Love CSA's by the way, if you are looking for a way to get local, seasonal produce and support local farms, check out a CSA in your area). Our weekly box was full of vegetables I have never used, and some I had never even seen! One of these gems was Kohlrabi. A member of the cabbage family, it looks like a root vegetable that forgot to grow underground. It's flavor is a cross between a white potato and an artichoke. It can be cooked and mashed (into a mashed potato look-a-like) or used raw in salad. I fell in LOVE with this unique vegetable (I had to look it up online). I rarely find it in the regular markets, but grow it in my garden now.
When picking your vegetables go fresh and local when you can, leaving frozen as the next best, and canned as the last resort. Most canned vegetables are in BPA plastic lined cans, have added salts/sugars, and have lost much of the flavor they should have. Like Fruits, many common vegetables are highly treated with pesticides. Buying organic will help you avoid these environmental toxins. Start by buying only those on the Dirty Dozen list Organic.
Grow Your Own! Start a vegetable garden of your own. This way you have control over the chemicals used, access to the freshest vegetables, and can pick those that you eat frequently. You'd be surprised how much you can grow in a small space. I live in suburbia! With a small "patio-home" style yard. Every year, I grow a garden. It's taken me some time to figure out what works well with my space and family, but at this point I can grow: Lettuces, Red Radishes, Beets, Arugula (In the spring), Okra, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Peppers, Daikon Radish, Kohlrabi, Rapini, Green Beans, Corn (in the summer) and Kale, Chard, Rosemary, Stevia, Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley Cilantro, Chives, Sage, Strawberries, Pumpkins (all season). This past season I was able to grow enough for us to eat, and to freeze (we froze 3 bags of Green Beans, 4 bags of Okra, 15 ear of Corn, 6 bags of Kale, 5 bags of Chopped Chard, made my own Crushed Red Pepper, and made some Stevia/Mint bombs (stevia and mint leaves chopped and frozen in TBSP amounts). Not too bad for 2 small garden beds and some pots. It's possible in any yard, rewarding and a great way to supplement the grocery bill with quality food. This year I was planning on adding Sweet Potatoes and Amaranth!
Eat a variety of cooked and raw vegetables. Some NEED to be cooked, even slightly, to unlock their nutrition availability.
LEGUMES: Legumes need to be soaked, or sprouted to break down inflammatory chemicals (saponins, phytic acid, and enzyme inhibitors) than can make them rough on the digestive system and weaken the digestive functions of the intestines . It is best to buy them dry and soak them, cook them yourself. This is not feasible for many (even me sometimes). But, if you are trying to eliminate inflammation, please take this extra step and learn to can yourself. Make big batches of simple cooked beans, and store them in jars. All legumes need to be cooked! Raw legumes can be toxic, much like raw potatoes.
Saponins are plant "soaps." They bind to both carbohydrates and sterol fats. Most all plants have some level of saponins. Like Phytic Acid, there are pros and cons to Saponins in the diet. Legumes vary in the amount of Saponin they have between 0.5%-5% with Soybeans have the most. Saponins can have a negative affect on intestinal cell membrane integrity. They bind to sterols (cholesterols) which make up a portion of the lipid cell membranes, weakening the membrane over time. On the contrary, some Saponins have been shown to have ANTI-inflammatory properties. Saponins work in plants to protect them from microbe invasions. These Saponins can help treat protozoan and microbe overgrowth in the intestines. Cooking, and soaking does not remove all of the Saponins, much like soaking grains, but reduces the amount.
Cyanogenic Compounds are also found in legumes. These compound are found in many different root vegetables and legumes… These are toxins, and are found in high amounts in things like Cassava and Broad Beans…these must be soaked and cooked to destroy these compounds. Our body can remove small amounts of Cyanides (yes this is a form of Cyanide). In large amounts it is toxic.
Proteolytic Enzyme Inhibitors are another reason to properly process your legumes. Legumes are particularly high in Proteolytic Enzyme Inhibitors (PEI). For the plant, these are great! They are a defense mechanism agains bugs. In the diet, these PEI's have been linked to enlargement of the pancreas, a reduction in protein digestibility, and increase digestive inflammation. These are highest in soybeans. With most legumes, the soaking cooking methods reduce the PEI's to a safe level. With soybeans, the levels are so high that an extra step of actually fermentation must be taken to make theme safe for consumption. Soy should never be consumed raw, or in "milk" form, or even edamame. It should always be fermented into real cultured tofu, miso, or tempeh.
Eat Grains in Their Whole State
oAh Grains. Another very controversial food, much like the Legumes I just spent an hour explaining! Like Legumes, grains contain several anti-nutrient compounds. They too need to be properly processed to be consumed.
Eating your grains in their whole, and natural form (and processing them correctly) increases their nutrition value. Most refined grains have been stripped of all their nutrition (which is why the flour is "fortified" with synthetic vitamins…which we will talk about later and how synthetic vitamins can be extremely toxic). Whole grains in their whole state; Quinoa, Wheat berries, Brown Rice, Wild Rice, Millet, Spelt, all in berry form, are the preferred method. If you need to use ground flours, pick those that are whole grain and sprouted. This will ensure that you are getting the most nutrition that you can. BUT, when trying to eliminate inflammation, I highly recommend just doing away will ground flours, whole grain pastas, whole grain breads etc. These are so often full of preservatives and sugars,
Stick with whole berry grains, and soak/spout them before cooking.
When you can, stick to more primitive varieties of grains. Modern varieties, even organic, have been very much changed over years of modern agriculture, and are now commonly Genetically Modified. Primitive grains tend to have more nutritional value, being higher in proteins, fats, minerals, and B vitamins, than more modern grain species. Many primitive grains are gluten free, and technically seeds.
Primitive grains include: Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Chia, Farro, Oats, Millet, Quinoa, Red Rice, Sorghum, Teff, Thai Black Rice, Wild Rice
Like Legumes, there are compounds in grains that need to be broken down to increase their digestibility and increase their available nutrition.
Phytic Acid is the most talked about, and I have already mentioned this in yesterdays post (see my Scottish Oats notes.)
The next is the Proteolytic Enzyme Inhibitors, just like the Legumes. In grains, there is less, and grains need a simple soak/sprout to break them down.
With grains, we should probably bring up Gluten. Let me start by saying, I do not believe that everyone with an inflammatory condition is a Gluten Allergy or Sensitivity. YES it does exist, but like all other food allergies, it varies from person to person. Is it more common, yes, but that does not mean that everyone should be off Gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in some grains, most commonly wheat. Gluten can cause inflammation in those with allergens, sensitivities or autoimmune reactions.
Gluten/Wheat Allergy: This is an immune response to gluten. It can cause not only intestinal inflammation, in systemic inflammation, such as asthma, chronic congestions, watery eyes, and common "seasonal" allergy symptoms. Symptoms are usually quick a quick onset. Allergy reactions can be see in on an IgE blood test.
Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: This is an intolerance to gluten that has not caused intestinal damage, but there is systemic inflammation causing brain fog, joint pain, and fatigue. This is more difficult to diagnose. Blood tests are are often variable. You need to have consumed large amounts of gluten at a certain point prior to testing for accurate results.
Celiacs: This is becoming one of the most common auto-immune diseases in the modern culture. There are many theories as to why this is becoming an issue now. One such theory is that our modern wheat grains are so rich in gluten (much more than primitive varieties), and this gluten is actually a different form of gluten from primitive grains. This new gluten is harder for our body to recognize and we are bombarding our system with so much foreign gluten at home time, that it sees it as a threat and goes on the defensive. Celiacs is an autoimmune disease. Those with Celiacs have significant intestinal pain and inflammation, as well as systemic symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, weight changes, malnutrition, and other autoimmune diseases.
If you think you may have issues with Gluten, get tested.
Choose Quality Meats Raised Naturally
The meat we eat is one of the most important aspects of diet to change. This is a great example of Quality vs. Quantity. It is better to have smaller amounts of nutrient rich, properly raised meat, than large amounts of nutritionally poor, poorly raised meat.
This does not mean organic meat. This means GRASS-FED and FINISHED, when we talk beef. PASTURE RAISED when we talk Poultry and Pork, and WILD CAUGHT for fish. What our meat eats will make a different in the nutritional profile.
Properly Balance Your Meals
The foods you combine into a meal matter.
Carbohydrates are the body's instant fuel, needed for short bursts of cellular energy, and neuro-processes. Meals that are rich in carbohydrates are quickly digested, absorbed, used and stored. Leaving you hungry sooner.
Proteins are the building blocks of most of the enzymes in our body. They are harder to digest, and take a longer time. They keep you fuller longer.
Fats are slower to digest, and are a fuel source for the body as well as building blocks for hormones, and cell membranes. They are a slower release fuel and give the body sustained energy. They also keep you fuller and energized longer.
When you combine Carbohydrates with Proteins and Fats, the meal is balanced. You feel energized sooner and longer, and stay full longer.
There is a digestive balance. Meals that combine healthy complex carbohydrates, fiber, proteins and fats, are balanced. Not only does this help give your body a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in one meal. Often, the nutrients from each food in your meal play off of each other.
Fat-soluble vitamins in many plants cannot be digested and absorbed with adequate amounts of fat, specifically saturated fats, for absorption. Vitamin A/D/E/K are all fat soluble vitamins that need a fat bound to it to get through the intestinal wall. Eating a raw carrot, on it's own, will give you little Vitamin A in the body, but combine it with a good fat (cooked in Butter), and you access much more of the available nutrition.
Learn to Cook
Sure, there are some options available that involve you cooking, but it's going to harder, and you really have no control over the ingredients. Learn to love cooking! The more control you have over the foods you eat, the more accountability you have in your own health.
This doesn't mean that you need to spend hours cooking everyday. Many of the meals and recipes I make are quick. I juggle multiple lives (Mother, Acupuncturist, Child Chauffeur, Non-Profit Board Member, Author, Wife etc..) We've all got our multiple lives. Often, I am not home until 5:30/6:00 in the evenings and still make the priority of making and feeding my family healthy meals. That's what it has to be, a priority.
Cooking Tips for the Modern Busy Life
If this is still something that is not your cup of tea, there are businesses, like Blue Apron, that will send you boxed meals with instructions on how to prepare them. I believe you can pick different nutritional philosophies on many (paleo, vegan), and they are all geared towards being organic, balanced and healthy. For some, this may help get you started.
Learn to Read Labels
This is an very important skill. Many packaged, canned, dried, or even seemingly fresh foods, are hiding dirty little secrets in their ingredients lists. Added sugars, salts, preservatives, food colorings, etc… Learning to read these labels will help you a great deal.
I think we all know about carbohydrates, proteins, fats, sugars, act…that written on there very clearly. If not, let me know and I'll elaborate. What I'm more concerned about in this post is the ingredients list. What's actually IN that food. This is where those hidden additives pop up.
Even things that seem healthy are not what they seem…lets take Coconut Milk (I use this a lot). Here are the ingredients lists for a couple different Coconut Milk Labels.
Organic doesn't mean much when you are looking at labels. Many of these products have added ingredients for "stabilizing" and "preserving" and "flavor". The organic ones have a nice price tag, for the same ingredients, really.
There are great lists online of preservatives and inflammation. Anything with a -sulfate or a -sulfite at the end should be avoided. These have been shown to increase inflammatory markers in the Omega 6 pathways.
Breakfast #2 Banana Nut Chia Seed Pudding, Black Coffee
Chia seeds are all the rage right now. If any of you follow Pinterest (Please follow mine!), you'll see a number of these new Chia Seed Puddings. This week, I decided to make one. It's not too bad.
So, what's the deal on Chia Seeds? It's the new Acai, or Pomegranate. Cha-cha-cha chia, remember the chia pets, well, these are those same seeds…who knew! Chia seeds are an ancient seeds, used as food for the Mayans and Aztecs. Nutritionally, they are high in Omega 3's (5gr of ALA per ounce), fiber, and minerals Magnesium, Calcium, and Manganese. They are also high in antioxidants. High in fibers that feed digestive bacteria. They are still doing tons of research on these little guys, but some show great promise for diabetes, and insulin resistance.
In a mason jar, add banana and nut butter, use a fork to blend. Add other ingredients, put lid on and shake. Refrigerate overnight. Top with sliced banana and sprinkle with additional cinnamon.
Makes 2 servings
Lunch #2 Leftover Avocado-Lime Chicken Soup; Berries;Kombucha; Water
I love making large batches when I cook. It's nice to have containers portioned out for quick lunch box packing.
Dinner #2 Crockpot Venison and Sweet Potato Chili
I find it easier, when help clients, to modify what they are already eating. This is a simple chili recipe. The only differences are that I used bulk seasonings, and not a preservative filled pre-packaged chili mix, and I added healthier, nutrient rich ingredients…like Venison and Sweet Potatoes.
In a cast iron skillet, add Olive Oil over medium heat. Add Ground Meat, Onion and Garlic. Cook until meat is brown and cooked. Transfer to crockpot along with juices.
Add in all other ingredients. Set timer for 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.
Top with Avocado, or quality cultured sour cream.