If you ask almost anyone about their diet, 9 times out of 10 you hear that they eat a “healthy” diet. The problem is, there are a thousand interpretations of what that is. Despite the fact that we are all unique and require a diet to suit our needs, most people are either overweight or having problems with their health that often require medication. When a person is suffering from any kind of health challenge, a good place to start to heal is with an anti-inflammatory diet.
Forget about counting calories – you should become a Nutritarian. In general, you need to eat way more vegetables than you ever thought reasonable; 9 cups a day is not too much, the more the better. Emphasize leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and DIY sprouts (store-bought sprouts can harbour mold). No matter what your dietary philosophy, whether you like a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore or ancestral/paleo diet, this is the common ground for health. Eat low glycemic load meals that will not cause your blood sugar to skyrocket and promote metabolic syndrome. If you are concerned about excess body fat, don’t count calories, make your calories count. When you give your body what it needs, cravings cease and your tastebuds will adjust so you will begin to appreciate the taste of healthy foods. Eat nutrient rich foods slowly, include protein in every meal or snack and eat only to 80% full.
If you are having trouble getting as many greens as you would like, include a daily cold-pressed green juice or green smoothie. They are both great and offer different benefits. My favourite juicer is the Omega 8004, a single augur machine that juices anything. You can make green smoothies with any blender, in stages, but the results will be smoother and more appetizing with a high powered blender. For a curated guide to creating your own superfood smoothies plus some delicious recipes, get my free e-book here. I hope you take advantage of this gift to get started on a better path when it comes to food. Adding lots of greens to your diet is the fastest route to increased energy and feelings of well-being. Not only do greens provide tons of phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins, you also get fiber and some even protein. Increasing the good stuff in your diet crowds out the bad stuff and leads to more positive changes.
Focus on low sugar fruits and don’t overdo it – berries are packed with nutrients and fiber. Don’t go overboard on sweet fruits such as bananas (the iceberg lettuce of the fruit world) but pineapple can be beneficial due to its bromelain content (I include it in my smoothies as an enzyme to help break down scar tissue in my feet).
Beans are good for you and are an amazing source of plant-based protein and fiber – ignore Paleo ideologies that say otherwise. If you are prone to gassiness when eating them, it is because you have not been eating them regularly and have not developed the enzymes and gut microbiome to deal with them effectively. Start small and gradually increase the amount. Soaking dry beans and then allowing them to sprout a little (the legumes need to be organic) also decreases the enzyme inhibitors that cause gas, as does adding some seaweed to the cooking water (I like to add a 4″ chunk of kombu). Are they acidic? Well, they are less alkaline than greens and many other plant foods, but in comparison to a steak – no, not even close.
Grains are more acidic than beans. Make sure whatever grain products you eat are 100% whole grain such as cooked brown rice rather than breads or pastries. Consider eliminating gluten-containing grains (especially wheat, which is omnipresent in most people’s diet but also rye, barley & oats that are not specially processed) from your diet at least temporarily. You can re-introduce after a few weeks to see if you react to them, but almost everyone is better of without glue in their digestive tract, so consider banning wheat from your diet.
When it comes to inflammatory foods, nothing is worse than dairy, especially cheese. This will be very hard for some people to accept, but there are vegan alternatives such as nutritional yeast that can give a “cheezy” flavour to foods (I like it on hot air or coconut oil popped popcorn (as a treat) with a little sea salt). I have also made some delicious fermented nut cheeses and dairy-free cheesecakes that are an option for those who enjoy being creative in the kitchen.
Try to only eat foods that are contributing nutrients that will enhance your health. No empty calories.
Foods to eliminate:
- Anything to which you are allergic or sensitive/intolerant
- fried foods and trans-fatty acids (margarine and in processed foods); vegetable, canola, corn and soybean oils
- Most dairy – the most easily tolerated is raw and from goats or sheep; fermented is better as well
- non-organic and overly processed soy – fake meats and soymilk
- factory-farmed and processed meat, fish (including larger wild fish containing high mercury) and poultry
- high-fructose corn syrup – in soda pop and processed foods; also sugar and artificial sweeteners
- coffee (get a great substitute if you crave the taste – I like Dandyblend)
- processed foods (high in salt, sugar, bad fats and chemicals) and MSG, commercial salad dressings
Foods to Include:
- Buy organic as much as you possibly can – eating seasonally, buying what is on sale and local (farmer’s markets are fun to shop) rather than having in mind a set list of produce to buy;
- Frozen produce is often superior when out of season and less expensive and the texture is not an issue in soups and stews.
- G-BOMBS (Joel Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach) LOTS of green vegetables plus beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds
- Emphasize brightly coloured vegetables such as beets, red cabbage and sweet potatoes; also peppers, eggplant and tomatoes (unless you are sensitive to nightshades)
- Include ginger and generous amounts of turmeric (always with black pepper and oil of some sort, I like coconut for curries) plus garlic and onions when you are making your own food
- Small amounts of cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil for low-heat cooking; if you use higher heat, organic coconut oil is better. Beware of grapeseed oil which is okay for high heat but is often processed with high heat and petrochemicals
- Unprocessed, organic soy can be beneficial, including edamame and fermented soy like tamari, miso and tempeh; organic sprouted tofu is another occasional option
- If you are an omnivore, include naturally caught wild fish such as salmon and minimize other meats, even grass-fed beef – think of it as more of a condiment for flavour than the main course; vegetables should still comprise the majority of your plate
- Plenty of filtered or pure spring water (keep a bottle with you)
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut (found in the refrigerated section and containing live bacteria) which are much higher in probiotics than supplements
- Green or white tea (early in day due to caffeine content – don’t have any caffeine if you have adrenal fatigue or osteoporosis)
- Herbal teas
- Good fats in the form of avocados, raw nuts & seeds especially freshly ground flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds(for Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Cocoa (the best is raw) in smoothies or a hot drink contributes magnesium and antioxidants; if you are craving junky sweets, this is the perfect antidote – use small amounts of natural sweeteners like maple syrup, coconut syrup, soaked dates, raw honey or the herb stevia (preferably a green form); For a treat or dessert, a square or two of really dark, good quality (read the label – it should include only food ingredients, no chemicals and no dairy) chocolate is not a bad thing! I use 85% or 90% cacao bars or make my own with coconut oil or cocoa butter plus a sweetener and raw cacao. Just don’t eat the whole bar.
Lifestyle Tips to Lower Inflammation:
- Reduce stress by simplifying your life, learn to say no and not let things get to you; talk to a friend or counsellor if you are having trouble coping; keep a gratitude journal, which will adjust you to focus on the positive things in your life.
- Do things you enjoy such as sports or hobbies like gardening and creative pursuits such as painting
- Deep breathing, relaxation/meditation, calming music; also, get enough rest – take a short nap (20 minutes) if you are tired!
- Calming, regular exercise like walking, stretching, yoga/pilates exercises, biking or swimming.
- Get some sun – for the Vitamin D and mood-boosting properties of being outdoors in fresh air – just don’t overdo it and burn, wear a hat and chemical-free zinc-based sunblock on your face to minimize wrinkles. Best time of day is early or late (avoid high noon) and only for a short period of time (this will depend on your skin tone, start with 10 minutes if you are fair) but expose as much of your body as you can.
This is really something that should be individualized for you by a health practitioner, nutritionist or naturopath based on your health history and symptoms. Deficiencies and imbalances are surprisingly common and you need an expert to sort out what to take, when to take it, how much to take and for how long. Sometimes, when a deficiency is apparent, you need to take large doses to see an immediate improvement in symptoms. I like to try and get most of my nutrients from foods since a vitamin pill is not going to make up for a bad diet. However, there are a few supplements that are smart for everyone to consider:
- Vitamin D (1,000-2,000 I.U. per day) if you live somewhere cold and gray in the winter, however, you should have your levels checked as it is possible to get too much.
- A good quality multi-vitamin is a bit of insurance that you will get what you need despite day to day fluctuations in your diet – I like those that are food-based.
- Algae or krill oil if you are not getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids in your food (fatty wild fish, walnuts, hemp seed, flax seed are some sources). The amount of these good fats you require will increase with certain health problems, intake of processed and fried foods and too many Omega-6 oils. Beware of rancidity and toxins in fish oils as tests have revealed that fish oil is very fragile – damaged/contaminated fish oil can cause more harm than good. Buy small, dark containers and store in fridge or freezer.