People are becoming more and more aware of the connection between healthy diet and quality of life. A poor diet can be a contributing factor to such day to day problems as fatigue, headaches, mood swings, indigestion, constipation, skin problems, menstrual discomfort, etc. The information given below is designed to help you begin adopting a more healthy diet. The recommendations are based on my years of clinical nutrition work with patients and extensive research.
Always remember that changing life-long, deeply ingrained eating habits can be difficult. As you strive to follow these principles be patient with yourself, keep a sense of humor, enjoy your successes, don’t beat yourself up if you “cheat,” and do not hesitate to seek out support from others, especially your Naturopathic Physician.
Guiding Principles of a Healthy Diet:
Include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. These foods promote health by providing an abundance of fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes (if eaten raw), and many other life-giving and health promoting substances.
It is best to have a mix of cooked and raw plant foods. I always recommend basing this on the seasons. If it is hot out, eat more raw foods as your body will have more energy to devote towards digestion. If it is cold, eat more cooked foods to give your digestion a rest. Easy!
Wherever possible eat foods in their natural rather than processed form. For example, fresh local vegetables have more food value than frozen vegetables, which have more value than vegetables that are old or shipped from far away, which have more food value than canned vegetables.
Include a moderate amount of protein from seeds, nuts, pasture raised/ grass fed whole fat dairy products, meat, poultry, and whole eggs (raw yolk is ideal). Also include beans and lentils if they are tolerated (the high fiber content can be detrimental for those with certain gastrointestinal disorders).
Wherever possible choose organic over non-organic foods. Foods grown non-organically often contain pesticides and other chemical residues that have been linked to certain cancers. Organic farming also helps preserve farmland, increases nutrient composition of soil and foods grown in it, and decreases contamination of ground water. If on a budget, use the following to guide your purchases:
Produce with the highest pesticide residues, always try to buy organic
Produce with least pesticide residues
Examples of Foods to Include in a Healthy Diet:
Fruits: Apples, pears, berries, melons, citrus, kiwi, pumpkin, squash, peppers, cucumber, peaches, nectarines, mango, cherries, kumquat, ripe bananas, apricot, avocado, etc.
[Note: Fruit and vegetable juices can be used for therapeutic purposes such as during a cleansing fast. However, most juices are high in simple sugars and devoid of fiber which can lead to problems with blood sugar regulation. One can decrease the concentration of sugar by diluting juice 1:1 with water or carbonated mineral water (my favorite). Choose the whole fruit or vegetable instead of juice whenever possible.]
Vegetables: Kale, chard, artichoke, kohlrabi, sweet potato, rutabaga, parsnip, celery, cabbage, mixed greens, carrots, asparagus, radish, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, collard greens, rhubarb, spinach, onion, garlic, turnip, seaweeds, beet, beet tops
Nuts/seeds: Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and quinoa.
Fish: Salmon, cod, wild caught trout, mackerel, ahi, etc. Fresh wild-caught Alaskan salmon is an especially good source of healthy oil called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Dairy products: Some people are intolerant or allergic to dairy products. If you tolerate dairy, eat only whole milk dairy products, ideally that come from pastured/grass fed cows. Consider clarified butter (ghee) if you have a lactose sensitivity.
Meat and poultry: Buy organically fed or free roaming meat, poultry, and eggs because they do not contain the hormones and antibiotics present in most animal feed and are full of healthy fats. Be sure to choose meats that do not contain nitrates or nitrites (lunch meats, preserved meats, sausages, bacon…)
Fats and oils: See special section on fats and oils below.
Salt & spices: Use mineral salts like Himalayan sea salt, Celtic sea salt, and “Real Salt” from Utah, while avoiding refined salt. Garlic, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and other spices can be used liberally.
Whole grains: amaranth, wild rice, millet, oats, buckwheat, teff. Use grains sparingly. These foods contain very little nutrition after cooking. Furthermore, they have a high phytate content that binds minerals and vitamins making them a major anti-nutrient food.
Legumes: All dried beans – navy, white, black, mung, garbanzo, pinto, lentils, split peas, etc. Consider soaking 8-12 hours, sprouting before cooking, or double/triple cooking these foods. A major issue with this food group is the under-preparation/ cooking leading to fiber and carbohydrate that bacteria in your gut love to ferment and create awful abdominal and bowel gas.
Fat Facts: High quality fat is essential to any diet. It provides the factors for optimal brain health, neurological function, metabolism, and lowers inflammation throughout the body. To ensure that you are getting sufficient good-quality oils in your diet follow the following guidelines:
Avoid commercial oils found in supermarkets. Most have been heavily processed and have had some oxidative damage and vitamin depletion (vegetable, canola, corn, soy)
Avoid margarine, Crisco, and other hydrogenated fats. Trans fatty acids formed in the process have been linked to cardiovascular disease.
Purchase expeller-pressed (or cold-pressed) oils such as olive, sesame, and coconut, preferably in their unrefined form.
Prepared foods and salad dressings do not contain expeller-pressed oils unless stated on the label. Therefore, use them in moderation and make your own dressings at home.
Only cook in coconut oil, butter, or other animal fat. Other oils/fats are high in unsaturated fats which are easily oxidized, spoiled, and become a risk factor for cancer and heart disease when cooked.
Your best fats come from food, not oils. Choose things like avocado, coconut, grass fed meats and butter, nuts, seeds, and wild caught cold water fish.
Foods to Avoid in a Healthy Diet:
All concentrated sweeteners, including white and brown sugars, molasses, barley malt, rice syrup, agave, and fruit-juice sweeteners. These all break down very quickly in the body and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar putting you at risk for diabetes and inflammatory conditions. They should be used sparingly.
Artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, Splenda, Equal, Aspartame, etc. – not enough is known about the safety of these substances and in some cases studies have shown increased rates of cancer, neurotoxicity, weight gain, and other chronic disease.
White flour and rice products like breads, pasta, and pastries.
Sugar sweetened energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, and waters.
Processed and fast foods as they are low in fiber, high in trans-fat, refined sugar and salt, and contain chemical coloring, flavorings and preservatives.
Food additive like mono sodium glutamate (MSG), natural flavor, vegetable protein, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, hydrogenated oils, food dyes, sulfites/sulfates, nitrates, nitrites, BHA, BHT, Potassium Bromate, artificial flavor, splenda, saccharin, preservatives, olestra, carrageenan, or parabens.
Genetically Modified Foods: These foods are not a part of a healthy diet and should be avoided whenever possible. Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) have been linked to cancer in rat studies and food allergies in humans. GMO crops also require higher amounts of pesticide use, encourage monoculture, and produces lower nutrient dense foods.
Common GMO foods include:
Cotton seed oil
Meat from animals who feed on soy and corn
Honey from bees who pollinate GMO crops
Cookware: Avoid aluminum cookware. Aluminum tends to accumulate in brain and nervous tissue and may be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. Non-stick coatings are made from Teflon which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other illness. Safe cookware includes non-polymer coated stainless steel, Pyrex glassware, and cast iron skillets.
On Plastics: Foods that are packaged in plastic, cooked in plastic, or eaten out of plastic have serious effects. Often these products contain BPA (bisphenol-A) which has been studied and shown to increase estrogen and weight gain. Avoid plastics whenever possible. Especially do not microwave food with any plastic or cling wrap.