FOODS AND BEVERAGES are the most important things we put into our bodies that determines our health. It goes above air pollution, skin products, and chemical ladened cleaning solutions. The foods we eat and the fluids we drink are part of the foundations to our health, along with: sleep, exercise and management of stress.
This article will cover the basics of eating a nutritious balanced diet without needing to go on a diet. Below are the topics, feel free to skip ahead by clicking on the links:
- Counting carbs, calories or portion sizes, which is best?
- A new look at the food pyramid
- What’s the difference between carbs, sugars and starches?
- Why do I need sugar substitutions?
- What are ‘healthy fats’?
- How to get your daily protein- even as a vegetarian
- What about food additives and GMO?
- Vitamins, minerals and supplements. What do I need?
- Food preparations. How should I cook my food?
- How to minimize inflammation and digestive issues with the Hypo-Allergenic diet
Counting anything all day is exhausting. It can be as damaging mentally and emotionally as unhealthy habits are physically. Being over-consumed by your food doesn’t allow the freedom for you to actually enjoy eating. Let’s see why counting isn’t helpful and what’s a better approach:
Not All Carbs Are Equal– Carbohydrates include breads, pastas, crackers, and rice. But what about sugars (ie. fruits, honey, candy) and starches (ie. potatoes, root vegetables, beans, lentils). All these foods breakdown into the same energy sources for your body to utilize, while also storing the excess as fat.
While I practice a ‘low carb diet’ I don’t look at it as all carbs being equal. I know that I digest rice products better than grains, sugars or starches after doing a hypo-allergenic diet test. I also know some foods make me feel very bloated and mentally tired, even if they are healthy (ie. bananas and sweet potatoes). So for me, I remove those ‘carbs’ that make me feel worse and aren’t adding any benefit to me, such as fiber or vitamins.
Not All Calories Are Healthy– This one gets me upset. Thinking of only calorie intake to lose weight may work short-term, but they won’t have you feeling your optimal self unless you are choosing healthy calories.
It’s true, the science is concrete:
Calories in - Calories used = Fat loss/ gain
If you eat less calories than you use via exercise, you will lose fat (and probably gain some muscle weight with exercise)
If you eat more calories than you use, you will gain fat because this is your storage form of energy.
But this doesn’t make sense…
1 milk chocolate bar(44g)= 5 servings of Broccoli(740g) = 250 Calories
Does this mean that to lose weight, you should be eating a chocolate bar instead of 6 servings of nutritious vegetables that will give you the vitamins and minerals for your body to function at optimal capacity while preventing so many genetic and functional diseases?
Quality is above and beyond quantity.
Serving Sizes- I think it’s a good idea to measure and record your food and beverage intake once in a while. For example, chart your weekly intake in a diet diary every 4 months to identify what habits are going unnoticed.
Are you sneaking more than just a cookie a week from the staff lounge?
Or are you drinking only 3 glasses of water when you thought it was closer to 7?
Diet diaries are a great way to track what foods you are actually taking in, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it all the time. I prefer to take a less calculated approach and use this diagram as a general rule of thumb for serving sizes:
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The old food pyramid looked something like this:
What looks off?
- Heavy carbohydrates at the bottom at a minimum of 6 servings
- Fruits and veggies are mixed up with only 1 broccoli representing for all the dark leafy greens that have the highest nutrients
- Dairy has it’s own level (which many people are intolerant to), and it’s more than next row of other protein sources (ie. eggs, fish, meat, nuts, beans)
- Fats are only in small amounts and it doesn’t seem to show any healthy oils from nuts, seeds, vegetable (ie. olive, avocado)
What do I recommend?
Food Group Servings/d Examples PROTEIN 3-5 Lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, beans HEALTHY FATS 2-4 Avocado, olive, nuts, seeds, dairy CARBOHYDRATES 6 or less Especially avoid artificial sugars and refined carbs VEGETABLES Unlimited Eat lots of leafy greens and bright veggies FRUIT 3-5 Bright colored fruits PURE WATER 8 glasses Pure water is essential for a healthy body
Here’s a look at the above table in a pyramid format:
Classically, carbohydrates include breads, pastas, crackers, and rice. But what about sugars (ie. fruits, honey, candy) and starches (ie. potatoes, root vegetables, beans, lentils).
As mentioned above, counting carbs is silly because sugars and starches break down in your body into the same glucose molecules, which are then converted into energy (ATP). If your body is ‘burning calories’, it requires ATP and releases heat.
If your body is stagnant and not consuming energy, it will be converted to a storage form of energy (ie. fat).
But… even if you aren’t running a marathon, your body will always use energy to stay alive. This is what we call resting metabolic state. And when you do a resistance or strength training exercise (ie. building muscle) your resting metabolism increases even after you stop working out, more than endurance training (that’s why the same amount of time dedicated to strength training is more effective than cardio for weight loss).
Since carbs, sugars and starches convert into energy in the body, it’s important to choose the ones that will give you the most nutritious benefits (ie. vitamins, minerals, fiber, alkaline forming, omega fatty acids, amino acids). For example:
- Carbohydrates: high fiber, whole multi-grain, wild rice, oats, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, spelt, rye, nuts, seeds
- Sugars: bright colored fruit, unpasteurized honey, stevia, black strap molasses, dates
- Starches: root vegetables (carrots, parsnip), sweet potato, yams, squash, beans, lentils, peas
Sugar causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, insulin and dysregulates your hormones. The epidemic of obesity, diabetes and metabolic diseases are highly correlated to high sugar intake.
After having a sweet dessert most people get really giddy and hyper (fun), then crash hard and can’t peel themselves off the couch (not so fun). Now imagine this happening in the middle of the day. What are you going to do to get yourself back to your desk or to the gym? Probably caffeine and more sugar.
This yo-yo effect destroys your hormone balance and mental stability.
Eating sugars (including starches and carbs) with protein and fiber (vegetables) help to modify this blood sugar spike by slowing down the release and absorption of sugar.
If you do indulge in sugars, make sure they are offering you more than just a sweet taste. Choose healthier sugar substitutes that give you physiological and nutritional benefits:
- Unpasteurized Manuka ad Kanuka Honey is a strong anti-microbial that helps fight gingivitis, ear infections and strengthens your immune system (note: unpasteurized products should not be fed to pregnant women or infants)
- Stevia is a natural sugar from a plant found in Central and South America. It is up to 40x sweeter than sugar and won’t spike your blood sugar.
- Xylitol is also a naturally occurring sugar found in foods like beets, corn and berries. It’s not as sweet but has a low glycemic-index (slow sugar absorption).
- Black Strap Molasses is molasses that has been cooked in a cast-iron pot and has a very high level of iron. This is a great source of iron, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
- Natural fruit sugars or juices contain very concentrated nutrients. Having a modified amount of fresh juice is always recommended over concentrated.
- Brown rice syrup has a mild sweetness and is hypo-allergenic.
Avoid synthetic sugar additives whenever possible:
- Artificial Sugars are non-caloric sweeteners that don’t absorb through your digestive system. Although have not shown to increase blood glucose levels (except slightly with acesulfame-K), recent studies show them to alter gut microbial communities, leading to glucose intolerance, dysbiosis and metabolic disease. High doses of aspartame also leads to increased irritable mood, depression, and worse work performance.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose are both comprised of glucose and fructose subunits. They have a similar effects on the body and evidence has linked HFCS to metabolic syndrome and associated comorbidities, implicating fructose as a potential factor in the obesity epidemic.
I admit that I throw around the phrase ‘healthy fats’ a lot without knowing if people understand the difference.
The fat we eat DOES NOT convert to the fat in our love handles.
Dietary fats are essential for living. Every cell in our body has a phospholipid bilayer. The word ‘lipid’ means fat. The layer of fat surrounding the cell is selective in what it allows into and out of the cell. It is vital to maintain the flexibility of the cell membrane and allows proteins and receptors to communicate between the inner and outer cell environment.
Fatty acids are also the backbone of hormones and cholesterol (which the body will make if you don’t eat enough of it. So stop avoiding meat and eggs because of their cholesterol levels). They support healthy brain function, neurotransmitter communications, healthy heart function and it keeps our skin and hair hydrated. So eat your fats and preferably raw (but not meats).
What I include in the list of healthy fats:
- Lean meats (turkey, chicken) and dairy
- Fish (omega-3 fatty acids; EPA is especially helpful for brain health and decreasing inflammation)
- Vegetable oils (avocado, olive, sunflower, soy, coconut, avocado)
- Nuts and seeds (almond, peanut, flax, hemp, sesame)
Why not red meats?
Well, it’s not that red meat isn’t full of good fats, ghee is great, but when they are cooked (bbq’ed, fried, and even baked) the fat oxidizes and becomes a carginogen. That yummy burnt crust on your steaks is actually cancer-forming when consumed regularly. Red meat is also acidifying in the body and often has many additives in it to give it the red color, called sodium nitrate.
The caution with fats and oils is that they are unstable, similar to red meat. Rancid oils can be very hazardous to your body to check your oils by smelling them (even if they are encapsulated).
There are 4 ways that fats spoil, so to be on the safe side make sure you pay special attention by:
- Light = use a dark colored bottle to store
- Oxygen = close the lid tightly
- Heat = keep in the fridge
- Time = once any oxidation occurs (exposure to O2) the oils will start to spoil, it’s just a matter of time. For example, use immediately (ie. avocado), within 3 months for unstable oils (ie. fish) or 6 months for others
To be on the safe side, make sure you seal your oils in a dark container in the fridge until you’re ready to use them (especially fish oils). Certain oils are healthier raw (nuts, seeds, vegetables) but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook with them. The melting point of oils vary, which means that fats that don’t spoil at high temperatures are the safest to cook with:
- Hemp seed oil – 18˚F
- Olive oil – 21˚F
- Sesame oil – 21˚F
- Peanut oil – 37˚F
- Palm Kernel oil – 75˚F
- Coconut oil – 77˚F
- Cocoa butter – 93˚F
- Palm oil – 95˚F
If you’re still confused about the differences between healthy and non-healthy fats, read more here.
Proteins are made up of amino acids (aa). Some your body can make on their own, but there are 10 essential amino acids to maintain a functional body, which means you must attain them from food. Of the 10 essential aa, 3 are branched chain amino acids and 2 are essential dependent on the age-group.
When people talk about meat being a complete protein source, they mean that all the amino acids are included (especially the essential aa) in that food source. I have a combination of meat, alternative proteins and protein shakes on a regular basis.
The following are dietary sources of protein along with the grams of protein per serving (taken from bodybuilding.com):
Meat and seafood
- Steak (3 oz.) = 23 g
- Ground beef, 90% lean (3 oz.) = 18 g
- Pork chops (3 oz.) = 26 g
- Chicken breast, skinless (3 oz.) = 24 g
- Turkey breast (3 oz.) = 24 g
- Canadian bacon (3 oz.) = 15 g
- Eggs (1 large) = 6 g
- Halibut (3 oz.) = 25 g
- Octopus (3 oz.) = 25 g
- Sockeye salmon (3 oz.) = 23 g
- Tilapia (3 oz.) = 21 g
- Anchovies, canned (3 oz.) = 24 g
- Light tuna, canned (3 oz.) = 22 g
- Sardines, canned (3 oz.) = 21 g
- Greek yogurt (8 oz.) = 23 g
- Frozen Greek yogurt (1/2 cup) = 6 g
- Cottage cheese (1/2 cup) = 14 g
- Swiss cheese (1 oz.) = 8 g
- Milk, 2% (1 cup) = 8 g
- Soy milk (1 cup) = 8 g
- Navy beans, canned (1 cup) = 20 g
- Dried lentils (1/4 cup) = 13 g
- Bean chips (1 oz.) = 4 g
- Tofu (3 oz.) = 12 g
- Edamame (1/2 cup) = 8 g
- Green peas (1 cup) = 7 g
- Peanut butter (2 tbsp) = 8 g
- Mixed nuts (2 oz.) = 6 g
- Almonds (1/4 cup) = 9 g
- Cashews (1/4 cup) = 5 g
- Pecans (1/4 cup) = 2.5 g
- Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup) = 6 g
- Pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup) = 8 g
- Flax seeds (1/4 cup) = 8 g
- Wheat germ (1 oz.) = 6 g
- Soba noodles (3 oz.) = 12 g
- Quinoa (1 cup) = 8 g
Protein Shakes – For high quality dairy-based protein powder, I recommend New Zealand Whey. I personally am dairy-intolerant and these are my preferred protein powder sources: Brown rice, pea, hemp, pumpkin, flax or mixed vegan. I mix about 35 grams of protein powder (~20-25 g of protein) with a dairy-free milk or yogurt to make my shakes: almond, coconut, hemp, or rice milk.
The other nutritional component to be reminded of for vegetarians and vegans is iron. Animal-based iron (haem source) and different from vegetable-based iron (non-haem) and are absorbed differently. People who do not eat any red meat need to ensure they are getting enough iron in their diet, especially if you are a menstruating female who has symptoms of fatigue, low blood pressure, fainting and weak muscles. Click HERE for sources of dietary iron.
Additives and genetically modified foods (GMO) are EVERYWHERE. But which are actually helpful and which are harmful?
Giving your body a break from the heavy chemicals and irritants from many of the foods we eat will help to get you feeling vibrant and more energetic.
Many studies have not researched the long-term effects of consuming these foods consistently. I try to err on the side of caution. To help decrease your toxic load, do your best to:
- eat organic, local and seasonal non-GMO foods
- washing your produce thoroughly
- avoiding prepackaged and canned foods, especially if they don’t offer any nutrition
These Dirty Dozen are ones to especially wash carefully or try to purchase organically due to their high pesticide content, noted by the EWG:
Additives can be hidden in almost every prepackaged food item. The top offending food choices and ingredients are often feared but not understood. To learn more about each additive click HERE:
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Trans fats
- Common food dyes (E133, E124, E110, E102)
- Sodium chloride, Sodium sulfite, Sodium nitrate/ nitrite
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and propyl gallate
- Sulfur dioxide
- Potassium bromate
Having excessive or deficient nutrition are both hazardous for your health. Even if you eat a lot of food, you still may be deficient if you aren’t eating nutrient dense foods. Supplementation is only advised in specific cases prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.
Dangers in self-prescribing:
- taking a low quality brand (ie. bulk store vs professional brand)
- not taking the right dosage (even if reading off the bottle)
- taking it for too long, or not long enough
- interactions with medications and other supplements
- not taking the correct form (ie. Mg taurate vs Mg oxide vs Mg bisglycinate)
- not administering it properly (ie. B12 sublingual vs B12 injections)
- not storing it properly (ie. fridge vs room temperature)
- underlying conditions causing nutrient malabsorption
Always consult with a professional medical expert if you think you have a deficiency and require supplementation. Eat a broad range of raw, whole foods to avoid deficiencies. To find a Naturopathic doctor in your area see HERE.
Here are the most common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies:
- Acne – vitamin B5, B6, B12, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, Selenium, Zinc
- ADD – vitamin B6 with Magnesium
- Allergies – vitamin B5, B12, vitamin C, flavonoids
- Anemia – vitamin B12, folate, vitamin A, Copper, Iron, Histidine
- Depression – vitamin B5, B6, B12, SAMe, Phenylanlanine, Tyrosine
- Diabetes mellitus – vitamin B3, B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, Chromium, Manganese, Potassium, Vanadium, Taurine, CoQ10, Inositol
- Irregular menses – vitamin B3, B6, vitamin E, Iron, Magnesium, Tyrosine
- Eczema – vitamin B5, Selenium, Zinc
- Fatigue – vitamin B5, B12
- Gout – vitamin C
- Poor hair quality – Manganese, Copper, vitamin A, Zinc
- High blood pressure – Magnesium, Sodium, Taurine
- Immune deficiency – vitamin C, vitamin A, beta carotene, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Argenine, Glutamine
- Infertility – Folate, CoQ10; for males – Argenine, Zinc, Carnitine, CoQ10
- Insomnia – vitamin B5, B12, Magnesium, Tryptophan
- Nausea – vitamin B6
- Osteoporosis – vitamin B12, Folate, vitamin D, vitamin K, Boron, Fluoride, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Silicon
- Rheumatoid arthritis – vitamin B5, vitamin K, copper, Manganese, Zinc, Histadine
Click HERE to see all the nutrient values of common foods from the USDA.
Preparing meals in large batches ahead of time is the most effective use of your time if you lead a busy life. But what’s the best way to retain the most nutrients with each dish? Below I go through the benefits and cautions with the most common food preparations:
- Raw is best for retaining the most nutrients and fiber from your fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and oils (and even fish). Some people are unable to digest raw and so blended, juiced or lightly steamed are your next best options.
- Bake foods avoid cooking in oils that can harm you, but they can also be cancer-causing when you eat the burnt parts. Slow roast at a lower temperature without burning is best for oven use.
- Stew, I love stews. A slow cook using the foods own juices to soften and retain most of the nutrients.
- Steaming vegetables are a great way to avoid deep frying, however don’t through out the water at the end. A lot of the nutrients from the veg leaches out and into the water, so I always use as little water to steam as possible, use the water as gravy or throw it into a pot of soup.
- Boiling is the same concept as steaming. If you’re boiling a soup, a lot of the nutrients will be maintained in the liquid, so make sure you drink up.
- Pan frying with stable oils is ideal. I use olive, coconut or sesame oils at home. If you have access, ghee can also work well. Lower heat if possible so that the oils don’t go rancid.
- Deep frying. Stay away if you can. The high heats with unstable oils can be very harmful to the body. There are some synthetic oils that don’t breakdown (ie. Olestra), but it has it’s own health concerns.
- Dehydrated foods done at home can be a great way to make some healthy snacks. Keep the fruits, veg and meats in the fridge to make sure they don’t spoil. Buying dehydrated or dried snacks however have lots of sugar and preservatives added to them (ie. sulfur) and these are irritating to your digestive tract and lungs. Many asthma sufferers experience a sulfite hypersensitivity.
- BBQing only once in a while is best and avoid those charred pieces of food. The fat content on produce and meats have carcinogenic properties that accumulate over time.
- Freeze dried fruits and vegetables are the second best source of retained nutrients aside from fresh. This is a great alternative for those who are on the run and don’t have time to buy fresh produce on a regular basis. I also love it for making cold smoothies.
- Microwaving is controversy for many, but science shows that microwaving retains more nutrients than other forms of cooking and doesn’t damage your body. I still try to limit my radiation exposure (despite being safe in low doses) because of the added effect over my lifetime.
- Blending is my preferred form of liquifying my produce because it maintains the fiber content and is an easy way to get all my nutrients on the go.
- Juiced fruits and veggies have the potential to filter out a lot of the fiber content and therefore some of the nutrients. There are more expensive brands that ‘press’ out the juice including the fiber and I would recommend those over filters.
The Hypo-Allergenic diet is also known as Oligoantigenic or Elimination diet.
This means that we avoid using the most common ingredients that cause people inflammation and digestive issues. IT IS NOT A DIET TO LOSE WEIGHT. It should be viewed more as a food sensitivity TEST.
The top 5 offenders include:
A Hypo-Allergenic diet is a dietary program designed to clear the body of foods and chemicals you may be allergic or sensitive to, and, at the same time, improve your body’s ability to handle and dispose of these substances.
Some of the foods on the list are very nutritious, so if you are not sensitive to the food, bring them back into your diet (ie. eggs).
Also remember, many non-gluten or non-dairy foods may not be healthy. Just because they remove those ingredients does not mean they haven’t replaced them with other poorer quality ingredients. Make sure to read your labels carefully.
It can be difficult to track your own food intolerances, so I recommend you follow a comprehensive and easy-to-follow diet and meal plan that can take you through:
- All the benefits
- Dietary guidelines
- Shopping lists
- Menu plans and recipes
- Reintroduction schedule and chart
Please download a FREE 28-page Comprehensive Hypo-Allergenic eManual HERE.