I was talking to a co-worker last week about health and wellness, specifically about collagen supplements. We discussed the health benefits of bone broth and making sure to take vitamin C, because it helps the body make collagen. She expressed frustration at the nutrition guidelines and said, “I wish someone would just tell me what to eat!”
With all the conflicting information about nutrition out there, it is hard to know what to eat! For years, we have been told that fat is our enemy, and we need to eat low-fat dairy products and avoid saturated fats. Fat is where the flavor is and not the big boogie man everyone made it out to be! However, fat was replaced with sugar in our foods and that is where a lot of trouble started.
The thing about sugar is the molecules are sharp and can make small cuts along the blood vessels, leading to the inflammation cascade, systemic inflammation, and an overactive immune system. Sugar feeds yeast overgrowth in your gut, leading to more sugar cravings and feeds cancer cells! Too much sugar leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Our country saw an increase in obesity rates, diabetes, and heart disease under the current nutrition guidelines. Obviously, we are not doing something right. So, what should we eat? Unfortunately, it is easier to say what not to eat.
Stay away from processed foods. If it has a list of ingredients and comes in a package it is probably processed. If the list of ingredients looks like a chemistry project vs your grandmother’s pantry, it is probably processed. It may even be disguised as a healthy food (like fake meat burgers) but can still be highly processed. These processed foods can also lead to systemic inflammation in your body.
Avoid fast foods whenever possible. Yes, some places have salads, but check out the ingredients in the salad dressing you just covered those veggies with. How much sugar does it have? Also, ask yourself, is that limp piece of lettuce offering your body the vitamins and minerals you need to function? No? Then you should probably stay away from fast foods.
Pay attention to your body. Do you feel sluggish after eating? Tired and run-down? Or do you feel energized? Do you feel bloated and gassy? Or, ready to take on the world? Do you get a rash or headache after eating a certain food? Your body is trying to tell you something. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. Avoid the foods that make you feel bad and embrace the foods that give you energy.
Watch the sugar content in your beverages and condiments. Water and unsweetened hot tea are better choices than sodas and sweet tea. Conventional ketchup and salad dressings can contain a boat load of sugar. Be careful!
After you have made these lifestyle changes, if you are still not feeling healthy, there are lab tests that can be done to test for food sensitivities. Gluten, dairy, and eggs are the most common food sensitivities. You should also check your blood levels for Vitamin D, hormone balance, and inflammatory markers. Together with a functional medicine provider, a specific plan can be made just for you!
Now, we can look at foods that you should be eating. VEGETABLES! Yes, eat vegetables. Loads of vegetables. Taste the rainbow (no, not candy). Work your way to nine, yes NINE, cups of vegetables per day. Three cups of leafy greens, three cups of the brassica family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or kale), and three cups of bright colorful vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.). What do the colors mean?
Blue/Purple: These fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins, which have been found to prevent blood clots, delay cellular aging, and could slow the onset of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Green: These contain phytochemicals like sulforaphane, isocyanates, and indoles which help with detoxification and have anti-cancer properties.
Orange: These contain alpha- and beta-carotene, which protect against cancer, provide skin, and eye health, and work as antioxidants.
Red: These usually contain lycopene, which is protective against heart disease and cancer due to its antioxidant properties.
Yellow Green: These contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are important for eye health and protecting the heart against atherosclerosis.
Pale Green/White: These usually contain allicins which have powerful anti-cancer, immune-boosting, antimicrobial properties.
So, what should your plate look like? Work toward two-thirds to three-fourths of your plate as vegetables and include a good fat source (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.) to help fill you up and increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Use meat and protein like a condiment, no bigger than a deck of cards. If your blood sugar can tolerate it, you can include a small amount (up to a quarter cup) of gluten-free grains on your plate. Use fruit or some dark chocolate for a dessert if you need a sweet ending.
Are you ready to PIVOT to functional health and wellness?