See, I felt the need to light a fire. To take you to school for a minute, if you will. I’m driven to teach why these clean eating, anti-inflammatory principles are so important. I am called to shift paradigms, even as I realize the challenge it will be, given the misguided mainstream messages we’re fed.
I have – and I will share – a lot more background on what to eat, what not to eat, and why. But I’m sensing many of you are ready for some more applicable insights. Something tangible for those of you who might be thinking, “Great info, now what the hell am I supposed to do with it?!”
So this week I’m channeling my inner architect, and giving you a blueprint that you can use to build your health from the inside out. Think of this as your guide to cleaning up your diet, reducing inflammation, and gaining momentum towards feeling a lot better.
Please note: these are VERY GENERAL recommendations. It’s important to keep in mind that this information – diet and supplementation – does not replace the individualized guidance you should seek out from a qualified practitioner.
1. Eat organic whenever possible.
This will significantly limit your consumption of genetically modified ingredients and pesticides. Both have been shown to cause systemic damage to your body. At a minimum, use the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” guides from the Environmental Working Group to shop. Please see my resources page for printable, easy-to-use guides and links to more information.
2. Clean up your water and salt.
Water: Since you drink about eight glasses a day (right?), it makes sense to make sure it is from a good source. Drink filtered water (either purchase a quality water filter or buy outside filtered water). Avoid tap water that can contain arsenic, aluminum or traces of discarded medications. And avoid BPA plastic bottled water (it might just be tap water you’re paying for).
Salt: Switch out your chemical-laden, over-processed, aluminum-containing table salt for sea salt. Unlike table salt, sea salt retains many vital minerals, like magnesium and potassium, which balance the level of sodium. So, when you choose the better, unrefined source, salt is no longer the enemy to run from, it is actually a healthful, essential part of your diet. Make sure you are choosing a Himalayan or Celtic sea salt or choose an iodine-fortified brand if appropriate (iodine plays a big role in thyroid function), like Hain.
3. Eat more dark green veggies.
Steam them, smoothie them up, eat or drink them raw – but get these verdant vitals down the hatch.
This class of vegetables is a nutritional powerhouse, providing many essential vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E (a potent inflammation-fighter), B-vitamins, disease-fighting phytonutrients, and calcium (a great source, especially if you are dairy-free).
If eating your greens doesn’t come easy for you – logistically or just out of pure distaste – I feel your pain. FULL DISCLOSURE: This self-diagnosed “super taster” had a previous aversion to any green vegetable and didn’t try a tomato until college.
Yeah, I know.
That said, here are a few tried and true ways to sneak the green into your diet:
- Kale & fruit smoothies (you don’t taste the kale, really). Kids freaked out by the color? Buy some opaque cups, lids and straws.
- Cold-pressed green juices. If you gag on the taste, try sucking it down with a straw. (I speak from experience.)
- A supplement you can add to non-dairy milk like Amazing Grass Green Superfood Drink. They also make some kid-specific flavors. This is not an official endorsement, but I’ve tried many and this is one that, ironically (and thankfully), doesn’t taste like grass.
4. Choose wisely when eating off the farm.
If you consume meat and/or dairy, there are some guidelines you can follow to keep it clean. Labeling is a big can of worms (that I will open later), but in the name of simplicity, I’m going to usher everyone on the farm under this umbrella statement:
Choose “organic” and/or “grass-fed”, “pastured” or “pasture-raised” beef, bison, poultry, dairy and eggs.
“Organic” ensures no pesticide or genetically-modified feed is getting into the animal. “Grass-fed” or “pasture-raised” means the animals are eating high Omega-3, inflammation-fighting grass (instead of corn), have the most room to roam, and have higher levels of the important, fat-soluble Vitamins A & D in their system (which means you will, too).
5. Eat organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, unprocessed fats (and use them at their correct temperatures).
Yep, I said it. You should eat fat. Listen, you’re ready to give salt a chance…now it’s time to welcome another new friend into your life. You can do this. Here’s how.
Instead of using chemically processed, possibly genetically modified fats (think, canola, corn, soy or vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated margarines), opt for oils and fats that are pesticide- and GMO-free and minimally processed. This eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and helps them retain their vital nutrients and delicate flavors. And remember to pay attention to limits on smoke points (should be listed on the bottle) to avoid free-radical forming oxidation.
Some examples of good choices:
Liquid: Organic, Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive, Macadamia, Flax, and Avocado Oils Solid: Coconut Oil, Organic/Grass-Fed Ghee or Butter (only if you can tolerate casein), and pastured sources of animal fats.
If you’re sticking to the above guidelines, you’re doing your body a huge favor. But the better news is that now you can stop freaking out about consuming too much fat.* Because guess what?
Eating the right kind of fat aids in brain and eye development, regulates blood sugar, promotes tissue healing, is critical for Vitamin D synthesis, promotes proper immune function, and carries and delivers to your body fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) and nutrients like phytonutrients (believed to play a role in cancer prevention and serve as anti-inflammatories).
*fat may need to be limited with gallbladder issues or other concerns that would affect fat metabolism
6. Consume fish oil.
In addition to the above recommendations on fats, you also need to make sure you are getting the correct balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats. Historically, American diets used to be close to a ratio of 1:1. But with our current Standard American Diet (SAD), the balance is way off, currently estimated at 15 (Omega 6): 1 (Omega-3).
And this skewed RATIO – not the TOTAL fat – is what is causing the inflammation that can lead to serious conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease (to name just a few).
Because there is an overage of Omega-6 fats in our food supply (all those processed oils I mentioned in number 5 fall into the category, but they are also found in other, healthier choices like seeds and nuts), the best way to get back in balance is to get adequate amounts of Omega-3 via fish oil (or flax oil if you prefer a vegan option), or through consumption of wild fish (like salmon). Alternatively, and this is what I do, take a high-vitamin (both A & D), fermented, cod liver oil capsule (capsules = no gagging!).
7. Take a good probiotic and/or eat fermented foods.
In the last two posts I mentioned a couple of important things about your digestive system:
- When your gut bacteria (aka microbiome) is out of balance, i.e. there is more bad bacteria than good (aka dysbiosis), fat storage is promoted.
- This dysbiosis of your digestive tract can also make it all too easy for undigested food particles or harmful ingredients to enter your system (known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or more commonly, having a “leaky gut”). And this leads to – you guessed it – inflammation.
But here’s some good news. Consuming probiotics can help you re-balance. You can take a probiotic supplement, or eat whole, fermented foods (kimchi, kombucha, homemade fermented vegetables). A general recommendation for a probiotic supplement is to choose one that has at least 25 billion strains (containing at a minimum Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and choose one that is refrigerated, unless purchasing a professional grade supplement specifically designed to maintain potency at room temperature.
8. Reduce your processed sugar intake.
I think we should all be “Fed Up” by now, so I won’t expand too much on this one. But just know that refined sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients you can consume, and that it has effects on your entire system.
Ideally, all forms of sugar should be reduced as much as possible – but natural forms are safer: stevia, Lakanto sugar (expensive, but magic), maple syrup and raw agave. Switch to these, then try to reduce the amount you need, gradually.
9. Address food sensitivities.
If you have autoimmune, skin, mood or digestive issues or have unresolved chronic symptoms, this is definitely worth looking into. See a qualified practitioner to healthfully remove gluten from your diet and assess other food sensitivities (and your entire diet plan, ideally). While gluten and dairy are often the biggest culprits, food sensitivities can be from many different food categories (e.g. phenols, oxalates, grains, specific types of carbohydrates) and be a big cause for inflammation.
10. Cook more.
Obvious, I know. But when you are working, traveling, kid wrangling, or otherwise performing in your own personal circus, this can be tough. It takes a conscious effort to plan and make it happen consistently. This is something I am continually working on, because juggling while balancing on a tightrope isn’t always easy to do in front of a hot stove.
But if cooking is your Achilles heel too, let’s break it down into bites you can chew. Try to plan your meals for one week (or one day…I don’t judge). Swap out a couple of your packaged foods for fresh ingredients. Prepare one new recipe per week (and if it goes over well, double it next time and freeze half!).
That’s it, people. You are ready to build.
But before you do, let me acknowledge something: we are all actual humans. By no means would I expect you to incorporate all of the above suggestions in one fell swoop (unless you are extremely motivated, and then absolutely “lean in” my friend). So if you are just dabbling in clean eating, or the current mainstays of your diet are frozen pizza and Big Macs, then a slow start is probably a good idea. Maybe choose one new goal now. And in a couple of weeks, choose another (or two).
Baby steps will get you there.
And speaking of babies, you should know I’ve got a couple. One of them is a 2-year-old boy. I’m confident he has a successful career in the WWF ahead of him. I have about 30 seconds to prep before that guy scales the wall and jumps in the oven, so I get it. Life happens and when it does, sometimes a shortcut is the only way – and that’s okay too.
Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by your detailed blueprint. (My inner architect is very thorough.) It’s true, developing better health from the inside out is more complicated than organizing your closet, but the rewards are epic.
And besides, I have a feeling you’re capable, driven, and you want to feel good. Sometimes having a plan is just what you need to spring into action. So give it a go, just one choice at a time, and get ready to thrive.
- Morrell, Sally. “The Salt of the Earth.” Weston A Price. Weston A Price Foundation, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
- “Agricultural Marketing Service – Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards.” Agricultural Marketing Service – Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards. USDA, 29 Sept. 2008. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
- Enig, Mary G. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. Silver Spring, MD: Bethesda, 2000. Print.
- Fallon, Sally, and Mary G. Enig, PhD. “Cod Liver Oil Basics and Recommendations.” Weston A Price. Weston A Price Foundation, 9 Feb. 2009. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
- Simopoulos, A.p. “The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids.” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy8 (2002): 365-79. Web.
- Challem, Jack. The Inflammation Syndrome: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Arthritis, Diabetes, Allergies and Asthma. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2003.