For some reason food can be a sensitive topic. Maybe not quite as high on the sensitive list as politics, but it’s definitely up there. Perhaps one reason may be because there are some folks out there that are so dang adamant that everyone must eat this specific diet (fill in the blank) or they won’t be healthy. Even if the person/group happens to be talking about the diet I am currently eating, I still don’t agree with this way of thinking. My belief is that we are all unique in our needs. Everyone’s body is made up of a unique set of genes, has a unique environment, has a different toxic load, and may even absorb nutrients differently. Also, what you may need now may be different than what you need in ten years from now.
Now before I get into the details of why I changed what my family eats and what kind of foods we eat, I want to state that I am not a licensed nutritionist, I am just a mom that has a desire to be healthy and give my family food that fuels and nourishes them. I will admit however that the topic of health and how the body works is in interest of mine. When I have time, I enjoy learning from books, science journals and podcasts. How the body works in all its intricacies just fascinates me. Enough about me and my nerdom…
It all started when I was pregnant with my son. I was reading about what foods to eat while pregnant and then I found myself questioning ‘why?’ with everything. Not that I necessarily disagreed with everything I was reading, but more so that I wanted to understand the science behind the recommendation that was being made. Simultaneously I was learning all I could about how to be successful at having a natural birth. I was surprised to find that you actually had to put a good amount of effort into coordinating with your medical doctor and nursing staff to be on board with you. I am going to side track for a minute and then come back…
Going through this experience shed a new light for me on the conventional medical system and how it works. I am incredibly grateful for conventional medical doctors and the work they do. I am grateful I was able to deliver my son in a hospital naturally, but that I was right down the hall from a room with equipment and trained physicians to help assist in the event an intervention would have been necessary to save myself and my baby. They do great work with emergencies, surgeries, and pharmaceuticals in the situations where they are needed. The problem is that conventional medical doctors are not trained in preventive care and even if they were to take additional measures to receive this type of education, they would likely fail at implementing it with their patients since insurance only allows for them to spend a short period of time with each patient (usually about 15 min). If conventional medical doctors are not trained in preventive care, then who is? Thankfully there are many doctors out there that have received additional education and switched over to a functional doctor type of practice. There are also naturopaths and some chiropractors who specialize in this kind of preventative health care. The problem is that this type of care is not always covered by insurance. Many people benefit from working with a functional medicine doctor so they can help to key in their unique needs, mitigate inflammation and possibly prevent disease. Thankfully though, there is so much research and information out there now that you can really navigate quite a lot on your own as well.
Ok side track over and back to my story… It was after I had my son that two things happened. First, I realized that I was responsible to make sure this tiny human had all the nutrients his body needed. I also realized that I didn’t fully understand what those nutrients were or where they should come from. Thankfully babies just consume breast milk for the first 6-8 months, so I had some time but I needed to start getting my butt into gear. Secondly, I started feeling pretty awful health-wise. I didn’t give it much thought or attention at the time because I assumed it was due to sleep deprivation. The lack of sufficient sleep definitely wasn’t helping, but I know now that I was also deficient in some key nutrients + I was eating foods that my immune system was negatively reacting to. Due to both of these things happening in my life (the desire to learn what to feed my baby and the desire for myself to feel better) I began to study. I learned a ton about the gut, the immune system, and how the body works as a whole unit. This brings me to…
Why I changed what my family eats
I am not going to focus on the foods I was eating that my body was sensitive to, because this will be different for everyone and I want this to be helpful to a broader audience. Outside of those sensitivities, there were other major changes I made to avoid certain “foods” (I use quotations because the worst offenders are not real food anyway) that are commonly problematic for just about everyone.
Among the ‘problematic for everyone’ food list, there were two areas my family in particular really needed to key in and those were: reducing our sugar and processed food consumption. We probably didn’t eat more sugar and processed foods than the average American, but that doesn’t say much because the average American diet is a pretty poor standard. We were addicted to sugar and to a high carb diet. Yes, I know ‘addicted’ sounds like such a strong word. However, if you have withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings for something when you quit then it really does qualifies as an addiction. Also, I thought it was very interesting to learn that when you eat sugar your brain actually releases dopamine which is what causes the addiction. This is the same brain region and type of response as to heroin or cocaine.
In addition to eating too much sugar and empty carbs we were not eating nearly enough of all the good stuff (aka: real food that actually fuels your body).
If you are interested in getting started with an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet that can be customized to your specific needs, you may find the lists of foods below helpful:
Food Groupings by Nutrient Density
Definition = The foods are problematic across the board. My family avoids eating foods on this list with the exception of small amounts of sugar on special occasions.
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed foods (especially foods w/ refined carbs)
- Unhealthy fats like vegetable oil, soy oils, canola oil, trans fat
- Foods with pesticides and other chemicals
- Foods with hormones and/or antibiotics
- Foods you are sensitive to
Definition = These foods may/may not be problematic depending on the individual. However, the nutrients obtained from these foods can be found in other foods that have a much higher nutrient profile overall. My family tries to eat these foods in smaller quantities and less often.
- Gluten free Grains (rice, corn, oats, etc.)
- I usually eat rice 1-2 times per week in a small amount and usually on days when I have a heavier workout and feel like my body needs a little extra carbs.
- I am generally not a fan of corn for many reasons, but I love Mexican food! I use grain-free Siete tortillas and chips when I am cooking Mexican at home. I try to only eat corn when we go out to eat and there are less options.
- My son usually has GF oatmeal 1-2 times a week for breakfast alongside some protein. Besides that, the only oats we get is when I make my delicious ‘cookie ball’ recipe.
- Legumes (pinto beans, black beans, etc.)
- My husband doesn’t do well with legumes and I don’t love them, so we generally just don’t eat them. We get our protein from meat sources.
- What about Wheat?
- My personal opinion on the topic of Gluten is this: I am not in the camp of “everyone must avoid it 100% of the time”. I think it’s fine for people to consume Gluten in small amounts as long as they don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to it and so long as they generally have signs of a healthy gut.
- I do however suggest for everyone to consider trying to go without if for 30 days and then reintroduce it. I think the problem in our world today is that almost everything contains gluten and some people have it at nearly every meal and snack, which is overboard and not balanced. Also it increases your carbs which can lead to other problems. When you take it out for 30 days, let your immune system settle and then reintroduce it; you can then more accurately test if you have a sensitivity to it or not.
- If you do decide to take out gluten from your diet, I highly suggest not substituting it with the same high carb gluten free version (GF muffins, bagels, bread, pasta, etc.). Unless you are making a low carb version at home with clean, real foods. You will notice some of the ingredients on the gluten free carby items are not super great.
- I personally avoid gluten all together because I feel the best without it. I feel better when I eat lower carbs and I would rather use all my carbs on lots of veggies and some fruit. I have noticed that when my son has gluten he gets congested, so I have my son completely avoid it as well. If we are at a party and he accidentally has something gluten containing, its not the end of the world – I just know I will be dealing with his stuffy nose and may need to give him extra vitamins for a couple of days to mitigate the inflammation. My husband is able to eat it sparingly.
Nutrient Dense Foods
Definition = these foods are good for you to consume. They give your body nutrients needed to fuel you. My family tries to consume some of these foods either every day.
- High quality fats (avocado, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, animal fats, coconut oil)
- Note: I have learned that some people process saturated vs monounsaturated fats differently depending on your genetics. If you know this about yourself you can customize your fats accordingly.
- High quality meats that are grassfed and organic (beef, bison, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, wild game meat, etc.)
- Wild caught seafood that is low in mercury (Alaskan Salmon, etc.)
- Grassfed and organic organ meats (liver, etc.)
- Liver is a high source of nearly every vitamin and mineral
- Some of the vitamins are 200x higher in 1 ounce of liver compared to a muscle meat
- Bone broth
- Rich in glycine, collagen, protein, and minerals
- High quality grassfed and organic dairy
- Note: dairy is an area that can be problematic for a lot of people including myself. My son and I can only consume sheeps dairy in small quantities and never cows dairy. I suggest cutting it out completely for 30 days and then add it back in to see if your body has any reactions to it.
- Organic and pastured eggs
- Organic Vegetables
- Organic Fruits
Note: The food lists above are not exhaustive. There are many more foods to add to the list, but I hope covering the main groups was helpful.
Want to change what your family eats?
This can seem overwhelming at first. Please take a deep breath and don’t get stressed out! You can tackle this in smaller sections, instead of doing everything all at once. I am a full time working mom and there is no way I could have made all these changes at once. I decided to change one thing a week until I got to a new manageable state.
Also, keep in mind we are creatures of habit. Even if you don’t meal plan, you likely eat some of the same foods over and over again because it’s your go-to and what your used to. It may seem difficult to completely switch from your go-to. You may even feel like you have no idea what you would eat. Just remember, that while it may be challenging at first, its becomes easy…because your new way of eating will become your new normal. I don’t put much effort into thinking about food anymore because I just know what we eat. Our new go-to’s are just as simple as before but the difference is that now they are healthy and nourishing.
Whether you do this in smaller portions (like one new change per week) or all at once. In my opinion, it may be helpful for folks to stop eating all the following foods for 30 days: All the items I listed under ‘problematic foods’ above and also grains, legumes, and dairy. The reason for grains, legumes and dairy is because these foods very commonly cause problems for people. To give a personal example: when I had cut out all of these foods and then slowly added them back in one at a time, I found out that I did ok with small amounts of rice and corn. However, I don’t feel good when I consume wheat. I also found that I do ok with sheeps dairy, but cows dairy gives me problems. Everyone is different, so find out what works for you. It’s important to stay off the foods completely for 30 days so that you give your system some time to settle down and you can actually tell the true symptoms when you add them back in. There are a lot of programs out there that can be helpful resources and assist you with doing something like this. One that I like is The Whole 30.
For me, once I found out my problem foods and stopped eating them, not only did I feel a heck of a lot better, but I noticed I stopped getting colds as frequently. I think my immune system was overwhelmed previously and never had time to rest. Once I took out the problematic foods and then added in foods that were more nourishing (like tons more vegetables, wild caught seafood, bone broth, etc.) I noticed a huge difference! Not to mention I have not had any cavities since I changed my diet and my gum disease went away completely.
To sum this up, I think it’s amazing how well our bodies respond to something as simple as the food we eat. The food we eat can nourish us or it can make us sick. Food is not the entire picture to our health. There are many other considerations such as sleep, movement, stress, and environment. However, food is a big step in the right direction. We can make a difference in our health by simply cutting out problematic foods + adding in nourishing, nutrient-dense foods.
I hope this post was helpful to you. Have you ever changed what you eat? Tell me about it below!