What are you?
I don’t like to label myself as anything. I am a lover of whole foods and having a whole life. Being dogmatic about food doesn’t work in my opinion. If you define yourself in rigid terms you will more then likely end up eating something that doesn’t fit that definition and feeling terrible about it. Health is about overall wellbeing and feeling better in ourselves, not worse. So below I have outlined the general principles that I follow. But this is by no means meant to be a rigid structure, just a guide.
The Whole Diet approach
In my humble opinion, the ideal human diet looks like this: Consume plant-based foods in forms as close to their natural state as possible (‘whole” foods). Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans pulses and legumes, and whole grains. Avoid heavily processed foods and limit consumption of animal products, salt, oil and fat, raw nuts and seeds and sugar. Aim to get around 60-80 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10-20 percent from fat, and 10-20 percent from protein.
No single nutrient is evil and the sole cause of bad health and no single nutrient is super and responsible for good health. So don’t give yourself a hard time for making the occasional slip up and don’t base your entire diet around hard to find unpronounceable super foods. Mine is a ‘whole’ diet approach, which you can work to suit your own body and lifestyle.
Heavily processed foods
It is best to eat foods in their most whole and natural state (products that have had as little done to them as possible). Start turning over food packets and looking at what ingredients are actually in them. It’s crazy what some companies put in their products!
Pasta and bread have had some bad press of late. Largely as a result of the Atkins diet and the trend for gluten free. But as long as you don’t have a health problem that requires you to avoid gluten there is no reason to totally avoid these.
As with any processed foods problems can arise when the ingredients in them are low quality or unwanted. So when not eating whole foods it is always important to check the back of the packet.
Brown bread and brown pasta as well as gluten free options such as soba (buckwheat) pasta/noodles, quinoa pasta and brown rice pasta generally tend to be better quality then their white wheat flour based counterparts, as they tend to have had less ‘done’ to them so more of their nutritional value is preserved, as well as being more likely to have a lower GI providing a more natural, slow release of energy.
Anything with chemicals, additives and flavourings, including natural flavourings as these are always almost anything but natural! All supermarket ready meals, we want to make meals from scratch, where possible!
Animal products (Meat, fish, dairy and eggs)
You don’t have to cut these out totally if you don’t want to. I adore goat’s cheese, a beautiful piece of fish, or yogurt in small amounts, and love to have an egg every week or so when the mood takes me.
Sodium (salt) is critical for maintaining health, and is needed for adrenal function, proper digestion, and overall cellular function. But it’s good to remember that salt can be found in a number of whole foods such as carrots, tomatoes, kale and melon amongst others. So there is no need to add tons of salt to everything! If you do want to add salt choose real sea salt such as Celtic or Maine (white or gray), or Himalayan (pink) salt for the highest mineral content. Stay away from refined and bleached table salt, which typically contains added chlorine and aluminium. As I suffer with PoTS syndrome I try to add more salt to my food which is why I don’t tend to specify a specific amount of salt in my recipes as this is unique to you.
Oil and Fat
Oil is when you take a whole food and strip it of almost every vitamin, mineral and all fibre, leaving a product that is full of calories and fat. While some oils do possess some health benefits this is nothing in comparison to those they possess when eaten in their whole state. Consequently, while you can make better choices between oils, the best choice is always going to be the food in its whole state. But I don’t want to be all doom and gloom! It’s not always possible to consume a whole coconut or 600g of olives. So oils do still have a small place in our diets as fat should make up at least 10% of what we eat and is essential for every system in our body to function, especially our digestive system and brain. It is important that you use oils at their correct temperature. When oils are heated beyond their smoke point the oil decomposes and possible toxic compounds are formed. Look for organic, cold-pressed, unrefined oils. I use virgin coconut oil for all-purpose cooking below 170C, extra virgin cold pressed olive oil for medium-temperature cooking below 190C and salad dressings, and avocado oil for high-temperature cooking below 220C and salad dressings. An alternative to cooking with oil is to use fruit juices, I use a lot of lemon juice. Vegetables can be roasted or fried just as well in lemon juice as in olive oil. It’s also a great way to add a yummy flavour!
Raw nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are impressive sources of healthy, unsaturated fats and are packed with protein. However, they shouldn’t be added onto your diet, but instead used to swap out less healthy options, with a rough 10% fat/protein guide in mind. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen throw in their old ‘unhealthy’ diets just to gorge on piles of nuts and seeds thinking they are being healthy, and then put on a ton of weight. So just don’t make them your entire diet. You are not a squirrel.
Whether you go for raw or toasted varieties look for packages that are free of added salt, sugar and preservatives. I toss nuts and seeds onto my salad, soup, pasta dishes or almost anything! I use almond milk and love almond butter because it tastes absolutely delicious and can be used to quickly create sauces and dips, and thicken shakes and smoothies.
Refined sugar, including all sweets, fizzy drinks and almost all chocolate doesn’t offer any nutritional benefits at all so its best to just cut it out completely. If you still want some sweetness a high quality raw honey, 100% maple syrup or coconut palm sugar offers a great substitute.
When digesting refined sugars, our body is forced to draw minerals from bones, tissues and blood to try and regain its delicate equilibrium. If this is compounded over years and years of eating refined sugars a serious mineral deficit could be created. That is why sugar consumption is linked to so many diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, immune deficiency, tooth decay and candida (to name a few).
But its not all bad news! There are refined sweeteners that take precious minerals from your body, other naturally processed one that don’t. However, keep in mind that even though naturally processed sweeteners are better than their refined counterparts, you should still treat them as something special.
Some other examples of naturally processed sweeteners are coconut palm sugar (coconut sugar), 100% maple syrup, organic or wild non-pasteurized honey, fruit juices, fruit syrups and date sugar. Be on the lookout for products that label themselves “natural” sweeteners such as fructose and brown sugar. They are nearly as refined and concentrated as white sugar and have similar effects on the body.
Foods to buy to get started:
- Brown rice
- Pasta (If you don’t have any health problems any kind of pasta is fine just make sure it is high quality and as unprocessed as possible. As I have PoTS I generally choose between soba (buckwheat) pasta, brown rice pasta and quinoa pasta.
- Quinoa (other things you might like to try are cous cous, buckwheat, bulgar wheat, amaranth, pearl barley, spelt, polenta, millet)
- Rice cakes
- High quality bread (this can be regular or gluten free depending on your preference)
Beans and legumes
- Lentils, black beans, chickpeas
- Tamari (a gluten-free fermented soy sauce)
- Cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar (white vinegar), balsamic vinegar
- Dijon mustard, wholegrain mustard (look for sugarfree varieties made with apple cider vinegar)
- Mixed herbs, rosemary, sage, chilli, herbs de provence
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, fresh vanilla pods, vanilla essence
- Fresh vegetables; salad, tomatoes, spinach, celery, sweet potatoes, carrots, chard, potatoes, onions, garlic.
- Fresh fruit; lemons, limes, bananas, berries, apples
Oil and fats
- Olive oil (high quality organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oil that has been stored in a green bottle to preserve the nutrients), coconut oil, avocado oil
Nuts and seeds
- Nuts and seeds (remember these are high fat so pick whichever ones you like but don’t eat them all at once. I recommend choosing between almonds, cashews, brazils, pecans, walnuts pumpkin, flax, sunflower and chia seeds)
- Dried fruit: Raisins
- 100% pure maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, date sugar
- Food processor
- 1 standard measuring cup (I bought mine off amazon and its pink!) If you don’t have a measuring cup try to use a standard mug. Just make sure you use the same one each time!
Not the entire story
I think it is important to remember that health isn’t just about the food we put in, it is also about learning how to look after our entire body and listen to it. Both the physical, and the mental parts. Good diet is an excellent base but it is by no means the entire story. Below is a list of the fundamental elements of health, it is useful to keep this in mind when we are mapping our path to wellness. Though there is no official ranking or order, the first ten are essential for even moderate health.
Fundamental Elements of Health Are You Thriving or Surviving?
- Clean, fresh air
- Pure Water
- Foods for which we are biologically designed
- Sufficient sleep
- Rest and relaxation
- Vigorous activity
- Emotional poise and stability
- Sunshine and natural light
- Comfortable temperature
- Peace, harmony, serenity and tranquility
- Human touch
- Thought, cogitation, and meditation
- Friendships and companionship
- Gregariousness (social relationships, community)
- Love and appreciation
- Play and recreation
- Pleasant environment
- Amusement and entertainment
- Sense of humor, mirth, and merriment
- Security of life and its means
- Inspiration, motivation, purpose and commitment
- Creative, useful work (pursuit of interests)
- Self-control and self-mastery
- Individual Sovereignty
- Expression of reproductive instincts
- Satisfaction of the aesthetic senses
- Positive self-image and sense of worth
- Internal and external cleanliness
- Music and all other arts
- Biophilia (love of nature)
taken from The 80-10-10 Diet by Dr. Douglas Graham
Ask questions, post, instgram @jennifermedhurst or tweet @jennmedhurst, ! I want to hear about your experiences. Have a happy healthy journey.