If you saw my last post on the 10 steps to nourish and flourish you'll know that each week, for the next 10 weeks, I'll be posting one of the steps. Let’s begin with the most obvious place, food. I’m sure you’ve all heard the old adage, ‘we are what we eat’ and it couldn’t be truer. If you bought a Ferrari tomorrow, I’m sure you’d enthusiastically research the best fuel around to ensure your new toy runs optimally. You wouldn’t just settle for the cheapest, most convenient fuel around, would you? The fuel we put into the precious vehicles in which we navigate this life quickly enters our bloodstream and is then transported to our organs, nails, hair, bones and teeth. Nourishing our bodies with the vital nutrients it so deserves is crucial to a flourishing life. It worries me how many people are nutrient deficient because of our standard western diet's emphasis on highly refined and processed ‘food’.
70% of chronic diseases are caused by poor lifestyle and diet choices, which means they're preventable and not from 'dodgy' genes.
This is empowering data because it means that we can prevent cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and dementia by taking control of the way we live our lives.
"But there are hundreds of diets out there! Where do I begin?!"
I get it, people everywhere are overwhelmed and confused, and in a desperate attempt to get on with the rest of their lives (and primary foods), they settle for ‘everything in moderation’ and hope for the best. I'm not convinced this is the best approach, my friends. Firstly, what is moderation anyway? I've come to discover there is a more-than-moderate spectrum of moderation - everyone has a different definition of what it means to them. For my chocoholic bestie, it means unashamedly devouring six cupcakes in less than 24 hours.
I prefer to adopt a 90/10 rule where I eat clean 90 per cent of the time and indulge in whatever I like the remaining 10 per cent of the time. Food is meant to be enjoyable, fun, delicious, nourishing, exciting, creative and fulfilling, so I don't advocate for following a restrictive, unrealistic diet regime (diets are temporary and don't work in the long-run, anyway). Through my integrative nutrition studies, I’m learning over 100 different dietary theories and I appreciate how tricky it can be to find the best nutrition style for your unique body. And because we are complex beings with changing needs, one eating style will not work for the rest of our lives. Our dietary needs will inevitably vary with age, the changing of seasons and locations, and of course to accomodate any medical conditions.
I like to keep it simple though, and these are the recommendations I offer my clients:
Eat balanced meals as close to as possible as nature intended. It surprises me how many people are unfamiliar with the idea of balanced eating! Gone are the days of the misleading government food pyramids which recommended refined carbohydrates make up the biggest portions of our meals (um, what?!). Thankfully these guidelines have (finally) been revised and it's widely accepted that colourful vegetables should make up the biggest portions of our plates (white potatoes are not what I mean here). Next, don't be afraid of carbs. Unless it's the highly refined processed stuff like white bread. Instead opt for healthy whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice or millet (one quarter of your plate). Then add lean protein such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and hemp seeds; or organic free-range meat, wild-caught fish, or organic eggs if you're an omnivore (the last quarter of your plate). Lastly, don't be scared of fats. Healthy fats that is, think avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil and hemp oil. A word of caution with oils: be careful heating oils as olive, corn and sunflower and cottonseed oils all oxidise and create free radicals when heated – definitely don’t want these carcinogenic compounds in our beautiful bodies! The best ones for cooking are coconut oil, sesame oil, ghee and grass-fed organic butter.
Balanced eating keeps us full and satisfied for hours plus it helps if you struggle with food going 'straight through you' (as I used to. Now I find a highly fibrous salad of veggies, sunflower seeds, almonds and chickpeas is much easier on my system if I add 1/4 cup of brown rice or quinoa). Balanced eating is a helpful concept to keep in mind when meal planning, for example if you're making a stir-fry, start with loads of veggies fried in coconut or sesame oil, then add some tofu or organic meat or eggs, finally serve on a bed of quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat soba noodles - simple (and delicious)! I have a useful 'balanced eating tool' that I use in my 10 steps to nourish and flourish workshops and it's amazing to see how many people are excited people about reinventing their current eating habits.
A collection of my all-time favourite balanced meals:
Minimise or (if you're feeling ready) eliminate gluten and dairy: these are the two biggest irritants we see when it comes to gut health. And as you've probably seen, gut health is a big deal these days. A whole host of health problems can stem from having an unhealthy, leaky gut, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor - well it's stress actually, and stress really affects our gut, particularly in women. Conventional, processed gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, barley and oats (more on oats below) are typically genetically modified and contain proteins which are extremely difficult to digest for many people. Whether you are celiac or not, I suggest removing gluten and dairy from your diet for two-four weeks to see how you feel. Keep a food journal and monitor how you feel - physically, mentally and emotionally - after each meal. The same goes for conventional dairy, another bad guy that upsets our delicate digestive tract (and our respiratory system too - increases mucus and asthma symptoms). Dairy is linked to too many autoimmune conditions to list, however the most common ones are asthma, allergies, arthritis and skin conditions. Pasteurised milk is highly processed and many functional medicine doctors (like Dr Neal Barnard, Dr Joel Fuhrman and Dr Michael Greger) agree we simply don’t need it in our diets, in fact we can prevent many chronic diseases by removing it altogether.
Fortunately in today's health-conscious world, there are choices galore of plant-based 'mylks'. My current fave is Rebel Kitchen's dairy-free organic plant-based milk as it doesn't contain any artificial additives, preservatives or refined vegetable oils. For my Aussie readers, Nutty Bruce and Pure Harvest are my preferred options for these same reasons - both pure, clean options without any artificial fillers. And to those skeptics that despair "where oh where will we get our precious calcium from?", don't worry, we've got you covered. Leafy green veggies (especially spinach, broccoli and kale) and tahini (a delicious, creamy sesame seed paste used in hummus) are loaded with calcium. And the good news is that the "vegetable forms of calcium are more readily assimilated by the body" according to Dr Joel Fuhrman.
Many people discover they feel WAY better by saying goodbye to gluten and dairy. The effects can be seen and felt after just one week, but for many it's so rewarding they ditch them both for good.
The benefits of going gluten-free and dairy-free, according to Dr Axe :
Improved digestive health: less bloating, less gassy, more regular (annd..erm...banana-like) bowel movements, less nausea, goodbye to painful cramps and tummy aches
Improved respiratory health
Improved mental clarity, less brain fog
Increased energy levels, less fatigue
Promotes weight loss
Decreased risk of cancer
Lowers inflammation (the cause of most chronic diseases)
Can benefit children with autism
Clearer skin and less breakouts of the pussy/cystic nature
Oh and back to oats, thankfully these delicious morsels are inherently gluten-free, but celiacs need to be careful as they are processed in the same facilities as wheat and therefore contain small traces of gluten. Fortunately gluten-free oats are widely available in the UK and really inexpensive.
Make breakfast and lunch your biggest meals of the day: and stop eating two hours before you sleep. In ancient Ayurveda medicine, it’s believed our digestive fire is strongest between 11am to 2pm when we are most active. There's also another old saying I love here, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper". Why is this important you ask? Well, we’ve all been to bed on a full tummy and I'm sure you agree it’s not fun! Gassy, burpy and downright difficult to get comfortable when you feel like a beached whale. Oh and it's not a winning combo for well...fun times with your special someone.
For those interested in intermittent fasting, I suggest you stop eating by 7pm and then eat breakfast after 7am as this gives your precious digestive system a 12+ hour break from the tiresome task of breaking down the tonnes of food we consume in our lifetime. Currently I'm at the point where I can comfortably manage 12-14 hours from dinner to breakfast, a few days a week. As long as I'm properly hydrated and don't engage in any intense exercise that morning, I'm great and I know my digestive system is thanking me for it.
Chew your food properly: modern life often means many people resort to scoffing down their food on the go, practically inhaling it! Digestion begins in the mouth. Important enzymes and bacteria are released through the chewing process which are so crucial, we really don’t want to be missing out on these little digestive saviours. So, get chewing! 20-30 bites per mouthful is optimal. The key is to get your food to a liquified point before swallowing (um, gulping down?). Top health coach Andrea Beaman advocates chewing each bite 100 times as her bloating and gassiness completely vanished.
Eat socially and mindfully: share a meal with a friend, take turns cooking for one another, get excited about meal prepping and cooking, host a bring-a -plate day at work, really take in all the aromas, textures and temperature of your meals. In the Blue Zone regions (a study of the world’s longest-living humans), people generally don’t eat alone, or while standing or driving. In Ikaria, Greece (one of the five blue zones) people take their time and share meals with family, a win-win situation for improving health both physically and emotionally.
These are just a few of my recommendations for healthier eating habits that are realistic and doable, and leave you feeling AMAZING from the inside out. Give it a go, beautiful! I'd love to hear how you go with trying gluten-free and dairy-free. Sure it can be a little tricky in the beginning (mainly when eating out) as with learning anything new, but I assure you, the benefits will far outweigh any perceived limitations. Leave me a comment on how you found it! there's anything you'd like me to cover in a future blog post, do tell.
Stay tuned next week for #2 step to nourish and flourish.
You deserve to flourish.
Note: the opinions and advice contained here are my own, from my own experience, the results from my clients, my studies as an integrative health coach, and my personal research. If you are ever in doubt about any health concerns, or about coming off your medications, please consult a doctor.