By Annette Morgan
We recommend an unprocessed, plant-based, micronutrient dense, whole foods diet that uses an array of colourful, seasonal, organic vegetables combined with a moderate amount of protein, and generous amounts of healthy fat. Include fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and yoghurt to provide probiotics. The inclusion of a fasting protocol is highly advised as well. We are all individuals with different constitutions, genetics, and environmental exposures, and a healthful diet should accommodate this individuality. And always avoid chemicals, additives, processed and fast foods.
Public dietary guidelines emphasise lots of grains, and low amounts of fat and meat. This is not supported by current scientific research, or by the traditional (pre-industrial) diets that we evolved on. In contrast, a healthful diet requires plenty of healthy fats, good quality protein and much less carbohydrates, with none coming from refined sources such as sugars, soft drinks, juices, cereals and flours.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are the sugars, starches and fibre in foods. We use carbs for energy production, dietary fibre and to feed our good gut bacteria. The amount and type of carbohydrates in foods varies greatly, as does the time it takes to digest it and thus the rate it raises the blood sugar (the GI). The quantity, quality and type of carbohydrates in the diet have major impacts on health. Excessive consumption of carbs in the modern diet has imbalanced many people’s metabolism and led to epidemics of pre-diabetes, diabetes and inflammatory diseases of all types. All carbohydrates cause a spike in glucose, insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1, which, in excess, cause detrimental effects on metabolism and health. A wealth of scientific evidence shows that it is the abundance of grain-based foods and sugars in our diets that drives inflammation and metabolic disturbances. (The Ketogenic diet, which replaces carbohydrates with fats in the diet, has been shown to reverse a number of disease states, and can be a good option for many people).
Current research and studies of hunter-gatherer diets show that eating fewer carbohydrates maximises the micronutrient content of diets and improves metabolic health. The carbohydrates in the diet should come from unrefined and low-glycemic index (GI) sources. Lower GI occurs when the carbohydrates in a food are bound up with fibre, fat and/or protein, making them slower to enter the bloodstream from the digestive tract, thus having a better effect on metabolism.
Avoid refined carbohydrates
Cereals, refined flours, crackers, biscuits, pastries, muffins, cakes, doughnuts, sugar, sweets, ice-cream, soft drinks, commercial sauces, juices, sports drinks, packaged foods, honey, table sugar, agave, syrups. Avoid artificial sweeteners as they have detrimental effects on health. Check carbohydrate values on packaged foods – and avoid those that have added sugar.
Eat unrefined wholegrains in careful moderation
Grains including wheat, cracked wheat, spelt, barley, corn, rye, oats, rice, couscous, kamut, sorghum millet, quinoa, amaranth (these last 3 are technically seeds, but used like grains) and products made from these (eg. breads, pasta, flour) are all high in carbohydrate content, though their glycaemic index varies. Restrict these to small amounts of good quality, unrefined, low-glycemic sources. Use only unrefined grains (those without the husk removed), as these are higher in vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and fibre and lower in the speed they raise blood sugar (GI). For example whole oats are better than instant porridge, brown basmati is better than white rice and dense multigrain or rye bread is higher in nutrients than white bread. Aim to eat only carbohydrates with a lower GI value of 55 or less (the lower the better), e.g. quinoa – refer to charts such as those developed by Sydney University. Also note that gluten can be a problem for many people, and it’s avoidance might be advised. Lupin flour can be used instead of other flours – it is made from the sweet lupin bean, which is a GMO-free legume. It is very high in fibre and protein and low in carbohydrate. Coconut flour is also recommended – it is high in protein and fibre and has a low GI.
Base diet on plant foods, especially low glycemic vegetables and legumes –eat abundantly
A diet rich in vegetables lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. ‘Eat a rainbow’ of vegetables- the various colours contain different plant chemicals that are vital to health, so variety and colour are important. Eat daily dark green leafy vegetables, yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, red fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans) and peas; and citrus fruits. Green leafy vegetables include lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, rocket and mustard greens. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly beneficial- such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale. Also include garlic, onions, leeks, mushrooms, beetroot, fennel, asparagus, celery, radishes, artichokes, spring onions, ginger, parsley, coriander, mint, peas, beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Limit raw spinach and rhubarb due to high oxalate content. Season your food with different herbs and spices – use fresh herbs liberally as many health benefits. Salads, soups, and stir-fries are ideas for increasing the amount of vegetables in your meals. Aim for ½ to ¾ of your plate to be filled with vegetables, and include raw as well as cooked.
Legumes are beans, peas and lentils. While these contain carbs, they are lower GI and are also a good source of protein. Prepare whole grains, legumes and nuts by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening them to neutralize anti-nutrients such as lectins, phytates and enzyme inhibitors.
Limit tropical fruits to 2-pieces daily due to high sugar content and restrict white potatoes due to their high carbohydrate content. Berries are a good choice of fruit, as low in sugar and contain powerful antioxidants. Avoid dried fruits as this removes the water content and you end up with very high amounts of sugar.
Fats & Oils
Fat is an important part of a healthy diet and is necessary for health, but the type of fat eaten is very important. Avoid low fat foods, as there are often added carbohydrates in these. Choose foods with “good” unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats), include foods high in saturated fat (these are stable in cooking and do not cause heart disease as previously believed), and restrict polyunsaturated omega-6 fats (do not use seed oils or vegetable oils – check labels) and avoid “bad” trans fat.
- “Good” fats include both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats — these reduce inflammation and cause lower disease risk. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olives and extra virgin olive oil (avoid light olive oil as it has had all of its antioxidants removed), avocados and avocado oil, and macadamias and macadamia oil. Omega-3 rich sources include fish and fresh seafood, linseeds and linseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and hemp oil. A vegetarian source of the critical omega-3 fat DHA is algae based supplements. Saturated fats such as coconut oil, MCT oil, butter and ghee are also healthful and good for cooking with, as they do not oxidize as readily as polyunsaturated fats.
- “Bad” fats — trans fats — increase disease risk, even when eaten in small quantities. Trans fats are primarily in processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil (check labels) – always avoid these. Also, too much omega-6 fat is pro-inflammatory, so cooking oils and processed foods that contain these should be avoided. Omega-6 fats are essential in the diet, but the trouble is that we generally eat way too much of these in the modern diet. They are implicated in heart disease, cancer and inflammation, especially when oxidized. They should be minimized in the diet. They come from vegetable and seed oils and occur in many processed foods like pasta sauces etc. Avoid vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn oil, soybean oil, as well as take-away, fried foods and processed foods, which often use them. Also, animals fed on grain-based diets will have high amounts of omega-6 in their meat and eggs, so always choose pasture raised, grass fed animal products which are higher in good omega-3 fats and lower in omega-6.
The average person needs about 0.8 – 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day (= 56-70g for a 70kg person). The source of protein makes a big difference. Both inadequate and excess protein can cause health problems. Animal products offer complete protein sources, while vegetarian and vegan sources of protein include legumes, nuts and seeds (complete when combined). Choose fish, free-range poultry, beans, legumes and nuts; limit red meat and cheese; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
Eat fish liberally- at least twice weekly – sardines, salmon, anchovies and herring are good choices due to high omega-3 fat content and low mercury levels. Other low mercury seafood includes snapper, trout, trevally, whiting, anchovy, bream, mullet, garfish, prawns, lobsters, bugs, squid and octopus. Avoid species known to contain higher mercury levels – shark (flake), swordfish, marlin, barramundi, gemfish and Bluefin tuna.
Eat grass fed beef and free-range chicken in moderation. The inclusion of bone broths and organ meats is highly nutritious and healing for various bodily systems. Limit consumption of dairy products and choose A2 rather than A1 milk.
Vegetarian protein sources include: egg (14 grams of protein per two large eggs), Valia yogurt (unflavoured) (10 grams of protein per half cup), hemp seeds (9 grams of protein per 28 grams), cottage cheese: (20 grams of protein per 170g), peanut or almond butter: (7 to 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons /32 grams), soy protein options –tofu (19 grams of protein per140 grams); Edamame beans: (17 grams of protein per 140 grams), tempeh: 20 grams of protein per 100 grams)
Drink water, unsweetened herbal teas, green tea, dandelion root, cocoa (unsweetened). One green vegetable juice daily is a great source of micronutrients and green powders such as spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass or barley greens can be added for an extra boost of nutrients.
Regular fasting has major health benefits including healing, restoration and rejuvenation. Implement an ongoing fasting type regime. The least version of this is to allow 12 hours between dinner and breakfast on a daily basis. Speak to your naturopath about other fasting options.
Recommended Recipe & Dietary Guidelines Books
- Nourishing Traditions, The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon & Mary Enig
- Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? by Dr. Mark Hyman
- Food: What the Heck Should I Cook? by Dr. Mark Hyman
- Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter
- Brain Maker by Dr. David Perlmutter
- The Brain Body Diet by Dr. Sara Gottfried
- Real Food for Pregnancy, The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition by Lily Nichols