Food lies on a spectrum. On one end is nutritional, enjoyable, healthy food. At the other end is food like products. In between lies food items like: has nutritional value but can cause inflammation, sweet and tasty but can spike insulin levels, healthy food sprayed with pesticides, and animals raised in poor conditions and improperly fed. Let’s examine this spectrum and see how we can make our best choices. Note: I debated putting food in an ordered worst to best option, but there is some challenges to that model when you are grouping food by culinary groups and then food as a whole. I have done my best to start at foods you should never eat (food like products) and then foods that you should eat sparingly to most often. Within each food category there is also a range and I have tried to denote that to the extant of a blog will allow.
The easiest thing to eliminate from our grocery list is food like products. These are products that tout the benefits of being food, highlight fortified nutritional content, come packaged and have preservatives and artificial additives to make you sensory systems enjoy them at the time of consumption. Unfortunately, after consuming these items, the enjoyment ends in a couple ways. One, they may make you immediately nauseous or the sickness my be slightly offset to the following day. Next, they may cause inflammation, itching of the skin, flushed features, dizziness or shortness of breathe. It may not seem obvious for many people, because people have become habituated to these effects. But if you eat primally for a week and then test a meal of food like products, I predict the results will be obvious. Another effect is the lack of feeling fulfilled. You may feel a satiation effect at first, but it will only be temporary and even possibly leave you feeling even more hungry later (due to the lack of fat content, increased carbohydrate content, and additive chemicals designed to stimulate hunger and addiction)1. Clean out your pantry, write a grocery list and eat before you go out shopping to avoid purchasing ‘quick and easy’ items like these. Meal planning is not difficult, it just takes time to learn.
Not everything that comes in a package is bad, of course. Frozen foods are sold in packages and can be just a beneficial as fresh fruits because they are frozen at their time of picking, thereby maintaining the level of nutrition value at its height. However, it really depends on the nutrient itself, as the differences between fresh and frozen do vary. Of course, dairy items must be packaged, too2.
Next we look at grains. Wheat itself can cause a host of inflammatory issues3, and for celiacs, it can be a dietary nightmare. Traditionally prepared sourdoughs can be an exception because the fermentation process converts the sugars in the bread into carbon dioxide, for example. Celiacs cannot have sourdough bread. What about whole wheat vs white flour? White four may actually be easier to digest as the hull has been removed. However, the removal of the fibrous hull allows for the carbohydrate to be ingested more quickly. Watch your insulin levels.
There are other grains, such as cous cous and grain like foods, such as quinoa, that may be able to be ingested with minimal harm to the digestive tract. It depends on where your primal journey is. The longer you maintain a percentage of eating primally, (ie: ketogenic style), the better of a chance you can have in ingesting an occasional small amount of grains or grain like foods without an adverse effect. Note, this is different than food like products.
Legumes, lentils and beans that have been prepared properly can be enjoyed sparingly, as well. Depending on the item they should be soaked for a certain amount of time, have the water skimmed and cooked for the appropriate amount of time. Adding turmeric may aid in inflammation control4.
The big question is rice. White rice, with the hull removed, is low in fibre, but can cause an insulin spike. Combining rice with legumes, lentils or beans, can provide a full protein profile5. Rice also provides a physical satiety feeling, which many people enjoy. It is also a base for sushi and sauces. So including rice occasionally, or saving it for times when you go out to eat to certain restaurant.
Grains such as wheat, cous cous, rice, and food like lentils, do have phytates and lectins that can cause harmful effects on digestion and on the immune system. these foods can also cause spikes in insulin levels, keep the body in a glucose burning cycle, and effect neurophysiology.
Nuts and seeds can be a positive substitution for grains. They provide a crunching sensation, a physical sense of satiety, and can even mimic grains flavour profile. But they are extremely high in fibre, have phytates and lectins, and can be eaten by handfuls! So please be careful on how you prepare them and how many you consume, as these can be even rougher on the digestive system.
If you can purchase nuts and seeds in the shell, for example pistachios or sunflower sees, this may help slow you down on consuming them. For other types, purchasing them in their raw sate rather than already having been roasted and spiced, is a better choice because there may be additives included to keep the nuts and seeds appearing fresh. They already have those natural preservatives in the forms of lectins and phytates. So, for raw nuts and seeds, soak them in first in filtered water, as per instructions for the type of nut or seed. Then dehydrate them or grind them into a paste for a butter. If you are not dehydrating them, soak them in small batches. Then make sure they are dried as much as possible. Use them quickly, so they do not go bad. Still eat them sparingly, more as a treat rather than as a main. And keep in mind is you are making nut bread or a cake with them, your digestive system will thank you for making the slices thin.
Cacao is also a nut. Chocolate should be made from raw cacao powder and butter, with honey and spices. Or you can mix cacao powder with plain yogurt or avocado. There is no soaking or preparation that needs to be done with the powder, but it should still be recognized as a fibre. It is also a stimulant, so if you are sensitive to that, use in moderation.
Fruit is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, they are full of nutrients, on the other hand they are full of fibre and sugar. Tropical fruits are the highest in sugar, that includes bananas. Keeps these to a minimum and best in season, which is most likely summer, when you are most active, thereby burning off the glucose you ingest as quickly as possible. This will keep you in a fat burning state. The greener the banana, the more indigestible fibre, and the tougher it can be on the digestive system. The more brown, higher sugar content. Banana has a high amount of potassium, however, you could supplement if your finding that the sugar content is too high. Otherwise, eat a banana with your protein shake after a workout to slow the ingestion of glucose and restore regular glucose levels.
Other fruits can be enjoyed in moderation, but have them as an addition not as a main. Like apple in Waldorf salad. Fruit can often be used as a dessert option, which is a good substitution if you are looking for something sweet. But sweet desserts are not necessarily the best option as they can stimulate hunger. Adding some acidity will be able to tone down the sweetness and control more cravings.
Berries are an exceptional choice. These can be had on a daily basis, perhaps a cup, added to yogurt or blended with avocado or kefir into a smoothie. Blueberries have been touted as the penultimate for their benefits in regards to memory. Frozen berries are a good choice. There is an argument that when you free berries, they retain their nutritional value at the time of freezing, better than after transport and sitting at the market.
Vegetables in the culinary descriptive, actually encompass vegetables, fruits and tubers. Potato is extremely high in starch, so you should refrain from these the most, if not completely edit them from your diet. Other tubers include: sweet potato, turnips, parsnips, etc. Carrots and beets in moderation are okay. Use squash or pumpkin as a substitutes.
Other vegetables are free game: zucchini, aubergine, capsicum, spinach, swiss chard, tomato, mushroom, etc. If they are botanically a fruit, it is okay to consume them because they are low on the glycemic index. Hence why they are considered vegetable sin the in culinary sense. They are generally considered more savoury. Frozen vegetables, like berries, are a good choice. Just always check the packing to ensure there are no additives.
Properly prepared dairy is beneficial for its fat, protein content. Certain dairies like yogurt, do have sugars, so be careful how much and when you are consuming (ie: higher amount of carbs consumed after a workout, but still under portion control so you do not over consume). Kefir is proffered as it is fermented and has beneficial bacteria. Butter and ghee are healthy choices for cooking and baking.
An interesting thing to note about understanding the feeling of satiation, of knowing when you are actually full- eat a stick of butter. Once you get to the point of where you cannot eat anymore, that’s when you are full. This may sound un-appetizing, and I do not necessarily recommend it, but it is an interesting experiment.
Meats, fish and seafood are a broad range of foods. We will start with meat and then move over to fish and seafood. Red meat has its benefits, but ensure you re eating it along with the fat. The research done that demonstrates red mea tis unhealthy is done with lean meats. Saturated fat for red meat has a balancing effect. This goes to show you about the more true concept of eating whole foods. Grass fed animals are bette than grain fed. Something happens to the fat of animals that are grain fed and cause cause digestive issues6. For example, love bacon but feel ill after eating it? Knowing your food source, by connecting with local butchers, can provide better quality of meats. Be careful about ground meats, as the sources can be dubious. Frozen meats follow the same adage as above. When you can, start to look at trying offal (intestines and organs of animals). It may seem unappetizing at first, but when properly cooked they can be enjoyable. And the health benefits are extremely high.
Fish and seafood are extremely healthy. Unfortunately, the environment they grow is is becoming more polluted and less sustainable. When eating fish, look for ‘pink’ fish, especially salmon, is high in omega 3s, and essential fatty acid. Other types of fish are beneficial, though, too. Seafood itself, from mussels to prawns to oysters, should be enjoyed on a regular basis. Al the caveats still apply: check your sources, check the packaging, frozen is okay.
Healthy fats and oils such as dairy and saturated fat from red meat, or omega 3s from fisher necessary for proper functioning of human neurophysiology. Also required are olives, avocados and macadamia nuts for their mono-unsaturated fat benefits. Although fat is the top of the food pyramid, it is preferred to be viewed as an essential ingredient in all meals, for energy, satiation, medical benefits and taste. This includes the oils: olive, avocado and macadamia.
This was a longer blog than normal. It tried to compile a whole list of foods and food like products that we eat. The place on the food spectrum, and which ones are better choices. There is always more to learn and to understand. Looking forward to seeing you in the next blog.