There are so many diets out there – vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, paleo, primal, Mediterranean – the list goes on. But which one is the best? Your best friend swears that the paleo diet changed her life - she lost 50 pounds and her skin cleared up, but when you try it – nothing! Well that’s because diets and food choices need to be individualized! Integrated nutrition is all about learning to be more connected with what you eat, and how your body processes food.
Following a strict diet that you have read in a book may seem easy at first, but I can guarantee it’s not going to be the perfect diet for you. In order to understand how to eat, you have to first learn to listen to what your body is telling you and feed it nutritious foods. These 7 principles lay the foundation of the “perfect diet”
1. Drink More Water
Drink 2 cups of water first thing in the morning when you wake up. This will help to re-hydrate the body and set you on a good track for drinking water throughout the rest of the day. You can try adding freshly squeezed lemon juice, or sliced ginger to warm water, if you typically need some warming up in the morning.
Signs that you need more water include fatigue, sluggish digestion, headaches and frequent food cravings, or even just feeling thirsty!
2. Make your Own Meals
It is virtually impossible to eat well if you are relying on restaurants or take-out food. There is a lot of added sugar, salt and fat to make the food taste delicious, and portion sizes are often too large. Some of the most nutritious food is easiest to make, such as vegetables, fish and whole grains. You can even make your favourite “take-out” foods at home – swap the Macdonald hamburger and french fries for a homemade burger and roasted yams
3. Experiment with Whole Grains
Carbohydrates have been demonized, but there is a lot of benefit in eating healthy whole grains as part of a balanced diet. Whole grains provide energy, satiety, and a high source of fiber. This doesn’t include white bread or muffins, but start using quinoa, lentils, beans, amaranth, and millet. If you have trouble digesting grains, try soaking them overnight in water – this makes the grains easier to digest and also neutralizes phytic acid, which is a component of grains that can block the absorption of other nutrients. Learn how to cook different grains.
4. Include Naturally Sweet Vegetables
Craving sweets is natural, so try including healthy sweet foods instead of turning to processed sugar. Naturally sweet foods also contain beneficial nutrients and fiber to help balance your blood sugar. Certain foods become very sweet when cooked, and eating these foods will reduce your cravings for sweets! Carrots, onions, beets, winter squash and sweet potatoes are all great options.
5. Increase Leafy Greens!
Leafy greens are high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals. They really are the super-hero food, and there are so many delicious ways to consume them. Try sauteing them, making a kale salad, or using a collard green leaf as a “bun” in your sandwich. Greens can also be easily added to your morning smoothie! Start experimenting by rotating your greens: bok choy, napa cabbage, kale, collards, watercress, mustard greens, broccoli rabe and dandelion are all great options. Here are some ideas on how to cook, and store, your leafy greens!
6. Include Protein
Protein, and it’s building blocks amino acids, are important for so many functions in the body. Protein is required for enzymes and hormone synthesis, as well as building muscle mass (thereby increasing our metabolism) and developing strong hair and nails. Protein also helps to stabilize blood sugar - reducing cravings and keeping us feel full for longer. Good sources of protein include fish, organic poultry, grass fed meats, lentils and eggs. Aim for a piece of protein the size of your hand, with the rest of your plate being colourful veggies and high quality fats.
7. Don’t Fear Fats
We are thankfully moving away from low fat diets, but people are still hesitant to include fats and oils in their diets. Fats are essential for increasing our feeling of satiety after a meal, improving our absorption of many fat-soluble nutrients and producing healthy hormones. Modern diets have an over-abundance of pro-inflammatory fats (omega 6) and low levels of anti-inflammatory fats (omega 3). Our cell membrane is composed of fat, so including anti-inflammatory fats in our diet, will help to reduce inflammation systemically. If you are cooking with oils, use ones with a high smoke point such as coconut oil, avocado oil or grapeseed oil. Olive oil and flaxseed oil should only be consumed cold, as they burn at a lower temperature. Other good sources of fat include nuts and seeds, fish (and fish oil), hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax and avocado.
Choose one of these principles to include next week. If you are able to stick with it, then try adding another. Make small, sustainable, changes and soon you will see drastic changes in your diet and your health!
Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about your specific symptoms to individualize the best nutrition plan for you.