There is no doubt that the industrialization of food over the past 75 years has contributed significantly to the rise of chronic illnesses. The pure, whole food nature used to provide has been replaced with manufactured, hybridized, and genetically modified food-like substances. Over 10,000 chemical food additives have been approved for use in industrial food manufacturing, with only a fraction being regulated for safety by the FDA. It is critical for our energy and our overall health that we move away from processed foods and begin nourishing our bodies with nutrient-dense whole foods.
If cutting the bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, and ice cream out seems impossible, don’t panic. Those cravings that you experience are not a part of who you are; they come from messages sent to your brain by the trillions of microbes living in your gut. The diverse ecosystem that resides in the gut is referred to as the microbiome. We now know that our gut contains over 100 trillion microorganisms from over 1000 different species, while only about 1 trillion cells make up the human body. This means that 99% of the cells that we carry around with us each day and think of as ‘self’ are foreign microbes. The 23,000 genes that make up the human blueprint pale in comparison to the approximately 2 million different genes contained within our tiny companions. Not only are these statistics interesting, but they are also evidence that the microbiome has a profound effect on our lives in everything from determining our mood, to what foods we are craving, to balancing our hormones, to regulating our immune system.
The “bad” bacteria that can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health thrive on simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and sugar. The good bacteria thrive on fruits, vegetables, wild meats, and healthy fats. If you eat unhealthy foods regularly, you will end up with an abundance of those unwanted bacteria living in your gut. When you stop eating those foods, those bacteria become hungry and send powerful messages to your brain that you interpret as cravings. The good news is that those bad actors will begin to die off in a matter of a few days, and if you replace the unhealthy food with healthy food, the populations within that ecosystem will shift to predominantly “good” bacteria. After the first couple of weeks, those craving significantly diminish as the good bacteria begin to make you crave healthy food choices.
When thinking about what makes a healthy diet, it is again helpful to reflect on our ancestors. An inspiring look at how a correct Paleolithic diet can change your life can be seen by watching Dr. Terry Wahls TEDx Talk on YouTube – Minding your mitochondria | Dr. Terry Wahls | TEDxIowaCity. For more in-depth information, check out her book, The Wahls Protocol. She focuses on healing autoimmunity in the book, but this way of eating is great for everyone because it honors our genetic heritage. Ideally, your diet will consist of real food, including:
9 cups of fruits and low Glycemic Index vegetables each day, including:
- 3 cups of tightly packed green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, or chard
- 3 cups of deeply colored vegetables and fruits such as berries, tomatoes,beets, and squash
- Three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables like onions, asparagus, broccoli,cabbage, Brussel sprouts, radishes, and garlic
- Ease into this amount if you need to
- Substitute in one serving of starchy vegetables up to once daily – theseinclude things like beets, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and squash
Gluten-free and dairy free
- Gluten and dairy are both common sources of severe health problems for many people
- Stay away from packaged “gluten-free” products which are also unhealthy
- Use a dairy alternative like almond mild – no sugar added, coconut milk, and rice milk
Healthy Fats (Eat liberally)
- Organic virgin coconut oil – Can cook with medium to high heat
- Coconut milk
- Extra virgin olive oil – Cook with low heat or use cold
- Grass-fed Ghee – Can cook with medium to high heat
- Red palm oil
- Avocado oil
- LardProtein – Organic, Grass-fed, Wild-caught (Eat liberally)
- Seafood – Choose cold-water fish and shellfish like herring, salmon, anchovy, sardine, mackerel, bluefin tuna, and oyster
- Beef, lamb, bison
- Chicken, turkey, duck
- Three 6-12 oz servings per dayOrgan meats (Eat liberally)
- Organ meats are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet
- Try to have liver or heart from grass-fed cows 1-2 times per weekNuts and Seeds
- Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, macadamias, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts
- Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
- Eat 1 cup per day
The key is to begin to eat real food. Counting calories is not essential in the beginning. Studies have proven that as our bodies adjust to eating an ancestral diet, we will naturally gravitate towards the types and amounts of foods that will provide our bodies with optimal nutrition.