Last week I wrote about my experience doing a strict Ketogenic diet for six weeks. All in all, I found the experience to be a positive one with the exception of how restrictive it felt.
The most important takeaways for me were two:
Keto (when in balance) contains the cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory diet
I generally prefer lifestyle changes that feel loving and supportive, rather than hard rules. In a nutshell I hate to feel deprived.
So I felt that I needed to follow up last week’s blog post by sharing what are the essential building blocks of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle that I’ve taught my clients over the past decade.
With these as the foundation of our work together I’ve seen people get off meds for their cholesterol, diabetes and other stuff. I’ve seen them lose weight and have so many different things about their health improve.
In a nutshell:
The bulk of your diet should come from #1, #2 and #3 (below)
Reduce (and sometimes completely eliminate) #4, #5 and #6 (below)
The bulk of your diet:
#1 Eat primarily anti-inflammatory carbohydrates
The carbs on my “A List” of foods are the carbohydrates that promote lowering inflammation, but as you’ll see, they are ALL non-starchy, non-sweet. You might not even think of them as carbs, but they absolutely are carbohydrates*:
Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard, lettuces, radicchio, arugula, sprouts, cabbage, etc.
Non-starchy vegetables: green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, etc.
Non-sweet fruit: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant
Mushrooms, onions, leeks, chives, garlic, etc.
Seaweeds and algae.
These carbohydrates provide loads of minerals, fiber and micronutrients in their pigments and other compounds, helping to feed your intestinal flora and starve yeasts, parasites and harmful bacteria in your intestines. They nourish the liver, cleanse the blood and help to boost bone health through easily absorbable calcium (because it’s balanced with magnesium present in the greens.)
*Every food you eat will consist of fat, protein and carbs. Some are all or mostly protein, others are all or mostly fat, and vegetables are all or mostly carb.
#2 Eat a good amount of healthy fats
Omega-3 essential fatty acid is the #1 anti inflammatory fat. As you likely know, Omega-3s are primarily present in fish (wild caught only, not present in farmed fish at all) as well as some seeds (flax, hemp, chia) and nuts (walnuts). Algae can also be a source of small amounts of omega-3 fats (spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae.)
A key reason why Americans have so many issues of chronic inflammation (i.e. high cholesterol, arthritis, IBS, diabetes, allergies, skin issues, and eventually cancer and autoimmune conditions, etc.) is because consumption of omega-3 fats is too low, and consumption of omega-6 fats is too high (read further down regarding omega-6 fats.)
Other healthy fats that can help to improve an anti-inflammatory response rather than having inflammation run rampant:
Eating saturated fats from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows and pigs, and using them for cooking instead of vegetable oil. Clarified butter, lard and simple butter are more stable fats for cooking than vegetable oils which oxidize (become rancid) when heated and an oxidized fat is a HUGE creator of free-radicals (the little substances that damage cells, accelerating aging and causing inflammation.)
Saturated fat from coconut oil. The fat in coconut oil is a medium-chain-triglyceride, which makes it a very easily digested and utilized fat. It can be a great fuel for the brain, IF you’re not eating lots of carbs (which provide glucose and your cells choose to use that first, because leaving glucose lying around leads to cell hardening and acceleration of inflammation.)
#3 Protein is important, but you need less than most Americans are used to eating
Any amount of protein that is larger than the palm of your hand is typically too much. So look at the palm of your hand right now, that’s the maximum size of your burger, omelet, steak, fish, chicken, etc. Way smaller than what you typically consume, no?
And chances are most people are overeating protein 2-3 times per day.
One of the best experiments in health is to observe what happens when you only eat 1-2 servings of palm-sized protein a day and substitute the protein you’re reducing with the foods in #1 and #2 above —in other words, add more non starchy veggies and fat to your meals and see what happens.
Most protein sources (beef, chicken, beans, pork, etc. —with the exception of wild-caught fish) will tend to have a pro-inflammatory* effect, especially when consumed in excess.
*Inflammation is not essentially bad. Inflammation is the mobilization of your body’s healing resources (i.e. think of the swelling around a twisted ankle. The swelling is there to immobilize the joint so that healing can take place.) The problem with inflammation is when it becomes chronic, because it means that healing is not fully taking place and inflammation is not retreating (i.e. imagine the swelling in your ankle never going down. It starts causing other problems.) Inflammation that never retreats is a precursor for nearly EVERY health issue you can think.
Reduce or eliminate:
#4 Eliminate inflammation bombs completely
These are the non-foods that we really should never, ever consume. They are the artificial, chemicalized food-things invented by humans without any notion of what they were doing.
They are completely denatured (or never were natural to begin with) and have no place in our diet. Massive inflammation is the only thing they contribute:
Artificial sweeteners - i.e. diet soda, Crystal Light, diet yogurt, etc.
Hydrogenated fats - i.e. Crisco, regular peanut butter (has added hydrogenated oils), Twinkies, supermarket donuts, and anything else with a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.
Artificial colors - i.e. Soda, Kool Aid, Fruit Loops, candy, Red Bull, 5-hour energy, etc.
Cereals in the cereal aisle deserve special mention because they’re perceived as healthy foods, “part of a complete breakfast” when in reality, the extruder process through which they are made (to create puffs, flakes, crisps, etc.), is so violent and damaging to the grain that the resulting product in no way resembles the original food from nature which it once was. If you like cereal, make your own granola or eat oatmeal, rice, millet, quinoa for breakfast.
#5 Reduce high pro-inflammatory foods to a minimum (this is your “special occasion”/once-a-week category)
I put these foods in a special category because I don’t believe that radically strict diets are sustainable for the long term. These are the foods that we really should not be eating everyday, but they are a BIG part of the standard American diet.
Omega 6 oils: These are the widely consumed corn, soy, canola and safflower oils (among others.) Vegetables oils are high in omega-6s which is an essential fatty acid that has a pro-inflammatory effect, but we get enough of it through eating vegetables and seeds. Adding more of these into our diet only further tips the balance towards boosting inflammation. AND to add insult to injury, when you cook with these oils, they quickly become damaged through the heat, so then you’re eating a damaged (rancid), high-inflammation producing oil.
Sugar: Not just refined table sugar, but all forms of sugar have an inflammatory effect.
Refined grains: For the reason above, the easily absorbable glucose from bread, pasta, bagels, cookies and cakes, makes them a high pro-inflammatory food.
Fried foods: Because they’re fried in the vegetable oils mentioned above, and because the high-heat process of frying also damages the food, and if what you fried is a carbohydrate (i.e. french fries, donuts, fried dough) then you’ve got a triple whammy.
I don’t think it’s realistic or balanced to say that you never will eat these. If you did, you’d never eat at a restaurant again. All chefs use vegetable oils because of their mild flavor, and because they’re cheap.
So enjoy your French fries, bagels, cupcakes, ice cream, etc… just NOT every day.
#6 Eat these natural pro-inflammatory foods as a complement rather than the center of your diet
These are the foods that I call the B and C list of foods. These are healthy, natural, whole foods. But they do have a pro-inflammatory effect, which again, when balanced with anti-inflammatory foods will help you maintain good health for life.
The problem is that if these foods (below) continue to be the bulk of your diet, you still have a pro-inflammatory diet.
Which foods are these? They are the grains, beans, vegetables and fruit we haven’t yet mentioned:
Sweet fruit: berries, apples, pears, bananas, watermelon, peaches, etc.
Sweet & starchy vegetables: carrots, beets, winter squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc.
Whole grains: rice, quinoa, millet, oats, corn and bulgur wheat. (NOT their flours. Any kind of flour is by definition a refined grain, not whole.)
Beans: chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc.
Dairy (anything that comes from milk) is a funny group of foods because they’re not really a food that nature intended for human consumption—milk is the product mammals produce to feed their offspring, not other species.
Some people do well with dairy, others don’t. How much you can eat and still maintain a balanced inflammation picture is highly individual. You need to pay attention to how your body expresses inflammation and what it’s saying to you.
Next week, I’ll talk a bit about the role of exercise in all of this. Stay tuned!
Want to learn more?
I’m going to be teaching a free masterclass / webinar about natural healing.
If you’d like to learn more about how to use food for healing —on all levels… from healing your digestive tract, your joints, your heart, your skin… anything that might be coming up for you in the form of “symptoms” of any kind— you’re welcome to sign up for the “notify-me” list so you can get the information about the webinar when it’s ready.
The webinar will teach you about:
The four pillars of health (inflammation control is Pillar #3)
The two foundational elements that are necessary for any lifestyle changes to stick (these have nothing to do with food)
What you can do to get started
If this sounds interesting to you, just type in your info below and you’ll be the first to hear when the webinar is scheduled.