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For some people, the whole “ancestral” way of eating makes sense – it’s just a little too much craziness to commit to all at once.
And yes, my fellow health seekers… that is OK.
Sometimes, our lives are burdened with so many other stressors that attempting to overhaul our “food life” can make things worse – leading to frustration and killing all chances of long-term success. In reality, even the most pristine, nutrient-dense diet in the world can’t outdo the negative effects of added stress – and foods eaten in stress-ridden sympathetic state will only cause more problems.
While this certainly isn’t a pass to continue eating bagels for breakfast because you experience stress in your life, many people find success in making small, incremental changes overtime because it gives your life time to adjust to a new way of doing things.
So, to cut you some slack, I’m skipping the small stuff and going straight to the changes that will provide you with the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to living a healthy “human” lifestyle. And quite frankly, I think you’ll be happy to know – it’s really not that complicated.
5 Easy Dietary Changes That Will Drastically Improve Your Health
There is no question about it – what you eat affects the way you look, feel, and how your body performs. Even though you may not be ready to leave the bread sticks behind just yet, there are some simple, yet impactful changes you can make that will pay off big when it comes to strengthening your health and fighting disease.
1. Ditch the Vegetable Oils.
Despite what marketing you may find on packaging, consuming and cooking with vegetable oils really does your heart no favors. Vegetable oils have a high ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are unstable and prone to damage when exposed to heat, oxygen and light. Most of these oils are extracted using high-heat processing with a chemical solvent known as a hexane, and have to be degummed, bleached, and chemically deodorized before being sold for purchase in a clear plastic container. This processing can lead to oxidation which makes the fatty acids toxic to your cells and tissue, especially to those tissues that love fat like your brain and your heart.
But the craziness doesn’t end there. Most all vegetable oils are used for further cooking, frying or baking and are exposed to a great deal of heat in the process leading to further damage. Oxidized (or damaged) fats are incredibly destructive due to the free radicals and inflammation they cause inside the body, and have been linked to everything from cancer to all major degenerative diseases.
Action step: Do not cook with or consume products that have been cooked in vegetables oils (to the best of your ability.) This includes canola, corn, soybean, rice bran, grapeseed, safflower, peanut, and cottonseed oil. This also includes any hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or interesterified vegetable oils – also know as trans fats. Check labels for these “frankenfats” as they can sneak on labels like coffee creamer, crackers, and baked goods.
Cold-pressed oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids like walnut, rice bran, and sesame seed oil are OK for cold use and should be kept in the refrigerator. Use fats like coconut oil, grassfed butter, or local beef tallow or lard for any cooking. Want to learn more about fats? Check out The Complete Guide to Fats.
2. Eat Fat for Breakfast.
Foods that pack a powerful punch of nourishing fats like eggs, avocado, raw milk cheeses and yogurt, coconut milk, or fresh vegetables and meats cooked in butter or coconut oil put your body in an incredibly beneficially metabolic state that will set your entire day up for success. Not only is fat super satiating, it also provides slow burning energy (think logs in a fireplace), resulting in less fatigue, sugar cravings and hunger pains throughout the entire day.
Eating high carbohydrate foods like cereal, bagels, granola bars, and pastries provides your body with quick burning energy (think twigs in a fireplace) that spikes your blood sugar, and then drops it abruptly. This is that “energy crash” you feel that leaves you scavenging for the candy jar midmorning and midafternoon. And if you’re looking to lose a few pounds, a multitude of studies have found that eating eggs for breakfast not only increases energy and satiation, it also results in eating up to 400 calories less throughout the day when compared to an equal-calorie breakfast of a bagel. (If you don’t like eggs or have an allergy, try these 7 Amazing Egg Free (Real Food) Breakfast Recipes!)
Scared that eating more stable, nourishing fat is somehow going to give you heart disease? A multitude of studies, including a large meta-anaylsis published in 2010 reveal no association between saturated fat and heart disease. For more on this subject, check out The Saturated Fat Myth: Why (Real) Saturated Fat is Not Bad For You.
Action Step: Ditch the processed carbohydrate foods, and begin your morning with a plate full of your favorite protein and nourishing, stable fats to kick-start your day.
3. Avoid Drinking Sugar.
You probably know that processed sugar can impact your body and its functioning in a negative way when overconsumed. While I’m all for enjoying sweets on occasion (Homemade Magic Shell, anyone?), drinking sugar in the form of soda, sports drinks, concentrated juices or “energy” drinks has been shown to change our physiology.
Drinking liquid sugar products is sort of like dumping pure glucose in your bloodstream. This leads to an ugly situation that when initiated often, puts us on the metabolic roller coaster, which can lead to chronic disease.
Sugary beverages not only provide little to no nutritional value for your body, evidence shows that consuming soda is strongly linked with increased food intake above necessary caloric needs.5 When you drink soda, the body doesn’t register the calories as energy – and does not compensate with a reduction in food intake. This is just one more sign that all calories are not created equal, and that the liquid sugary ones specifically are a major fail.
Action Step: Swap sugary sodas, concentrated juices, and energy/sports drinks for alternatives like water, which can be infused with fruits or herbs. If you find your body reacts negatively to high doses of sugar, experiment with removing added sugars from your life which can add up quick (use my printable .pdf List of All Things Sugar for help!)
4. Eat From Your Neighborhood.
While I’m sure it’d make for a killer story the next day, I’m not proposing you go into your neighbor’s house and take their food. I’m talking about getting produce and meats grown and raised in the pastures right around where you live.
When you eat local, not only do you have the opportunity to get products from animals pastured on grass, and produce grown in super nutrient-rich soil, you are also getting food that has virtually no “transit time” which increases the preservation of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and phytonutrients it contains. It’s also pretty awesome to be able to talk to the people who gathered your eggs or picked your tomatoes that morning – and it gives you the opportunity to ask more questions about how they keep the pests off their raspberries or raise their chickens and cows.
And did I mention – it’s WAY cheaper to shop local?
Action Step: Virtually every major city has Farmer’s Markets weekly where farmers come and bring their products throughout the season. If you’re not sure where your local Farmer’s Markets or surrounding farms are located, do a simple search on Local Harvest based on your zip code. If your closest farm ends up being over an hour away, you’ll find you can get by with a simple monthly visit to stock up on what you need. Food you purchase from local farms like eggs or produce is usually gathered that morning – and will last in your fridge much longer than the foods you get from big box grocery stores. Need some more ideas? Check out my Top 6 Ways to Start Eating Locally.
5. Consume Fermented Foods.
Yikes… that one scares you I bet, huh? I promise, it’s not that scary at all – and can actually be a fun, refreshing and tasty experience. Fermented foods are foods that go through lactofermentation – a process in which natural bacteria feeds on starch (or sugar) and creates lactic acid. This preserves the food because the beneficial bacteria out beat the ones that can hurt you, and it also creates a powerhouse of additional nutrients like enzymes, B vitamins and various probiotic strands.
With the massive decline in probiotic-giving foods, it’s no surprise that gut-related conditions like autoimmune diseases, food intolerances, allergies and digestive distress are on the rise. Around 80% of your immune system lies in your gut, and your gut is closely regulated by trillions of probiotic bacteria. Processed foods like refined grains and sugar starve the gut of beneficial microbes which inhibits the body’s ability to manage disease – including everything from the common cold to chronic diseases like cancer.
In addition to restoring proper balance of probiotics, fermentation has been linked to improved digestion. This means you’ll be absorbing more nutrients from the food that is fermented and other foods you eat in your daily life. The less you have to rely on vitamin “pills” for your nutrients – the better!
Action step: Experiment with store-bought probiotics foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, kvass, or raw milk yogurt. (Note: These items are expensive online because they are raw and have to be refrigerated. Check your local health foods store which will be much more reasonable!) I highly recommend my Strawberry Kombucha Smoothie recipe for starters! Later, you can do some more research on how to make your own probiotic foods for pennies on the dollar. It’s a good idea to include (and rotate!) high-quality probiotic supplements as well – especially after antibiotic use, or during times when you don’t have access to fermented foods, like when traveling. I recommend Prescript-Assist, Florajen, and Jigsaw.
So – what do you think of my top five dietary changes? Would you take away – or add anything to the list? Let me know in the comments below!