Eating well doesn’t require following a limited or regimented diet. It’s more about establishing a satisfying and sustainable balance of the right types (and relative amounts) of food that support your health and performance goals.
It’s also important to realize that the health-enhancing benefits of any given food strategy often stem more from what you don’t eat than what you do.
Begin by eating the FOUNDATIONAL FOODS described below. They provide the broad base of critical nutrients the human body needs to thrive. This simple, basic diet nourished and sustained our primitive ancestors for millennia. Since our underlying genetics haven’t really changed, satisfy your body’s most fundamental nutrients needs by making these foods the largest part of your diet:
Non-starchy vegetables. Especially leafy greens such as mustard or collard; kale, watercress, bok choy, spinach, broccoli rabe, napa cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and arugula.
Animal proteins. Favor ruminants—animals that feed on grass and leaves (beef, lamb, bison, elk, venison, goat). When it comes to beef, buy grass-fed and pasture-raised and choose the fattier cuts. Eat pork, turkey, and chicken with more moderation (they are higher in omega-6 fats). Opt for wild, line-caught fish and fertile or pastured organic eggs.
Fermented foods. Sauerkraut and kimchi; pickled beets and vegetables; fermented liquids such as kefir and kombucha.
Sea vegetables. Arame, dulse, wakame, nori, and hijiki are a few tasty examples. Look for Maine Sea Coast products, which are not sourced from the potentially radioactive waters off the coast of Japan.
Healthy, unprocessed fats and oils. Coconut, avocado, olive, macadamia, and red palm (from a family owned farm or other sustainable source); butter and lard from organic, grass-fed, free-range cattle. These oils can be used for sustained energy and higher heat cooking except for macadamia and olive oils, which can both withstand low heat but are better thought of as foods.
Natural, elemental salt. Use unrefined Celtic sea salt, Himalayan crystal salt, or Real Salt® only; strictly avoid table salt.
Teas. Herbal, green, black and white; yerba mate. For a hot or cold instant alternative, try Wisdom of the Ancients Yerba Mate Royale.
Add some diversity to your diet by eating SUPPORTIVE FOODS, which should be viewed as secondary sources of nutrition. These foods add nutrient-rich variety (and practical convenience) to life but are best when used to supplement your intake of the Foundational Foods (described above).
Protein powders. A hydrolyzed beef protein powder like PureClean Protein offers the most complete amino acid profile for growth, repair, and recovery (and it tastes great). Good plant-based sources include hemp, pea, and pumpkin seed powders.
A powdered fruit, vegetable, and herbal concentrate like Chocoberry Blast. This chocolate superfood blend not only provides a broad base of nutrient support, but improves the flavor of any protein-based smoothie or blended drink.
Non-dairy milks. Coconut, hemp seed, and nut milks are all good choices. For a more nutrient-rich, cost-effective, and environmentally sound alternative to aseptic packages, make your own non-dairy milk at home. There are dozens of made-from-scratch recipes available on the internet. You can substitute unsweetened coconut flakes or chips in any recipe using nuts when making coconut milk. There are a number of coconut milk powders (that blend easily with water) available, too. Look for a brand that is casein and maltodextrin free.
Blending water with nut butter may yield the most waste-free and nutrient-rich milk. And it offers you the ability to make as much--or as little--milk as you need at any given time. If you’re buying pre-packaged, Tempt (hemp), Ripple (yellow pea), and Vita Coco (coconut) milks are the most nutrient-dense options to choose from.
Fruits and berries. Small amounts of those in season.
Nuts. Including Brazil nuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamias, almonds, cashews, and pistachios, all preferably raw.
Seeds. Chia, hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and flax.
Use caution when eating SUPPORTIVE FOODS WITH LIMITS, those that are relatively nutrient-rich but tend to be allergenic and/or high in insulin-spiking carbohydrates. Their intake should be more infrequent.
Grass-fed whey protein powder, preferably from goat milk. Mount Capraoffers a variety of great-tasting, highly digestible, and hypoallergenic grass-fed goat proteins.
Raw, organic dairy or cheese products made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk. According to Dr. Josh Axe (and many other functional medicine specialists), an extensive look into research and claims made by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control related to raw milk being dangerous have been found to be completely unwarranted. In fact, consuming pasteurized milk products is potentially more problematic since most pasteurized milk comes from cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are the perfect breeding ground for foodborne illnesses.
Raw milk is rich in minerals and healthy bacteria that can benefit your digestive system. It also contains a variety of enzymes that can help improve the digestion of nutrients from other foods.
Organic, grass-fed, and whole-fat yogurts, which can sometimes be difficult to find in grocery stores but can be made easily and inexpensively at home.
Complex, grain-based carbohydrates. Including wild rice (a grass), amaranth and teff (which are both high in protein), millet, quinoa, and buckwheat (which are actually seeds). Experiment with eliminating all other grains (especially wheat) from your diet. Many active men and women have enjoyed improvements in their overall health and well-being from simply going both gluten and grain free.
Oils high in PUFA (polyunsaturated fat). Including flax, walnut, and sesame which should not be used during cooking but can add an occasional and enjoyable burst of flavor to any dish or salad.
Reduce or eliminate your intake of LIMITED FOODS, which have been traditionally eaten around the world because they offer an inexpensive source of calories. Limited foods are inherently low in nutrient value and contain mild toxins that, when eaten frequently, can lead to or exacerbate inflammatory conditions that interfere with the body’s performance capacity and healing process.
When FOUNDATIONAL and SUPPORTIVE foods are readily available, LIMITED foods should be removed from your diet entirely.
White potatoes. Especially Idaho and russet. Since white potatoes have a higher glycemic index, opt for waxy varieties including red bliss or new potatoes. Yukon gold, red fingerlings and/or heirloom varieties are also good choices. Cooking and cooling potatoes before they are eaten re-structures them into a resistant starch, which reduces their total carbohydrate content and makes them an excellent prebiotic (food source for the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria).
Keep in mind that white potatoes are also a nightshade, a member of the plant family Solanaceae which includes eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers (although black pepper is a different plant). While most men and women can safely consume these vegetables without any inflammatory consequences, those who suffer from arthritis, joint pain, and/or autoimmune disease often feel and perform better without them.
Legumes. All bean varieties including peanuts.
Grains. Including those that are marketed as healthier varieties of wheat--farro, kamut, spelt, wheat germ, and wheat berries. If you must eat grains, choose those that are sprouted, organic, and gluten-free. Opt for white over brown rice (since it contains less arsenic and fewer anti-nutrients) and steel-cut over rolled oats (since their glycemic index is much lower).
If it’s NOT FOOD, don’t eat it. What’s inside the boxes and bags found on grocery store shelves might be marketed and sold to us as food, but these products of modern industry are not what they appear to be. While refined and processed products may provide calories, they do so to the detriment of our overall health. Strictly avoid eating the following, food-like substances:
Conventional processed and/or packaged meats. The quality of the meat you eat is important. Organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised products are far superior to those from CAFOs which are likely to be contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics (and other drugs), as well as genetically modified organisms from the artificially engineered grains these animals are fed.
In 2009, a joint research project between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Clemson University determined that when compared to grain-fed, grass-fed beef is not only higher in total omega-3’s with a much healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, but higher in B and E vitamins, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Refined and processed sugars. White beet sugar, corn syrup and corn syrup solids, barley malt, dehydrated cane juice, cane juice solids and crystals, turbinado, date sugar, glucose, sucrose, fructose, and dextrose. Refined sugars are not only pervasive in all types of candies, sweetened beverages (including bottled smoothies, coffees, and teas), jams, jellies, and baked goods, flavored milks and yogurts, condiments and sauces, ‘sports’ drinks, soups, cereals, cereal bars, and canned goods.
Artificial colors, flavors (including MSG), sweeteners, and preservatives.
Processed, hydrogenated oils. Don’t be fooled into thinking vegetable oils are healthy. They’re extracted from seeds with poisonous solvents (like hexane). In addition to being inherently toxic and easily damaged by heat, vegetable oils are overloaded with omega-6 fats. Strictly avoid the use of canola, corn, soybean, grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, and peanut oils. When you eat out, ask what kind of oil is being used to prepare your meal. Even the finest restaurants use vegetable oils (especially corn and soy) in their kitchens.
Refined and processed grains. Which represent the majority of SAD (Standard American Diet), packaged foods found in the middle aisles and frozen section of the grocery store. They include all products made from grain-based flours--breads, pastas, cereals, crackers, chips, and baked goods.
Instead of eating (or baking with) refined grains, explore and experiment with the wide variety of gluten-free, grain-free (nut), or resistant-starch-based flours (such as oat, white rice, plantain, potato starch, and cassava) that are now readily available. In the snack and pasta sections, look for the bean-based products that are becoming increasingly popular. Although beans are not an ideal source of nutrients and calories, they are superior to grains.
Soy. With the exception of occasional miso and natto (organic), which are made from fermented soy.
GMO foods. Unfortunately, the list of genetically modified foods is growing but primarily includes corn, soy, canola, zucchini, yellow squash, papaya, and sugar beets.
Alcohol. Excepting small amounts of red (preferably dry-farmed, organic, and sulfite-free) wine. Excepting small amounts of red (preferably dry-farmed, organic, and sulfite-free) wine.
It’s fine to add a little FLAVOR to your life. While these items aren’t considered foods because they don’t provide the body with measurable amounts of macronutrients, they still offer several documented health and performance benefits.
Dark chocolate. Fair-trade, sustainable, and greater than 70% cocoa content.
Coffee. Look for single-bean, water-processed Arabica beans that have been shade grown at high altitudes. This type of coffee is preferable because of its low mycotoxin (mold) content.
Natural, unrefined sweeteners. Stevia, raw coconut sugar, raw honey, yacon and grade B maple syrups, monk fruit powder or syrup. Sugar alcohols including erythritol, xylitol, and maltitol (in small amounts). Avoid the use of refined sweeteners being sold as ‘healthy’ sugar alternatives such as agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, turbinado, date sugar, and evaporated cane juice solids.
Herbs and spices. The variety of choices is endless—and exciting!
About the author
Jackie Cruickshank Cohen is an NBHWC Board Certified Health and WellnessCoach, True Cellular Detox Certified Practitioner, author, and elite master’s athlete.