Eat real food
There is a lot of confusion around what we should eat. Should we go vegan or paleo, keto or not eat anything at all? Looking at the different approaches, they actually have more in common than not. They all recommend that you eat “real food”, which means
- food made by mother nature,
- food that your grandma would have recognized as food,
- food which is minimally packaged,
- food which has no more than 5 ingredients – and you know what they are because they don’t have fancy wired names or Letter and numbers.
This also implies, that you are not going to eat – or drink – a lot of processed food. And I would be lying if I said a healthy diet didn’t take more time than convenience food! However, hopefully you body will thank you for your effort and you might even find some joy in the creativity of cooking or sharing a delicious meal with your family.
The perfect is the enemy of the good
One more thing! Remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good. So keep the pack of pasta and sugo on your shelf for the day you need to produce a meal in 15 minutes. Maybe add some canned mackerel and a raw carrot (or the vegetable your kid actually eats) to feel good about having added some protein and phytonutrients. Also, if you chose to have a glass of wine, an ice cream, a coke or a pack of chips: enjoy it! And then go back to your healthy routine!
What nutrients does the body need
Let’s quickly look at what the body needs in terms of nutrients:
The body needs so called “macro nutrients” which include:
Carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, legumes and in some part in all vegetables) – are broken down into monosaccharides (simple sugars). This means, they are all eventually broken down into sugar (aka glucose, having an impact on insulin levels).
Proteins (from any animal product as well as from legumes, grains and nuts), which are broken down into amino acids (the building blocks of our cells)
Fats (form plants, such as olives, coconut, canola, avocado, walnut etc. as well as from animals including wild fish, pasture-raised meat, butter, ghee, cream, lard, etc.) which are broken down into fatty acids, needed in the body to make cell membranes, hormones
The small intestine also extracts micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
There are two principles you want to follow: eat to feed the microbiome (link to blog x?), i.e. a lot of pre- and probiotics. And eat to give the body the macro and micro nutrients it needs in the appropriate amount. What happens these days is, that we tend to feed the body to many carb – they’re in everything – and too little fat and micronutrients. Here are the key features of the functional medicine core foodplan, which will enable you to feed your gut microbiome and your system what it needs (Core Foodplan, kein Datum)
- Low glycemic index foods (little sugar and refined carbohydrates) which means it keeps our blood sugar/insulin levels at a low stable level - we will explore this in depth)
- Low starch organic vegetables in all colours, which contain an adundance of phytonutrients (phytonutrients are medically active compounds found in plants), fiber and minerals. The super stars are: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and colourful peppers – all organic! (Winters & Higgins Kelley, 2017)
- Animal proteins should ideally be of organic origin and pasture raised. These sources of meat are higher in healthy fats, and do not contain anti-biotics and hormones which are used routinely in non-organic farming practices. A daily serving of one palm sized portion per day is recommended. Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids (which our body needs to make every cell in our body). Many nutritionists advocate for eating all parts of the animal due to the nutrient density in animal organ meat. Eggs should ideally be organic, and come from chickens that are free range and get to eat worms, not only soya and grains. Fish should ideally be wild caught, and in order to reduce the intake of heavy metals small fish is preferable.
- If you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, often the challenge is to get enough protein and at the same time avoid the intake of too much carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient which needs to be supplemented, especially in a vegan diet.
- High quality organic fats, which provide an adequate balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are essential for healthy cell membranes, gut health, brain health etc. Transfats should be totally avoided as they are highly inflammatory and cause an excess of oxidative stress (transfats are found in margarine, canola oil, soy oil, processed foods, ready made meals, frozen convenience foods, pastries etc). The big heroes in the fat family are: olive oil, ghee and coconut oil. The latter two are particularly recommended for cooking because they remain stable at high temperatures when cooking.
- Nuts and seeds are rich sources of vitamins and healthy fats
- Processed foods and sugar should be avoided as much as possible, due not only to their transfat content, but also the impact that they have on bloody sugar, insulin and inflammation in the body
- Fruits should be consumed in moderation and ideally combined with fat and protein in order to slow down the uptake of sugar into the blood stream.
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and root vegetables should be consumed moderately since they also raise blood sugar.
- Grains should be consumed in moderation, since they also raise blood sugar. Gluten containing grains should be avoided in those who are gluten sensitive, since they may lead to leaky gut and inflammation, especially if eaten frequently.
- Legumes are very important in the context of being a vegetarian, and particularly in a vegan diet. Legumes have both protein and carbohydrates, therefore, they do also contribute to raising blood sugar levels. Furthermore, legumes contain lectins, which may – in some susceptible individuals - contribute to a leaky gut. Ideally, legumes should be soaked over night, then sprouted for a day and finally cooked in a pressure cooker. This enhances the bio-availability of their “good” nutrients and reduces, for instance, the effects of lectins.
- What about soya? Soya is the only plant containing all 7 essential amino acids. At the same time, many people react sensitively to soya. It’s one of the plants that has been most genetically modified and chemically treated. Soya products such as tofu are highly transformed. In addition, soya contains phyto-estrogens, which are estrogens in the plant. Some people think that that is problematic since we already take in too many xeno-estrogens (outside sources of estrogen). Others claim that soya is a beneficial hormone modulator. Once again, every one needs to find out for themselves if they can tolerate it or not.
- Dairy products should also ideally be organic, to avoid exposure to routinely used anti-biotics and hormones which are found in non-organic produce. Fermented products such as yogurt and kefir are recommended, as well as fatty products such as butter and ghee. Milk contains both lactose (sugar) and casein (protein). Some people are lactose intolerant and must avoid dairy products altogether, others can only tolerate butter and cream, which have mostly fat and protein and little lactose. Some people react to the casein, and in particular the casein A1, which is found mostly in cows milk but not found in goat and sheep milk which contain casein A2. The casein may lead to inflammation and mucus production in dairy sensitive individuals. If you think that this might be an issue, try leaving out the dairy out for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel.
- Vegan alternatives tp daity are allowed, but bear in mind they often contain much less protein than their dairy counterparts. Once again it’s important to look at the ingredients. Commercial products often contain, less healthy – or even unhealthy – alternatives, additives, and sugar. You may even like to try to make your own milk from nuts or coconut, or ferment your own yoghurt.
- All herbs and spices are allowed and it’s recommended to use them generously because many of them have very beneficial phytonutrient effects.
- Soft drinks and alcohol are – you guessed it! – not recommended. Liquid sugar in soft drinks is one of the ways in which we consume the highest amounts of sugar and should therefore be eliminated from your diet.
- A glass of wine or even a tequilla or gin once or twice a week is okay. Quantity and quality matter here. Natural wine is preferable.
- What about coffee? On the one hand, coffee activates the adrenals and triggers cortisol production, helping one to wake up. However if our cortisol levels are already heightened due to stress, the coffee may tip you in the wrong direction. When we are stressed we should reduce or even eliminate coffee consumption. For women with hormonal issues, it is recommended to cut out coffee altogether, and to see how you feel. On the other hand, coffee has many positive qualities: it can help us while we fast, contains health-promoting compounds called polyphenols, etc. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Again, this is an issue everyone has to find out for themselves. Treat your coffee consumption as an experiment and see how you feel if you switch to decaf, reduce, or substitute with something less stimulating like green tea, matcha or herbal teas.
- A note on sugar substitutes: there are sugars that do not impact insulin levels as quickly (fructose, inulin), sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol) as well as non-nutritive sweeteners (such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, and stevia). None of these products are “natural” for our bodies: “in most cases, consuming these glucose substitutes is more harmful than consuming glucose itself” (Ballentyne, The Paleo Approach, 2013, S. 123). Fructose - which was for a long time allowed for diabetics as it does not impact insulin directly- has until recently only been consumed in the form of fruit sugar, as contained in fresh fruits and therefore in very moderate amounts (up to 20 gr p.d.). If we ingest it in pure form from coconut blossom sugar for instance, or even worse from high fructose corn syrup which is in most processed foods, it increases blood triglyceride (correlating highly with cardio-vascular disease) and increases our risk for insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). Therefore, eat fruit. In moderation. And avoid everything that contains high fructose corn syrup! Sugar alcohols are naturally occurring in small amounts in fruit. They have been refined and purified to be used as sweeteners, such as sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol. They have less of an impact on blood sugar. However, they are not fully digestible and can lead to severe gastrointestinal symptoms, feeding the “bad” bacteria in the gut (see WS2) and even intestinal permeability (see WS2). The last group of sweeteners have no calories. Never the less, they have been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome (e.g. consumption of diet coke correlates hugely with obesity). This happens through a complex endocrinological process leading to hyperinsulinemia. “There is no way to cheat desserts (…) the body can actually handle sugar better than it can any of the manufactured or isolated substitutes” (Ballentyne, The Paleo Approach, 2013, S. 126)
- So what to use for sweetening? Date sugar, dried fruit, maple sugar, maple syrup, and honey are good natural sweeteners you can use.
- Start reading the list of ingredients on the processed products you buy. Notice how many different versions of sugar those products may contain. If there is an ingredient and you don’t know what it is, it’s probably something you don’t want to put into your body. Many artificial sweeteners and preservatives are also gut microbiome disruptors, which means these ingredients will have a negative impact on your gut and overall health.
- The more you can avoid plastic containers and packaging the better. Plastic contains BPA and other substances that mess with your hormonal balance. Use glass containers, stainless steel or glass bottles, and never heat food in plastic containers as this increases the release of the harmful chemicals found in plastic.
Ballentyne, S. (2013). The Paleo Approach. Victory Belt Publishing.
Ballentyne, S. (kein Datum). The gut health guide book. Von https://www.thepaleomom.com/books/the-gut-health-guidebook/ abgerufen
Core Foodplan. (kein Datum). Von (https://centerforfunctionalmedicine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/CoreFoodPlan-ComprehensiveGuide_v.... abgerufen
Dr Fleck, A. (2021). Energy! dtv.
 If you are concerned about cancer, you should consume those vegetables every day, as they are said to help eliminate potential carcinogens.