I sat here staring at my computer for 3 hours this weekend, conflicted over what the topic of the week should be. Do you ever just have so much to say and yet somehow nothing at all?
Welcome to my life.
When in the world of health, everything is fair game: sleep, exercise, hormones, mental health, loving your body, stress management, pollution, nontoxic products, etc. I definitely do not lack for topics to write on.
And yet, here I was, 2 am on a Saturday night lying awake with no inspiration teetering around in there….Just Friends reruns and my anxiety making me paranoid about whether I remembered to turn the oven off or not…I didn’t, by the way.
I try my best, guys.
So, ANYWAY, long story short, when I crawled back into bed, it hit me: FOOD, JESS. YOU’RE A HEALTH BLOGGER THAT HASN’T TALKED ABOUT FOOD.
If you’ve been reading so far (all six of you) you’ll know that’s not entirely true. I discuss the importance of a nutrient-dense diet in almost every one of my posts. YET, I haven’t given you a simple, clear breakdown of macronutrients and which foods I do and don’t recommend to clients.
Now, before you read this and just see FOOD RULES, please know this: I do not make arbitrary recommendations based on diet fads or faulty research. My philosophy on food is fairly simple: it should be ruled by Nutrient Density, NOT food guilt or food rules. Meaning, my aim is to optimize the number of nutrients I or my clients are receiving from each meal, so when we are faced with food choices, our mind will say “what will give me the highest source of natural, food-based vitamins and minerals”, NOT “what has less calories” or “what can I eat to get skinny”… That’s not a motivation for self-care or nourishment. That’s diet culture BS and is NOT WELCOME HERE.
Believe it or not, there IS a way to make healthy decisions that aren’t ruled by wanting to manipulate your body size.
I know, revolutionary for most of us, but trust me…It’s possible.
THAT COW ATE WHAT?
Before I discuss what foods I recommend, I need to preface with this one MAJOR caveat: the quality of your food matters. BIG TIME. I would argue, actually, that the quality of food matters MORE than the quantity or types of food you are consuming.
When I talk about food sourcing, I’m talking about where your food came from. Where the meat was sourced, was it organic and grass-fed? Was the chicken you’re eating fed antibiotics and kept in cages? Are the veggies you’re eating organic or no?. Are your cooking oils cold pressed and virgin, or heat refined? Believe it or not, there’s a lot that goes into the preparation of our food before it hits our hands, and the closer it is to its natural and original state, the better for our bodies it will be.
This is why in my first ever published post, I mentioned the first thing I do with clients around food is to keep what they are eating the same, but elevate the same food’s QUALITY. Change your normal ground beef to grass-fed beef, switch your LAYS potato chips to an organic brand that is baked in coconut oil instead. Same foods→ better quality. That change in of itself makes a LOAD of difference; because when you remove the preservatives, antibiotics, and pesticides, you are majorly lightening your toxic load which allows your body more room to function as it was meant to. Once you’ve got that down, then we can shift to focusing on detail orientated changes, and consume more nutrient-dense foods over others. Make sense?
Good. Moving on.
I’m going to organize this food discussion by using Macros. As I mentioned HERE: all nutrients are divided into MACRO (large) and MICRO(small) nutrients. Macros being Fats, Carbs, and Protein; and Micronutrients being things like zinc, iron, selenium, etc. Both are important, guys. And getting proper amounts of both are the foundation of my nutrition philosophy.
I recommend getting the majority of your protein from pasture-raised animal products:
- Moose (my personal favorite)
- Pasture-raised Eggs (EAT THE YOLKS)
- Bone Broth (surprisingly high in protein)
- Organ meats of any aforementioned animals (follow my Instagram for tips on how to sneak these suckers in without actually tasting them!)
- Wild Caught seafood that is low in mercury: Salmon, herring, sardines, cod, and tilapia (psst–Wild Planet has amazing BPA free canned fish and it’s sold at Costco for cheaper!)
- *For those that tolerate dairy: grass-fed & raw yogurt, kefir, hard cheeses, and high-quality grass fed whey protein isolate. Although, if you struggle with digestive issues, skin problems, or autoimmunity, I usually recommend to steer clear of these until healed or in remission.
Protein I DON’T recommend
- Soy products: Learn why I warn against soy for women HERE
- Non-organic, conventionally raised animal products
- Poorly sourced/highly processed whey or plant protein powders
- Farm raised fish
What about legumes and soy protein? All my vegetarians ask
Okay, I may make a few enemies when I say this, but I actually do not recommend meatless diets for the majority of my clients. Abstaining from meat for ethical or religious reasons is one thing, but if you are walking around refusing to eat steak because you once read a book that said meat causes cancer…..let me break it to you right now:
THIS IS NOT SUPPORTED BY LEGIT SCIENCE.
The debate around meat (particularly red meat) is at an all-time high with documentaries like “What the Health” coming out every year. But I have some very big problems with these: the first being there isn’t discrimination between “meat”. If we are talking about antibiotic pumped, soy-fed cows/chickens that are raised in horrible conditions, then yes, meat like that causes MAJOR health problems. That meat, however, is not all meat. And has a VERY different nutritional and ethical profile than animals raised on pasture … Again, I say, QUALITY IS EVERYTHING.
Another major issue I’ve noticed is the makers of these films have blatant agendas that lead them to cherry pick studies that support their claims and ignore those which don’t. This is something called “confirmation bias”, and it does not make for trustworthy sources.
As a matter of fact, the trend of demonizing saturated fat was started by a man named Ancel Keys, who we NOW know was sponsored by companies like Kellog’s (ones that profit off the population eating mostly grains) and who used his influence to push his own financial agenda. (For an unbiased look at this historic shift in our dietary recommendations, read this PHENOMENAL book)
When looking at the scientific literature, you can’t take everything at face value. You have to look at who was sponsoring the research, how well isolated the study is, missing cofactors, etc. For example, the big “7 country study” that Keys originally used as the backbone of the ‘no meat’ argument in the 60’s compared 7 different countries diets and their rates of heart disease. It looked like meat intake correlated with higher rates of heart disease. But you know what factor they didn’t take into account? SUGAR. The intake of sugar in those countries ALSO correlated with rates of heart disease, and based on the more progressive science we have now, we know sugar is actually the main culprit of heart attacks, not saturated fat. Still… that study sent the US into a low fat no meat tailspin for a good 40 years.
My point is this: I respect nutrition choices. Always. You do you girl. And there is no shame in experimenting to see what works for you. However, if you are allowing fear mongering or faulty science to influence your decision to not eat meat, I want to send some caution your way. From experience AND knowledge of basic biology, I’ve learned It is very easy to accidentally become nutrient deficient on a vegetarian diet for multiple reasons unknown to many (hint hint: upcoming blog post alert).
What I WILL say now is there are a few populations of peeps I encourage exercising extra precaution with meat-free diets:
- Those with mental illnesses
- Those with a family history of mental illnesses
- Women with PCOS
- Those with adrenal dysfunction
- Women with insufficient hormone production, anovulation, or hypothalamic amenorrhea (missing period)
DOES THIS AVOCADO MAKE ME LOOK FAT?
I can’t tell you how happy I am that we are out of the “fat makes you fat” era.
Oh, you haven’t heard?
Yeah…we’re over that. It’s dead. And I reserve the right to get violent with anyone that’s trying to bring that back.
To learn more about the importance of WHY you need dietary fat in the first place, I talk about that here.
*Note: Quality ESPECIALLY matters with fats, because animals (including humans) store toxins in their fat, meaning if you are eating fatty cuts of meat from conventional grain-fed animals, you are consuming all the toxins they have stored in their body as well. If you eat HEALTHY animals who grazed on a pasture and had a healthy life, you are going to be consuming all the fat-soluble vitamins their grass diets gave them, like vitamin A and K2. I know I sound like a broken record, but QUALITY TRUMPS ALL!
When it comes to figuring out which fats are healthy and which are not, you want to ask yourself 2 questions: 1) Is it the highest quality of its kind and 2) How stable is it?
Regarding quality, You want to grab cold pressed, organic oils every chance you get. Oils labeled ‘Refined’ or “Heat processed’ have been deodorized and are stripped of the nutrients found in the original….Yeah, no. We don’t want that.
Cold pressed, organic, sustainably sourced, please. ONLY THE BEST FOR YOU LADIES.
Regarding stability, you want to make sure your fats are STABLE. Meaning they won’t oxidize in your body, and therefore cause oxidative damage to your cells. How stable it is comes down to some complicated chemistry, but essentially there are 3 kinds of fats you need to concern yourself with :
- Saturated: the most stable. These are your ride or dies, always there, never moving BFFs→ grassfed butter, ghee, coconut oil, MCT oil, sustainably sourced palm oil, sustainably raised animal fats from beef, lamb, and goat.
- Monounsaturated: averagely stable. These are your solid-but-won’t-help-you-bury-a-body girls→ Cold Pressed olive oil, most nuts, avocados, and avocado oil. Protect their stability by using cold only–>no cooking.
- Polyunsaturated fats: the most unstable. These are the Regina Georges of the fat world– Don’t trust them, don’t tell them your secrets–> The cool kids refer to these as ‘PUFAS’: Canola oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, rapeseed oil, margarine, and buttery spreads. Having them every once in a while at a restaurant isn’t going to kill you but, as Mean Girls taught us, we shouldn’t eat lunch with Regina on the regular, okay?
*There is a subcategory of PUFAS that are important–>Omega Fatty Acids. Both Omega 3 and 6 are important for health, particularly the RATIO of one to the other. By staying away from the PUFA oils above, and including Omega 3 rich seafood 1-2x a week, you’ll most likely be doing enough to keep those ratios in check.
FREE GIFT ALERT: For a free easy downloadable guide all about dietary fats, enter your email in the space on the right-hand side of the site (or at the bottom if you’re on your phone) and you’ll automatically get it sent to your email! It includes a bullet list of ALL the fats I use, ALL the ones I don’t, which ones to cook with, where to get the best ones for cheap, and more tips and tricks. Plus, it’s written in pretty colors… so obviously, its a must have.
Fats I DONT recommend EVER:
- PUFA cooking oils (see above)
- ANY oil that has turned rancid
- Trans Fats….NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. That’s a hard no, get rid of them.
CARBS ON CARBS ON CARBS
Oh yes, girls, I’m saving the best for last. And by best, I mean the most controversial get-everyone-up-in-arms-with-food-fear kind of best.
I have seen more women than I can count (including myself) join the low-carb party, only to end up with decreased thyroid function, poor workout recovery, slower metabolism, and stressed adrenals. If you are a woman of childbearing age, I stand by my recommendation to consume AT LEAST 100 grams of whole food carbohydrates a day. This is a minimum, folks; if you exercise, are pregnant/trying to get pregnant, under a lot of stress, or find yourselves craving carbs more often, you need to titrate that up.
I will not deny there are populations of people that can benefit from a low carb (or “ketogenic” diet), but I will be discussing that in another post for another day. For now, If you are an active, menstruating woman, CARBS ARE YOUR FRIEND.
My favorite carbs that I find work well for most everyone are starchy veggies. Because of their high soluble fiber load as well as complex glucose molecules, they are slower to reach your bloodstream AND feed your gut bacteria. However, despite what I say on Instagram, there is more to life than sweet potatoes. So here are ALL the good carb options :
- Sweet potatoes
- White potatoes
- Winter Squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin, etc)
- ALL fruit
- Organic, properly prepared sourdough bread (won’t work for everyone!)
- Organic, minimal ingredient gluten-free toast
- Ancient Grains like Quinoa, Teff, Amaranth, wild rice, and rolled oats (not for the gluten sensitive)
*Those written in red are ones I don’t recommend being the staple of your carb consumption, as they are on the low end of nutrient density, but are totally fine in moderation
Carbs I DON’T RECOMMEND
- All processed flour products: white bread, cakes, white pasta, etc
- Sugary alcoholic drinks/mixes (Having them every now and then is fine OBVIOUSLY, #balance….But regularly indulging can wreak havoc on your blood sugar)
- Most all bread–> white, wheat, seeded, etc
We are lucky nowadays to have some amazing alternatives to our favorite foods, including gluten-free brown rice/lentil pasta and gluten-free toast. However, I still exercise caution with these. Check the ingredients of what you buy, always. Gluten-free or not, preservatives are preservatives and you want that list to be as small as possible.
These are foods I encourage ABUNDANT consumption of that I don’t count in the macro category.
- GREEN VEGGIES. Eat them, all day every day, as much as you can get. Seriously, these are nature’s multivitamin, and there should NOT be a limit to these, no matter how many keto dieters swear spinach is a carb…… IT’S NOT A CARB SUSAN
- Probiotic foods: kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, beet kvass, grass-fed yogurt
- Bone broth: good health starts in the gut…and gut healing starts with broth. Really, just drink it.
- Water…… need I say more?
WHEW. That’s a lot of words right there…even for me. I tried to make this as organized and simple as possible….Not sure if I succeeded. Please remember that this is the BASIS of a nutrient dense diet, but are not locks on a prison. Enjoy foods that aren’t on this list, because you have the right to choose, always. Here’s to choosing food based on what serves us and not what shames us!
Are there any foods you’re surprised are/aren’t on this list? What are your FAVORITE nutrient dense foods? Let me know below!