I often get asked for simple steps people can take to get healthier quickly – something that they’ll be able to see results or weight loss right away. Although there are no miracle foods or supplements out there that will make you feel in tip top shape immediately, there are a few things you can do to turn your health around so you’re at least heading in the right direction.
According to functional medical professional Dr. Mark Hyman M.D., the vast majority of negative health symptoms people experience regularly can be attributed to hidden causes of inflammation and toxicity. Eliminate sources of inflammation and toxicity and you begin to see symptoms disappear. With this approach, Dr. Hymann has testimonials reporting up to ten pounds of weight loss in a week (while this is “water weight”, Hyman says it is a good thing get rid of this retained water), as well as the disappearance of other symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, headaches or digestive problems.
What follows incorporates some of Dr. Hyman’s recommendations along with some of my own. For more information I highly recommend Dr. Mark Hyman’s The UltraSimple Diet (as well as any of his other books).
1. Eliminate Wheat and Gluten Products – It is believed by many nutritionists that the majority of the population has a hidden gluten intolerance leading to hidden inflammation and digestive difficulty. Eliminate all wheat, rye, barley, bulgur, spelt and kamut from the diet for one month to see if symptoms subside. Reintroduce with caution and watch for returning symptoms.
2. Eliminate Processed Foods – Processed foods are a treasure trove of toxic additives and inflammatory ingredients. Hydrogenated oils (which always come with trans fats), artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate (in its many guises), nitrites in processed meats, sugar, flavor enhancers and preservatives all take their toll on the body. Eliminating processed foods will stem the tide of toxic material assaulting the body on a regular basis. Processed foods should be eliminated permanently or as much as is possible.
3. Eliminate Refined Sugars – It almost goes without saying these days but eliminating sugar from the diet is a prerequisite to health. Diets high in sugar have been associated with inflammation, obesity and chronic disease such as diabetes. While on this detox, avoid all sugar substitutes as well, including agave, stevia, honey, maple syrup and cane sugar.
4. Eliminate Coffee – See my 5 Tips For Getting Off Coffee for more information on this, but for now know that coffee is both a common allergen and an inflammatory food in its own right. Green tea, on the other hand, has natural anti-inflammatory effects.
5. Add Anti-Inflammatory Foods – Eat fresh vegetables and fruits; particularly leafy greens, cruciferous veggies and antioxidant packed berries. The pigments in brightly colored fruits, vegetables and berries are produced by phytochemical sterols with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Load up on herbs and spices (turmeric, ginger and garlic, cinnamon, thyme and rosemary for instance).
Add fish and fish oil supplements for vital, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Olive oil, flax seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds also contain essential fats that have anti-inflammatory effects.
Drink herbal teas and green tea.
Remember, a high fiber diet is an anti-inflammatory diet so lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (not from cereal boxes and bread products but actual unprocessed whole grains).
6. Eat Whole Foods – Refined and processed foods are a source of toxic garbage that get in the way of letting the body thrive. Conventionally farmed produce can often retain harmful pesticides (see the EWG’s Dirty Dozen for information on the worst offenders). The best solution is to eat fresh, organic where possible, whole, unprocessed foods. There are literally hundreds of resources online for whole foods cooking tips and recipes, as well as time saving advice. There is simply no excuse for not eating whole foods.
7. Avoid Common Allergens – Allergic response causes inflammation as part of its course. As a result hidden food allergies are a major cause of inflammation. In holistic circles it is widely believed that the vast majority of the population suffers from hidden food allergies. Dr. Hyman’s approach to this is to eliminate the most common allergens from the diet temporarily and to add them back one at a time to see if a reaction occurs (see The UltraSimple Diet for more details on this). This is the way an elimination diet works. Dr. Hyman recommends avoiding corn, eggs, peanuts, dairy products, yeast products (baked goods, beer, vinegar, wine, cheese), gluten and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant) for up to a month before reintroducing them one at a time. I would add soy to this list as I’ve found it to be a very common irritant, although Hyman thinks soy to be too beneficial to avoid.
8. Avoid Inflammatory Foods – On top of processed foods and hidden food allergies (see above) some foods are naturally inflammatory. Just as omega-3 fats decrease inflammation, a fatty acid called arachidonic acid increases inflammation. This fat is found in conventionally farmed animal fats including red meat, eggs and dairy products. Although some of this fat is necessary (the body is able to make it itself), some researchers believe over-consumption of arachidonic acid can lead to unchecked inflammation. Grass-fed red meats, eggs from chickens allowed to forage and eat insects and dairy from cows allowed to pasture contain a balance of omega-3 fats and arachidonic acid so are a recommended choice if and when you do return these foods to your diet.
Some of these recommendations only need to implemented temporarily, like the elimination of common allergens, wheat and gluten and inflammatory foods (although some people may find permanent elimination of these foods to be beneficial or even vitally necessary for health). Others you should consider implementing more permanently like eliminating sugar and processed foods, including whole and anti-inflammatory foods in the diet and eliminating coffee. To see a real change in your health, I recommend making these changes for a month (this should be done under the supervision of a holistic health practitioner or, at the very least, with the guidance of Dr. Mark Hyman’s The UltraSimple Diet – I picked it up for $6.99 in paperback).
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.