Photo by: Gina Zeidler
Our nutrition is so foundational to our overall health. We need to follow a healthy diet which supports low inflammation, high nutrient value and low level of allergenic foods. This article is not a what to eat/ what not to eat. It’s about how to apply a grain free lifestyle along with applying it and sticking with it. This isn’t a diet, this isn’t a 30 day program, this is a lifestyle. Don’t be worried when I say lifestyle, don’t get overwhelmed by the thought that a lifestyle is “forever”. Look at it as a long term journey of eating and figuring out how to eat in a way that makes you feel great, is sustainable and that it can actually be something that you love too. We all know we have to eat many times a day. I think we often think that a grain free lifestyle means it is a diet and we think that a diet equals starvation, deprivation, guilt, calorie counting, flavorless food and no fun. What if when I say a grain free lifestyle you think food freedom, no cravings, flavor, simplicity, ease and a whole lot of fun. I know the grain free lifestyle to be these last things because it’s the diet we eat. I have the best relationship with food and my body that I’ve ever had and I don’t feel for a second that I’m compromising good flavor or depriving myself of any kind of food that you can buy (like Oreos or pastries or cake). And that’s saying a lot from this previously sugar addicted cake and muffin loving girl over here.
Here are my Top 10 tips to live a grain free lifestyle and how to stick with it. The first five are nutrition related and the second five are action steps to help you to stick with the lifestyle and make this do-able and a habit in your life.
Before I begin I want to talk about cellular inflammation. We have about 10 trillion cells in our bodies. If our cells are healthy, we are healthy. If our cells are sick, we are sick. One of the most important part of the cell is our cell membrane. Our cell membrane is made up of a bi-lipid membrane. That means two layers of fat. Our cell membrane is composed of all fat. We have receptors on our cells that are like antennas that listen for signals for amino acids, vitamins, minerals and hormones. When our cells are healthy we have information incoming (import) and information leaving the cell (exporting) as needed. When our cells become inflamed the signal on the receptors become blunted to the communication. The receptors work poorly and if the cell is too inflamed, then the receptors can shut down. Then nutrients don’t enter the cell and at the same time waste doesn’t leave the cell. It makes for a toxic cell. The cell membranes of the mitochondria located inside of the cell can also get inflamed. When they are inflamed, it affects cellular energy, known as ATP. Our cells use ATP to function. Any process our body does requires ATP. When our cells get chronically inflamed they can do two things. One, they can mutate. A mutated cell is also known as a cancerous cell. Two, they die. When too many cells die it’s called aging. Premature aging. All of this inflammation produces symptoms, and over time can lead to disease processes such as heart disease, thyroid disease, hormonal conditions, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, neurological disorders and more.
What causes inflammation of the cell? Three main things: Sugar, Bad Fats and Toxins
- Sugar and things that turn to sugar: Sugar is a major source of inflammation. Examples of sugar are white sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, powdered sugar, rice syrup, molasses and high fructose corn syrup. When I talk about sugar I also mean things that turn to sugar. Grains also turn to sugars. Sugar is inflammatory and is an anti-nutrient. That means that it blocks your nutrient receptors and doesn’t allow for nutrient uptake. Everyone can benefit from following a sugar-free diet. Once health goals are met you can add in some raw honey, maple syrup and dates as long as your body can handle them. The alternative sweeteners I use is stevia.
- Unhealthy Fats: Fats are extremely healthy and necessary for your body. We need fats for our cell membranes (It decreases inflammation and is cell food). We also need it for our brain, our nerves, our joints and every part of our body. Bad fats are hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oils, margarine, shortening and peanut oil. Good fats include coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, butter, avocado oil, nuts and seed oil, sesame oil and red palm oil. You can also get good fats from healthy dairy products, grass fed beef, chicken and free range eggs.
- Stressors: This is a hot topic and one I can’t fully explain in just one paragraph and isn’t the topic of this article. We live in a very toxic world and our bodies are put through an onslaught of toxins on a daily basis. There are many toxins in our foods; MSG, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and chemicals we can’t even pronounce. By changing your diet and cutting out toxic processed foods, you will cut out all of the toxic additives added into foods too. Just remember to keep reading labels. There is more to this toxin topic than food but it is a good start to work with the toxins in the food.
What can you do to decrease inflammation?
If you change your diet you can dramatically decrease your inflammation levels. Sometimes up to 70% of your symptoms can go away with just diet changes alone. The nutrition changes below will reduce inflammation and promote a high level of healing.
Grain Free Nutrition Lifestyle
Cut the sugar and processed foods
1. Sugar is an empty calorie and contains no nutrients that your body needs
2. It is an anti nutrient which means in addition to having no essential nutrients to your body, sugar actually can block the absorption of essential nutrients to your body
3. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day and adolescents consume an average of 32 teaspoons
4. In 1900 the US consumed about 5 pounds of sugar per person and in 2000 the US consumed about 150 pounds of sugar per person
5. Sugar is addictive and activates the brains reward system like an opiate like substance
6. Sugar robs the body of B vitamins which are essential for energy, hormones, digestion, brain health and cell health.
7. Sugar decreases the immune system
8. Sugar leads to premature aging
9. Too much sugar increases your blood sugar and causes insulin resistance which can in time lead to diabetes
10. Sugar is highly addictive by releasing dopamine when you eat it
11. Eating sugar encourages more sugar cravings
12. Eating sugar increases your appetite
13. Sugar is highly inflammatory to the whole body
14. Sugar feeds cancer
15. Sugar can increase cholesterol and your triglycerides
16. Sugar can contribute to obesity
17. Sugar can be a cause of headaches
The Avoid for good: White sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, Agave, corn syrup, rice syrup, Evaporated cane sugar/ juice, raw sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, Barley Malt, Anything malt, beet sugar (most likely GMO),
Artificial sugars: Aspartame, Splenda (or also known and labeled as sucralose), Equal, Sweet N Low, Neotame (new name for a different version of aspartame)
How to read a sugar label and what to look for (in addition to the things listed above): Glucose, fructose, dextrose, galactose, maltodextrin, cane sugar, caramel, carob sugar, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextran, malt powder (also contains gluten), maltose, organic raw sugar, rapadura, turbinado sugar, Sucrose, Sorghum
Replace with Unrefined Sugars: stevia (use the most often) Use in moderation: raw honey, organic maple syrup, birch derived xylitol, dates
Here’s my guide: 90% of the time make and eat things that only contain stevia and honey. It’s what I bake with at home and what I purchase in the store if at all possible. The other 10% is where other unrefined sweeteners come into play.
Start with going Gluten-Free and work towards Grain-Free
Grains include: rice (brown or white), quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, gluten-free oats. This list also includes gluten grains: barley, rye, oats, wheat and spelt.
- Gluten is extremely prevalent in our society. Think about how often you could eat gluten throughout your day: Toast or muffin for breakfast, granola bar for snack, sandwich for lunch, crackers and dip for another snack and pasta for dinner. Every time you put a food in your mouth it could contain gluten. Think back hundreds of years to when you had to grow all of your own food. Wheat takes time to grow, harvest, and grind to make bread. The amount of wheat we used to eat was little in comparison to now. Plus, that was ancient wheat and not the crossbred version that now makes up our wheat. We also used to eat a variety of grains and that variety is important in our bodies. The sheer amount of gluten we eat contributes to the sensitivity we have in our country.
- Grains contain antinutrients. Gluten is an antinutrient as well as gliadin, lectin and phytates. They act in a similar way to sandpaper in the gut. It spurs on leaky gut, bloating, gas, constipation, increased appetite and brain fog. It also could cause autoimmunity—a decreased immune response and hypothyroid. Antinutrients are excitotoxic, neurotoxic and cytotoxic. (Toxic to your nervous system, nerves and cells). You can see by eliminating gluten and reducing our overall grain consumption we can increase health.
- They are high glycemic. To be honest, all grains will cause a rise in blood sugar. But wheat is worse than an ancient grain. They have found that a piece of toast for breakfast will yield a higher blood sugar level than drinking a Pepsi for breakfast. That’s amazing because we all know that a Pepsi for breakfast isn’t the best choice. But we have been raised to believe bread, especially for breakfast, is a healthy choice. It makes you think twice.
I believe that for many peoples digestive systems grains are one of the most important things to remove. Gluten makes a big difference, but often times only solves a small piece of the puzzle. I have seen very often that gluten free products on the market may contain more sugar and starches than their gluten alternatives. Just because something is gluten free doesn’t mean it’s healthy or something that should ever be consumed.
Replace Unhealthy (Bad) Fats with Good Fats
Healthy Fats and Oils. Does the words bring terror to your mind? Oil… Fat… can it be healthy? Can you eat it without actually getting fat?
Let me first off start by saying that our bodies need fat. Our brain is about 60% fat and fat coats our nerves and our cell membranes have a bi-lipid layer (meaning the actual membrane of our cells is 2 layers of fat). Having a diet high in healthy fats are critical to a healthy body. It is necessary for a brain to function well, for our nerves and for our 10 trillion cell membranes. And don’t let me forget a healthy digestive system too.
A diet low in healthy fats can starve our brain and cell membrane which can lead to brain fog, a hard time with memory, fatigue, low immune system and systemic inflammation. And inflammation is the foundation of any and every disease process. Inflammation can inhibit proper digestive system function leading to leaky gut and gut symptoms. Knowing which oils are healthy and should be used in daily living is essential for a healthy body.
What are bad fats? They are very common and can be harder to avoid than you think. They are often times fats that we are told are, well, good. They are inflammatory and cause a lot of cellular inflammation. Bad fats are trans fats, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil.
Good Fats to eat and replace the bad fats with:
- Coconut products, especially coconut oil: This is one of my favorite types of oils to use. Years ago any coconut product was considered unsafe because of the saturated fat content. So we all avoided coconut products for fear of being unhealthy and dying of a heart issue. Now we know that the saturated fats contained in coconut oil are healthy for us. Coconut oil contains 60% MCT oil, which is a medium chain triglyceride. We now know the medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) are good for energy, brain function, digestion, weight loss (by stimulating metabolism) and more. The MCT oil also bypasses the gallbladder because it doesn’t need bile to break it down. That’s why coconut oil is a better choice for people with gallbladder issues or their gallbladder removed. Coconut oil also has a high concentration of lauric acid that is known to be anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Coconut oil can be used topically as lotion (or in lotion recipes) to not only nourish the skin but can help heal the skin because of it’s anti-microbial properties. It can also be heated to a high temperature and is ideal for the stovetop. When choosing a coconut oil, make sure that it is organic, extra-virgin and unrefined. You want your coconut oil to smell like coconut! I only use the unrefined coconut oil on my skin if I don’t want to smell like coconut. This is a great brand of coconut oil! Use coconut oil when cooking on the stove. It has a high smoking point so it stays healthy when heated up. I also add coconut oil to smoothies, add a big to chili or soups and bake with it. I try and get 2-3 Tablespoons into my diet per day. Coconut oil can actually help you lose weight. It is also healing to the digestive system, so if you have any digestive issues, make sure to get at least 3 Tablespoons of coconut oil in your diet per day. I also love shredded coconut, coconut flour and coconut butter. You can use all of these products with such variety you won’t get sick of coconut
- Animal fats: Eat meats and eat red meats often. Just make sure that your beef is grass-fed and your poultry is free-range. Grass-fed beef has the perfect omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 4:1 to which feeds your cell membranes and also your brain and nerves/ nervous system. You can also purchase tallow (via Thrive Market) to cook food in to increase the amount of animal fat in your diet.
- Butter: Ah, if you saw the recent Time Magazine article you know that butter is back. It’s sad to say that butter was “away” for a while because so many people thought it was unhealthy. Butter is one of the best oils and to me, the best tasting oils, out there. Butter contains many vitamins and minerals. It also contains some important fatty acids (like conjugated linoleic acid, CLA) that contributes to healthy brain function. Butter is brain food! Do you ever wonder why kids want to take a bite straight out of the butter stick? They know their brains need nourishment. I try and get 1-2 Tablespoons of butter in my diet everyday. When you buy butter make sure that you get an organic grass fed butter. If you can find raw butter, that’s the best option. You can find grass fed butter almost everywhere now, so it’s easy to come by now.
- Ghee: it is also known as clarified butter. It is very similar to butter (made from butter) except does not contain any lactose which means that it is a good lactose and dairy free option. It is good for people that have more reactions and sensitivities to butter or dairy products. Ghee has a unique taste and is ideal for cooking, baking and well, pretty much can be used anywhere you’d use butter! You can purchase ghee from the store or make it at home.
- Olive Oil: I love olive oil, but I rarely cook with it. As amazing as it is, you don’t want to heat olive oil very high. Anything above medium will denature the oil and make it rancid, like a trans fat. I use olive oil cold in salads and any cold dish. Olive oils can also be purchased infused with flavor. I love garlic olive oil, herbed olive oil and truffled olive oil (which I drizzle on my roasted root vegetables after they are done baking). When choosing an olive oil you need to make sure that the source and brand of olive oil is very important. Olive oil doesn’t have a standard for how much olive oil needs to be in the bottle. As weird as that sounds, many olive oils are mixed with inflammatory and toxic vegetable oils. The huge bottles of olive oil you can buy at a big box store for $15? Yep, those are not pure olive oil. I get our olive oil from a specialty oil and vinegar shop and know it’s pure. You can also do research online for some good olive oil too.
- Red Palm Oil: It is full of antioxidants and vitamin E. It has a high smoking point so it is perfect for stir fry’s or cooking your eggs
- Raw Grass-Fed Dairy Products (cheese, kefir, cream, milk). If you can handle dairy, this is a great source of fat. It also contains protein, fat soluble nutrients and probiotics. Raw and grass-fed dairy packs a big health punch
- Eggs are one of the closest things to a perfect food. Fat and protein. They are versatile and I think they are an amazing fast food. Hard boil them and you can take an egg anywhere with you!
- Nuts and seeds. Raw or dry roasted are the best choice. That way you avoid unhealthy PUFA oils (inflammatory oils)
- Nut and Seed Oils (Nuts and Seeds): Nut and seed oils are a healthy option when it comes to fats. I love sesame oil for asian dishes and nut oils for salads. I don’t have a lot of nut oils (almond, walnut, macadamia nut) in my house only because they are more expensive and can’t be heated up. They are very delicate and will denature if heated. Because of that, I don’t use them as much. But know that they are a good option. With digestive issues you are going to want to be more careful with the amount of nuts and seeds you consume. You may realize you do better with limiting the amounts due to the high content of phytates that are often difficult for a digestive system to process.
- Organ Meats. Yep, from healthy animals. They are full of amazing fats and nutrients. Grass-fed beef liver is my organ meat of choice (and honestly I don’t love them, but do consume them for all of the nutrient benefits). You can also get liver supplements, which doesn’t give you any of the healthy fats, but still the nutrients found in liver.
- Avocados and Avocado Oil: Avocado oil is an oil that you can use in both cold and hot applications. It is extracted from the fruit of the avocado. It can be heated to a higher temperature and not denature. It tastes like avocado so it adds flavor to the different dishes you use it with.
Eat High Quality Foods and eat off of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15
High quality foods are important and also decrease the amount of pesticides (toxins) that are found in the foods you are eating. First and foremost get all animal products organic. This is where you want to start because it is the most important. This means grass-fed beef, free range poultry, free range eggs, grass-fed and organic dairy products and wild caught fish.
Here are a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. There is also an app for your phone you can download to have this list handy. This list explains that the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides. These are the fruits and vegetables that are important to purchase organic. The Clean 15 are the top 15 fruits and vegetables that have the lowest pesticide content and are the ones that you don’t have to purchase organic. It’s a way to save some money and still eat the highest quality and nutrient dense foods.
Implement Healthy Desserts
Photo by: Gina Zeidler
Oh yes, I am saying that you should eat some dessert. Why? Because a life that is devoid of dessert makes for a life of deprivation. I believe this, we need to eat some treats that are comfort food. I don’t say comfort food to say we do this to emotionally eat for comfort. But I use the words comfort food in the way that food is delicious and can definitely give us comfort and satiety. Topping off dinner with a sweet dessert can be just what you need for ending a great day with friends over for dinner. A cup of delicious coffee can be made even sweeter while spending time in your Bible in the morning. And if you live a life without dessert you will soon find yourself craving the foods that are so often around you at every turn. Cookies at church, pastries at the coffee shop, cake at birthday parties, dessert at any kind of party or gathering, dessert menu at a restaurant, etc. You are less likely (an eventually not likely at all) to give in to these temptations when you have healthy desserts at home or you bring something along to a party or to serve at a dinner party. You can still have dessert and be healthy too.
Applying a Grain Free Lifestyle
Photo by: Gina Zeidler
Be open to Learning
This is extremely important and I think needs to be more foundational in a natural health lifestyle. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to apply. And it can often times feel too much to handle. But you take it little by little. Learn and apply things step by step and hen move onto the next thing to learn. Be open to learn. It’s for your health.
Health is not made in a quick burst of energy. You don’t stay healthy by doing the next get-thin-quick plan. You get healthy by being consistent. Consistency doesn’t mean perfection because you can’t be perfect and that kind of expectation makes you end up feeling discouraged, inadequate and lonely. Consistency doesn’t mean you won’t make a mistake, have a meal or a dessert that’s full of grains or sugar or bad fats. It means that over the course of a week or a month that you consistently make healthy food decisions. Eating a lifestyle that is 80/20 (80% good and 20% junk) sets your body up for cellular inflammation, digestive issues and overall too much junk food to overcome the 20% bad that you are eating.
Meal Plan Weekly
- Stick to your food budget because you plan your meals out
- Have a plan for each meal of the week which ultimately saves you time
- Saves the headache of wondering what’s for dinner
- Can prep early in the week for the meals throughout the week which can save you time each day
- Saves money by not going out to eat
- Can eat healthier and more balanced meals by planning and following the plan
Make a Grocery List to shop for your Meal Plan
- Allows you to stick to your meal plan and have the foods necessary to make your meals
- Allows you to stick to your budget
- You decide the foods that come into your house vs the food you keep out of your house
Make a Top 5 List to equal a successful day
This is one of my favorite tools to feel like my day was successful. And this doesn’t matter if your nutritional choices were good or not. It doesn’t matter if your day was “perfect” or not. Make a top 5 list of small things that make your day a success.
- Getting in the Bible
- Moving my body
- Eating nutritional dense foods
- Conversation with my husband
- Rest and recharge time
For my list that doesn’t mean that I have to eat perfectly, have a 2 hour workout, get a massage for rest, nope. It means that I did something that nourished my body, means that I moved my body in some way (aka little dance party in my living room), had a little time to rest could be a bath at the end of the evening or 10 minutes of reading or watching 30 minutes of TV at the end of the evening.
Why do I love this Top 5 list so much?
It allows me to see my day through a different type of lens. I don’t have to have the best day. I could even have a pretty crummy day and if I get these 5 things in (which for me happen most every day) I can call my day a success. I am finding a different way to look at my day and seeing the good things and not the bad things.
In the next couple of days make your list and start looking at the success of your day based on your list instead of every detail that went right or wrong in your day. We tend to look at the things that went poorly instead of the amazing things we are able to accomplish each day. One bad thing or frustrating thing can seem to de-rail our whole day.
If you accomplish your top 5 things, wasn’t your day a success? Shouldn’t you have gratitude for the amazing things? The more we practice gratitude the more thankful we are about our life as a whole. It’s so important and something I am working on all the time. I tend to forget to see the little things in life and gratitude is always one of my goals.
Did you learn a lot from this article? What are some ways you feel encouraged to go Grain-Free and be able to stick with it as a lifestyle vs just a diet?