If you’re on a gluten-free diet, you might experience feelings of isolation, restriction, or confusion as you’re constantly checking food labels and memorizing which ingredients to avoid. As wheat is off-limits on a gluten-free diet, finding a suitable replacement becomes crucial. Quinoa, one of the most popular gluten-free grains, is commonly found in gluten-free products.
But what if you dislike quinoa?
During a recent conversation with a client regarding plant-based, gluten-free options, she confessed her distaste for quinoa. Despite feeling obligated to enjoy it, she couldn’t stand the taste. Since she missed eating couscous on her gluten-free diet, I, being naturally curious, looked for new and healthy alternatives. My search criteria were straightforward: the foods must be minimally processed, nutritious, and as close to their natural form as possible.
Grains Around the World
Did you know that there are over 50,000 known edible plants in the world? Corn, wheat, and rice make up more than two-thirds of the world’s supply of plant-sourced foods. According to Healthline, nine popular naturally gluten-free grains are sorghum, quinoa, millet, oats, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, corn, and brown rice.
During my quest for substitutes for quinoa, I stumbled upon fonio, which was unfamiliar to me until then. Fonio has been a fundamental food source in West Africa for over 5000 years. Fonio, a naturally gluten0free grain from the millet family, is commonly known as “hungry rice,” or “acha” by Ghanians, and “po tolo” by the Dogons of Mali.
Fonio (Digitaria exilis and Digitaria iburua) is thought to be the oldest African cereal. For thousands of years, West Africans have cultivated it across the dry savannas. It looks like sand, has a mild nutty flavour and is finer than couscous.
Nutritional Advantages of Fonio
|Fonio||Quinoa||Couscous||Cream of Wheat||White Rice||Brown rice|
|Size||1/4 cup dry||1/4 cup dry||1/4 cup dry||1/4 cup dry||1/4 cup dry||1/4 cup dry|
These grains have comparable nutritional profiles, which makes them great replacements for wheat-based grains. Couscous and Cream of Wheat, both wheat-derived, are unsuitable for gluten-free diets, making fonio a desirable alternative.
Fonio is naturally gluten-free, with zero fat and a rich source of fibre, protein, iron, and zinc. Depending on how it’s prepared, fonio can be an excellents substitute for couscous or Cream of Wheat.
Furthermore, fonio’s amino acid content is noteworthy. Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of protein. While most plant-based grains are deemed “incomplete proteins” due to lacking several amino acids, fonio contains eight of the nine essential amino acids. The only amino acid missing in fonio is lysine, which is abundant in other plant-based foods, including lentils, soy, black beans, peas, pumpkin seed, and tempeh. Combining fonio with lysine-rich foods elevates the protein quality of a fonio meal, resulting in a “complete protein” nutritional profile equivalent to that of an egg.
Fonio is also rich in methionine and cysteine, both crucial amino acids for human health. Additionally, fonio has a lower glycemic index than white rice, making it ideal for individuals with diabetes, as it doesn’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar levels during digestion.
Culinary Uses for Fonio
How to Prepare Fonio
Fonio is very easy to prepare. Depending on the meal or recipe, fonio can be prepared by boiling or steaming. Steaming fonio leads to a couscous texture and is perfect in any grain recipe. It can also be consumed as a breakfast, side, or main recipe. It is delicious as a hot cereal and has a comparable texture to Cream of Wheat porridge.
To prepare fonio, take two parts liquid (vegetable broth and water both work well) and one part fonio. Bring the liquid to a boil in a pot, then add the fonio. Mix well, cover the pot, and boil on low for five minutes. Then turn the stove off and let the fonio sit covered for an additional ten minutes. Once the ten minutes are up, remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and serve.
Where Can I Buy Fonio?
Pierre Thiam is a Senegalese, American restauranteur and former Iron Chef contestant has been working on bringing fonio to the American market. He published the cookbook, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl that has some traditional fonio recipes.
Fonio has great potential to help solve food and nutrition security we face, especially in this era of erratic climate change. In Canada, Farafena, a Vancouver company is bringing this nutrient-rich gluten-free alternative to North Americans.
Farafena is a purpose-driven company that is improving the lives of female farmers and their families in Mali, West Africa. They work with about 1000 women from nine different villages in Mali, paying them directly for the crops they grow.
Farafena sells fonio as a grain and flour and is available in the natural foods section at Loblaws, making it easily accessible. Check out their recipe page for some ideas on how to incorporate fonio into your meals.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet but don’t like quinoa, fonio can be an excellent alternative. With a texture similar to couscous or Cream of Wheat, it’s an excellent addition to any meal.
Eating well with dietary restrictions shouldn’t be difficult or time-consuming. If you’re looking for expert advice on your dietary needs or if you are interested in a plant-based meal plan, check out my coaching or my personalized meal planning services. I also offer a one time, free consultation, for you and I to discuss your nutritional needs and whether or not we’re a good fit to work together.
Many people choose to exclude gluten from their diet, and there are many reasons a person may decide not to eat gluten. Luckily, following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to give up all grains. There are many grains that are naturally gluten-free.
This article will explore different gluten-free grains and the best ways to add them to your diet.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. It helps food maintain its shape and acts as a glue that holds food together.
Gluten is digested by special proteins called proteases. However, these enzymes can’t completely break gluten down, so some undigested gluten makes its way into the small intestine.
For most people, this isn’t a problem. However, for people with celiac disease, the presence of gluten in the small intestine triggers a severe autoimmune response and damages the intestines, leading to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Should I Avoid Gluten?
There’s a lot of confusion about whether gluten is bad for you. However, for most people, gluten isn’t a problem. The real problem comes from how gluten is processed. When foods containing gluten (such as wheat) are heavily processed and refined, they lose a lot of their nutrients.
When nutrient-poor, wheat-based foods are a staple in our diet, we may start to see problems such as weight gain, blood sugar swings, and other health problems. Therefore, rather than cutting gluten out to be healthy, many people would do well to simply reduce their consumption of highly processed grains.
Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
There are some people who need to cut gluten out of their diet completely. This includes people with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune response to gluten. Since gluten damages the intestines in people with celiac disease, it’s important to cut gluten out of the diet completely to avoid any problems associated with intestinal damage.
There’s also a growing number of people who experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance. These people do not have celiac disease but are bothered by foods containing gluten. While we still don’t know the cause of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, these people may choose to avoid gluten if they feel better without it.
Grain-Free vs. Gluten-Free: What’s the Difference?
You might be wondering – is there a difference between a grain-free diet and a gluten-free diet?
The main difference between these two diets is that a gluten-free diet requires you to eliminate only grains containing gluten, while a grain-free diet requires eliminating all grains (including those that don’t contain gluten) from your diet.
Most people don’t need to follow a grain-free diet. Grains provide important nutrients and provide fuel for our gut microbiome. Rather than eliminating grains altogether, focus on including whole grains rather than refined grains in your diet.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains
As previously mentioned, many of the health issues people associate with gluten are in fact caused by eating large amounts of refined grains. Therefore, if someone follows a gluten-free diet, it’s important to ensure they’re consuming gluten-free whole grains. Whole grains are a good source of fibre and other nutrients important for good health. Below, we’ll discuss six gluten-free whole grains that can be included in a balanced gluten-free diet.
Rice is a staple food in over 100 countries worldwide. It is naturally gluten-free. Whole grain varieties of rice (such as brown rice) are rich in many nutrients, including fibre, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese.
To prepare rice, rinse in cool water until it runs clear to remove excess starch. In general, use a 2:1 ratio of water to rice when cooking (e.g. 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice). Bring the water to a boil, add rice, then reduce heat to low-medium and simmer covered for 20 minutes (for white rice) to 40-45 minutes (for brown rice).
For extra flavour, cook in chicken or vegetable broth, or add spices into the cooking water.
Oats are a gluten-free cereal that is rich in a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan helps promote feeling full and slows the release of sugar into the blood. It’s also been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Many types of oats are available, including quick or instant, rolled or old-fashioned, steel-cut, oat groats, and oat bran. Oats make an excellent breakfast meal. Try hot oats topped with honey and berries or try overnight oats with banana and peanut butter.
Oats are naturally gluten-free, however, they are often grown next to crops of grains that contain gluten or processed in facilities that also process foods with gluten in them. Therefore, if you’re including oats as part of your gluten-free diet, it’s important to make sure the label states that they are certified gluten-free.
Quinoa is an excellent addition to a gluten-free diet, as it is one of the few plant-based foods that is a complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids that our body cannot make on its own.
Quinoa is rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, fibre, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture and can be eaten any time of the day. Try eating it as a breakfast porridge, a side dish, or a delicious salad topper.
While millet is not as well-known as some of the other gluten-free grains, it is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Many different types of millet are typically a good source of protein, fibre, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. Teff and fonio are two of the most popular types of millet.
To cook millet, start with 2.5 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grain. Once the grains and liquid are boiling, simmer for 20-30 minutes. For a creamier texture, use additional water (e.g. 3 cups water to 1 cup of grain).
Millet has a warm, buttery flavour, and pairs well with mushrooms, herbs, spices, onions, and squash.
Like quinoa, amaranth is a nutrient powerhouse containing all nine essential amino acids. Overall, it contains 14% protein, which is over double the protein content of rice and corn. Amaranth is a good source of protein, fibre, iron, selenium, and vitamin B6, and an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
To cook amaranth, combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of dried grain. Bring the liquid and grain to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Amaranth can be used in sweet or savoury dishes due to its sweet, grassy aroma. Try it as a sweet porridge, in soup, or even in muffins!
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to traditional wheat, and is naturally gluten-free. Whole grain buckwheat has high levels of resistant starch, which reduces the glycemic response (i.e. how much your blood sugar rises are after eating), and also provides fuel for your gut microbiome.
Buckwheat is a good source of protein, fibre, phosphorus, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3), and is an excellent source of magnesium, copper, and manganese. Just like quinoa and amaranth, it is a complete protein, and contains all nine essential amino acids.
Buckwheat can be eaten in a variety of different ways. Try topping a salad with toasted buckwheat, cook whole buckwheat groats to use as a side dish, or use buckwheat flour to make muffins or pancakes.
Just because you’re following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you can’t reap the nutritional benefits of whole grains.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet and are struggling to figure out which whole grains to include, you’re not alone. Book a complimentary 15-minute discovery call to see how we can work together to balance your gluten-free diet and get you the symptom relief you’ve been looking for.
Have you ever embarked on a meal plan, only to give up after a few short days? If so, you may be wondering, “Do Meal Plans Work?”
Have you ever heard the quote, “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day? Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for a lifetime?” Substitute “fish” for “meal plan,” and you have your answer as to why Registered Dietitians prefer to teach meal planning rather than provide their clients with a set meal plan.
In this blog post, we’ll answer the question “do meal plans work?”, meal planning vs meal prepping and how to stick to a meal plan while providing strategies to help you succeed with your healthy eating goals.
Let’s start with why meal plans can fail and how to identify common pitfalls.
Why do meal plans fail?
Meal plans can fail for a variety of reasons. Here are seven of the most common reasons meal plans fail:
- People stop following them. This is the most obvious reason. If a person chooses to stop following a meal plan, it will not work for them.
- Meal plans don’t teach how to make healthy choices. Meal plans can act as a band-aid solution to provide healthier eating options, but they don’t actually teach you how to make healthy choices on your own. This means that as soon as you’re off the meal plan, you’re back to where you started.
- Meal plans do not teach how to listen to your body and cues. When you’re following a meal plan, you’re at the mercy of what the meal plan tells you to eat. This means you’re not able to listen to your body’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues.
- Following a meal plan can reduce satisfaction in meals. Let’s face it – following a meal plan can get pretty boring if you’re eating the same foods day in and day out.
- Following a meal plan often leads to cravings and overeating of restricted foods. Meal plans often fail to incorporate “fun” foods like chips, chocolate, and ice cream. By avoiding these foods completely, you may start to develop cravings and binge on those foods when you’re around them.
Meal Planning Vs Meal Prepping
You may be wondering about meal planning vs meal prepping – after all, they sound pretty similar. But there are a few key differences.
Meal planning is simply the act of planning out your meals for the day or week. It can involve using a calendar to plan out your meals and grocery lists to ensure you pick up all the required ingredients at the store.
Meal prepping, on the other hand, involves the act of preparing and portioning out your meals ahead of time. Many people will choose to meal prep based on their meal plan so that they’re prepared for the day or week ahead.
How to Stick to a Meal Plan
Knowledge is power, and understanding the common pitfalls of meal plans is the first step toward successfully adhering to a well-structured and balanced meal plan. To stick to a meal plan, it is essential to set realistic and achievable goals, taking into account personal preferences and nutritional needs. Begin by creating a diverse menu, incorporating a variety of ingredients and flavours to avoid boredom and monotony. Prioritize meal prep, making it a weekly ritual to facilitate adherence to the plan. Finally, be prepared to adapt your meal plan as needed, allowing for occasional indulgences and recognizing that flexibility is key to long-term success. By being proactive and strategic, you will be well-equipped to maintain a meal plan that supports a healthy lifestyle.
5 Reasons Why Meal Plans Should Be Personalized.
When creating a personalized meal plan, I keep the following five principles of successful meal planning in mind:
Does the meal plan meet your caloric and nutrient needs?
Does the meal plan provide a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat?
Does the meal plan provide a variety of different foods?
Does the meal plan provide enjoyable foods such as dessert in moderation?
Does the meal plan nourish both your body and your mind?
“When You Have a Meal Plan That Works, You Will Be Much More Likely to Successfully Reach Your Health Goals.”
My job is about far more than just creating recipes for meal plans. I match clients’ goals, lifestyles, schedules, and actual needs to a nutrition and meal plan that is based on each client’s individual caloric and nutritional needs.
Along that process, I coach my clients on how to make it fit into their schedule and lifestyle so that they can sustain the plan, feel good doing it, and continue to see great results.
Meal plans can assist you in reaching your health goals. You will know you are working with someone who is interested in your individual needs because they will not only develop a personalized meal plan but will also:
- Provide a recipe book to go with your meal plans for added variety and appropriate substitutions.
- Learn and pay attention to your meal patterns so that your meal plan is flexible.
- Look for a meal plan that allows you to assemble food on your own with portions and guidelines.
- Make sure your meal plan is 100% tailored to your unique preferences, lifestyle, structure, formula, culture, cuisine, likes, dislikes, health, and family life.
As an expert in nutrition, it is my job to eliminate the struggle of healthy meals for my clients. I do this by breaking down what’s not working first. If a lack of cooking skills is an issue, then I research and recommend cooking classes that can build my clients’ ability and confidence. If time is an issue with my clients, then I discuss their schedules, routines, motivations, and goals. I work collaboratively with my clients to devise a meal plan that works for everyone. In my blog on 8 ways to make healthy eating easy, you will find additional solutions to the challenges that occur from thinking about eating to actually finishing a satisfying meal.
Is the Lack of Customization the Biggest Reason That Meal Plans Fail?
Lack of customization is often an issue for people following a meal plan – especially in the long term. I encourage all my clients to share their recipes with me so we can discuss the overall nutritional value and make healthy substitutions and tweaks.
I enjoy tweaking recipes, including adjusting the number of servings and portion sizes to teach my clients how to make appropriate substitutions for food allergens, sensitivities and dislikes. We also focus on enjoyment and the quality of their meals.
When considering your healthy eating goals, ask yourself if you need to talk to a nutrition professional or another nutrition app? Is meal planning what you need to eat well and nourish your body?
My meal planning and nutritional coaching services help clients become educated and organized, keeping them motivated and held accountable. I am your “best nutrition friend” who will help you navigate a healthier, happier, more organized, less stressful, less time-consuming, and more delicious future with food.
Now that you understand why meal plans fail, it’s time to start looking at a meal plan that will work for you. If you’re interested in changing your relationship with food and creating new habits, schedule a call.
Everything You Need to Know About the Gut-Brain Axis
The gut and the brain are highly connected, and new research shows that the gut-brain axis is an important factor to consider when it comes to health.
Because the gut and the brain are so interconnected, there is potential to help heal gut issues using our brain and to heal brain or mood issues through the gut. Isn’t that amazing?
If that sounds interesting, read on to learn about the gut-brain axis and how you can use this new research to improve your gut and brain health.
Your gut is (partially) controlled by your brain.
As many people know, gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause pain, bloating, and other unpleasant symptoms. These disorders are incredibly common.
Often, gut disorders like IBS don’t have an easily diagnosable physical cause, so treating and finding relief from them can be hard.
Research tells us that our brains control certain digestive processes. For example, thinking about eating can prompt the stomach to release the juices needed to break down food.
You’ve probably also noticed that your gut is sensitive to emotions and have experienced feeling anxious or excited in your stomach.
Several studies show that stress is an important and often overlooked reason for gut issues. Because of this, studies have found that stress reduction techniques can improve gut symptoms more than conventional treatment alone.
Your nervous systems
Humans have two “main” nervous systems. The somatic nervous system is one that we can control (like when we move our muscles to walk around or chew our food).
The other one is the autonomic nervous system. This system controls all body processes we need to survive but can’t consciously control. The autonomic nervous system includes all the processes that happen automatically in the “background,” like breathing.
There are two parts to the autonomic nervous system. The first part is called the sympathetic nervous system, which speeds things up (like when our “fight or flight” reactions kick in). When our sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, our hearts beat faster and breathe heavier. This is because our body is preparing to fight or flee, so it needs to ensure our muscles get enough blood and oxygen.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite part of the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is used to slow things down so digestion can occur. The body allows the digestive system to kick into gear by relaxing the heart, muscles, and lungs. That’s why this is called “rest and digest.”
The two parts of the autonomic nervous system interact with the gut. That’s why we can experience gut symptoms when we’re stressed.
The enteric nervous system
In addition to your somatic and autonomic nervous systems, there is a third nervous system called the enteric nervous system or “second brain,” which lives inside your digestive system. It contains 100 million nerve cells (neurons) that communicate with each other using neurotransmitters.
The enteric nervous system is closely linked to the immune system. Germs that enter the body through the mouth end up in the gut triggering the immune system. The immune cells in the gut provide another path for the gut to communicate with the brain. For example, if they detect an infection in the gut, this information is relayed to the brain.
The gut-brain axis
The gut-brain axis is described as the is the link between your gut and brain. Signals pass between the gut and the brain all day, which is why we see a link between digestive symptoms and brain/mood disorders.
Think about it this way. If someone is under a lot of stress, they may activate their “fight or flight” response (i.e., the sympathetic nervous system). Remember that when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it slows digestion down for the energy to be used to fight or flee.
What’s interesting about this stress response is that the same physical reaction appears regardless of whether the threat is real. That means your body will react the same way to a life-threatening situation and a looming deadline – it can’t tell the difference between the two.
As many people know, negative emotions like fear, sadness, anger, and anxiety can cause unpleasant digestive symptoms, like pain, nausea, and other issues. It’s also known that experiencing frequent digestive issues can affect stress levels and moods. It becomes a vicious cycle of gut symptoms and stress.
How to eat for better gut and brain health
One of the ways diet affects health is through the gut microbiome. Your gut microbes thrive on fiber, so including a wide variety of plant-based foods is an excellent way to keep your friendly gut microbes happy. Try to include various plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are good choices because they contain health-promoting bacteria. Try to include these foods in your diet regularly.
In addition to foods promoting a healthy gut microbiome, some foods can harm your gut microbiome. Reducing your intake of red meat and sugar can be beneficial because limiting these foods can lead to a healthier gut by increasing the diversity of your gut microbiome.
Eating when your mood is low.
Preparing a meal can be impossible when dealing with a low mood. These tips can help you eat well when not feeling great mentally.
Use grocery delivery services.
When your mood is low, often leaving the house is the last thing you want to do. Luckily, grocery delivery services have become more widespread in recent years.
While it may seem like a splurge to pay an extra $5-$10 for grocery delivery, it’s so worth it. Getting grocery delivery removes the barrier of leaving the house, ensuring you have access to nutritious foods.
Keep a well-stocked kitchen.
Keeping your kitchen well-stocked with nutritious foods will make it easier to pull together a nourishing meal in a pinch. A few handy foods to keep in your kitchen include canned beans, canned fish, pasta, frozen vegetables, eggs, and nut butter. These foods can all be used to pull together a quick and easy meal that’s both nutritious and satisfying.
Prepare emergency frozen meals.
When you’re feeling mentally well and able to cook, prepare extra portions of meals that you can freeze and keep on hand for the more difficult days. Meals like fried rice, stew, chilli, curry, and soup all freeze well and easily in large batches.
Order nutritious take-out
There’s nothing wrong with ordering take-out. Try to order a meal that includes a source of protein (like beans, chicken, fish, or meat) and some vegetables to ensure the meal is satisfying. Salads and burrito bowls are great options!
Stress management for gut and brain health
In addition to diet, stress reduction techniques or psychotherapy may benefit people who experience gut symptoms. It’s thought that these techniques are effective because they promote the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response.
Here are a few techniques that you may find helpful:
· Guided meditation
· Deep breathing exercises
· Gut-directed hypnotherapy (for example, the Nerva app)
If you’re struggling with gut symptoms, incorporating these techniques into your routine may help improve your gut symptoms and mood.
Our bodies are incredibly complex, and the gut-brain axis is a prime example of just how interconnected the different parts of our bodies are. Research is starting to show that what we eat can improve our gut health, brain, and mental health. Plus, stress-reduction techniques have been shown to reduce digestive symptoms.
If you want a plan to help, you eat – and enjoy – more of the foods that help your gut and your brain, consult a Registered Dietitian who can provide personalized, evidence-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.
Book a free discovery call to see if my services can help you with your health goals!
Recently, I have been receiving many questions about anti-inflammatory diets. Clients have been told by their doctor, naturopath, or nutritionist that following an anti-inflammatory diet will help with their symptoms. Since many people aren’t familiar with what is an anti-inflammatory diet, their first instinct is to turn to Dr. Google.
Many people call me after googling their symptoms and the anti-inflammatory diet. When they Google it, they land on many different pages, including the Auto-Immune Protocol Diet (AIP), the Wahl’s Protocol, and the Mediterranean Diet. All of these diets are variations of the anti-inflammatory diet, so it can be confusing to know which one to follow.
Today, we’ll review the basics of what is inflammation, how it affects the body, and whether an anti-inflammatory diet is right for you.
What is Inflammation?
Before we dive into anti-inflammatory diets, it’s important to understand what inflammation is. Inflammation is a natural bodily response that is supposed to protect and heal your body.
When your body experiences stress or identifies infections, irritants, or damaged cells, an inflammatory response is activated. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflamme,” meaning “to set on fire.” This word was likely used to define inflammation because it describes the hallmark symptoms of inflammation – redness, swelling, heat, and pain.
Inflammation occurs when your body’s tissues are injured (for example, by bacteria, toxins, or trauma). This causes the body to release chemicals that cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the surrounding tissues. This leads to swelling and is useful because it helps prevent the foreign substance from contacting the body tissues further.
One of the molecules responsible for signalling and regulating the inflammatory response are reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals. Under normal circumstances, our body naturally balances free radicals (oxidants) with antioxidants (many of which come from the food we eat). When too many free radicals are produced, they can tip the balance and cause damage to healthy cells.
Acute Inflammation vs. Chronic Inflammation
Just like stress, your body’s inflammatory response can be acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation is short-lived. Physical signs of acute inflammation include redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function. Acute inflammation can help the body to heal injuries and infections and is a useful physiological response.
In contrast, chronic inflammation sticks around for a long time. When the inflammatory response lasts for a long time, it can damage the body without any signs or symptoms. Chronic inflammation is often associated with chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and excess body weight.
How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Once people learn about what inflammation is, many people ask – does reducing inflammation promote healing? Research studies have shown that improving nutrition and lifestyle can help reduce chronic inflammation and potentially improve symptoms of disease.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
In its most basic sense, an anti-inflammatory diet is a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. This is important because fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. Remember, an excess of free radicals or oxidants can result from chronic inflammation and damage your body tissues. Getting enough antioxidants can help counteract the effects of free radicals.
The different versions of the anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Auto-Immune Protocol Diet (AIP), the Wahls Protocol and The Mediterranean diet, vary based on how restrictive they are. For example, the AIP diet, which is based on the idea that certain foods inflame your gut, excludes several foods from the diet, including:
- Beans and legumes
- Nightshade vegetables (like eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes)
- Vegetable oils
- Food additives
The Wahl’s Protocol has similar restrictions to the AIP.
Given how restrictive diets like the AIP diet and the Wahl’s Protocol are, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian if you’re thinking of following one. However, despite how restrictive some of them are, one thing that all these diets have in common is that they are all based on consuming whole, unprocessed foods.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is the most widely accepted diet by health care professionals. Research studies have proven its support in promoting health, improving mental-wellbeing, and promoting a longer life.
The Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, and legumes. It also includes some fish, small amounts of red meat and poultry, whole grains, tree nuts, and dairy, as well as small amounts of olive oil, tea, cocoa, red wine, herbs, and spices.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and adverse effects of obesity, even without weight loss. One of the reasons it is thought to be so effective at treating chronic diseases is because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods common in the Mediterranean diet contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods. These components include polyphenols, flavonoids, pigments, unsaturated fats (including omega-3s), vitamin E and selenium. High intakes of these compounds have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease.
FUN FACT: Most people get the highest amount of dietary polyphenols from coffee and/or tea (but I don’t recommend a lot of cream and sugar).
Who Can the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Help?
An anti-inflammatory diet can be used alongside other treatments for many conditions that involve chronic inflammation. These conditions include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Cardiovascular disease
Experts believe that inflammation plays a role in all the above conditions. Therefore, eating a diet that helps reduce inflammation may be an important component of treating these conditions.
Should I Follow the Anti-Inflammatory Diet or the Mediterranean Diet?
Inflammation can be healthy when fighting an infection or healing a wound, but chronic inflammation is associated with many serious, chronic health conditions.
The good news is that there are several nutritional factors you can improve that may help reduce inflammation. Overall, you likely don’t need to follow a diet as restrictive as the AIP diet or the Wahl’s protocol. Instead, try to follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet like eating a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, omega-3 fats from fish like salmon, olive oil, whole grains, and nuts and seeds.
If integrating the Anti-Inflammatory Diet or The Mediterranean Diet is something you would like to know more about, let’s chat. For a quick anti-inflammatory meal plan, try out the free 3-day trial of my anti-inflammatory meal plans that are gluten-free, light on grains, light on dairy, and light on beans with a focus on high-quality fats.
For a custom menu and coaching, I encourage you to book a free 15-minute consultation. I work with individuals, couples, and families looking for ways to integrate healthy and nutritional balanced meals into their lives. During our discussion, you can ask questions and discuss whether nutritional coaching or a meal plan is right for you. Book a time that works for your schedule by clicking here.
Do you ever wonder about what foods are right for you? Many of my clients come to me wondering this very thing.
My client Sandra found me online while searching for help with personalized meal planning. She had seen many different doctors and nutritionists and tried various diets and supplements over the years. However, she still felt tired and lethargic. The latest zero-sugar diet recommended to her was not working, and she was confused about what and when to eat.
Sandra’s nutritional history and story are similar to many of the clients I meet. Her fixation on “healthy eating” can be described as orthorexia. Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating and is defined as an obsession with “proper” eating.
Sandra came to me so fixated on “healthy eating” and finding what foods were best for her that her health and well-being suffered.
For many people, a fixation on “healthy eating” can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. But is finding out the specific foods that are best for us really as important as we think it is?
Today, we’ll explore the concept of personalized nutrition and review whether it’s necessary for our best health.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
As a Registered Dietitian, I combine your nutritional and medical history, relationship with food, and how you feel when you eat certain foods to create a personalized nutrition plan. It is a plan that is tailor-made for you!
Personalized nutrition plans can get even more specific by combining scientific research with information about your diet, medical health, genetic code, genetic code expression (epigenetics), blood biochemistry, reactions to the foods you eat, and analysis of your gut microbiota.
David Bosshart, keynote speaker at the 2018 Global Wellness Summit (GWS), states, “we are confused about what we eat, where we eat, and when to eat it. We define ourselves by what we eat, but even more so by what we don’t eat. Food may have moved to the center of our lives, but we are overwhelmed by our choices.”
According to the GWS, personalized nutrition combines medical science, technology, information, and artificial intelligence to develop a personalized nutrition prescription plan for our unique body.
This personalization isn’t so far off from what we already experience in our day-to-day lives. Netflix knows what shows we watch, how long and when we watch them. Based on our watching patterns, Netflix suggests shows to us.
Similarly, Amazon tracks our purchase history and suggests similar items. Personalization saves us time and energy in searching for what we want.
Personalized nutrition asks, “what foods are right for me?”
But which tests are scientifically proven, and which are just gimmicks to sell people like Sandra more products that contribute to her treadmill of diets, fear, confusion, and orthorexia?
Should you get a hair analysis, live blood analysis, food sensitivity tests, genetic test, saliva test, or a gut microbiome tests? Each of these tests are accessible to us without seeing a medical doctor, but does that mean we should use them?
Three Popular Personalized Nutrition Tests
Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of how a person’s genes interact with the nutrients consumed. Variations in your genes predict how your body may respond to certain nutrients. Nutrigenomics is especially focused on the prevention or treatment of different diseases.
How does it work?
First, you submit your genetic code (DNA), usually in the form of saliva or a cheek swab, to a genetics lab, such as Nutrigenomix or Biogeniq, for analysis. These companies then analyze your DNA compared to research studies in the field of nutrigenomics.
Once your genetic profile is analyzed and compared to the current research studies, you receive a personalized, detailed report that provides information about your health. Some examples of the information it provides you include how likely you are to gain weight, your likelihood of developing high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your caffeine tolerance, lactose intolerance, and gluten sensitivity.
What does this mean for you?
Well, this information allows you to tailor your diet to match your specific nutritional needs.
For example, the report may suggest that you have a gene that could lead to developing high cholesterol levels. A dietitian can help you choose a diet that can help regulate your cholesterol levels so that you can avoid having them become too high.
The analysis will also give you an indication of your genetic risk for lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity. However, it is important to note that these tests are not diagnostic tests and cannot tell you if you have a specific disease such as Celiac disease.
Finally, it’s important to remember that our genetic tendencies toward certain diseases are not guaranteed. While nutrigenomics allows us to target certain aspects of our diet, it doesn’t eliminate the need for trial-and-error regarding diet and exercise.
Epigenetics and Nutrition
Epigenetics is another emerging area of science. It looks at gene expression and genetic information. Gene expression is the process by which the instructions in our DNA are used to create a functional product (such as a protein).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in cells that are caused by modification of gene expression. In other words, your genetic code does not change, but there are changes in the sequence and the expression of those genes in your body. Epigenetics examines why some genes are expressed (turned on) and some are not.
New research shows that diet can influence which genes are turned on and off. While this is an emerging area of study, it’s exciting to think that what we eat could potentially affect which genes are expressed.
For more information, watch this excellent Ted Education video that explains what epigenetics is all about.
Gut Microbiota Analysis
Another exciting area of emerging research is the analysis of the unique bacteria and viruses living in your intestines. These gut microbes are essential for digesting food and processing energy and nutrients.
Like with nutrigenomics, you supply a sample to a company like Viome or DayTwo. These companies have extensive databases of research studies and information. They analyze your unique microbes and run them against their database to provide you with information on how to improve your gut microbiota to reduce your risks of different diseases.
What Does This All Mean?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is where science and technology intersect to make personalized nutrition recommendations.
AI is a computer science term that means that the combination of human data (your DNA or gut microbiota sample) and a machine (computer) database are used to make human predictions.
Before these large computer databases were developed, your doctor or healthcare provider provided personalized recommendations based on their training and research they had reviewed.
Now, with the creation of databases that can pull information together from unlimited sources, it is believed that AI can make better predictions than humans.
Do I Need This Information?
Technology is fast-moving, and access to information is literally at our fingertips. So, how do you navigate this fast-changing science, technology, and abundance of information?
Ask yourself these five important questions before you send your sample away:
- Why do I need this information?
- Will it improve my daily life and my health?
- What will I do with this information?
- Will this information empower me or confuse me?
- Am I committed to taking action on the results?
Does Personalized Nutrition Work?
My experience is that personalized meal and menu plans work, whether they are based on what you share with me or a scientific test.
When I work one-on-one with clients, they experience an overall improvement in their nutritional health because we focus on their unique needs and history with food.
When clients decide to go further with scientific tests, I can help them understand the personalized nutrition reports. Using personalized nutrition reports from companies like Nutrigenomix, I provide individualized nutrition meal plans and recommendations specific to my client’s needs.
Do I Need a Registered Dietitian to Help Me Understand Personalized Nutrition Reports?
Yes and No. Science and technology are moving fast, information is increasing, algorithms are improving, and the science around AI is booming. But technology cannot give you the personalized relationship that you get from working with a Registered Dietitian.
You have a story, history, and narrative. Your life is not black and white! Working with a Registered Dietitian provides you with unique, individualized guidance.
If you do opt for tech-based health assistance, use the scientific and technology-based information responsibly. This means not leaving your nutrition up to supplements and food marketing and remembering that taking the emotion out of eating can lead to isolation and confusion.
Where Do I Go from Here?
Interested in a personalized nutrition plan? Schedule a free consultation with me to discuss your specific nutritional needs and determine if personalized nutrition is what you need to make the right choices for your health.