As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Literally, the food you consume provides the building blocks for DNA replication, new cell growth and either the maintenance of health or the development of disease.
Cut through the dietary confusion and read on to find out what you actually need to stay away from to optimise your nutrition and therefore health, vitality and longevity.
(I use the term “food” loosely here, as I don’t consider any of the following food, but rather profit for big business and unfortunately, contributors to illness and disease across the developed world).
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and its related species – rye, barley, triticale and often, oats. It is responsible for the elastic texture of dough and is often used to give the final product its chewy texture and rise. Due to its complex structure, it is often used to preserve food and therefore extend its shelf life.
The problem with gluten is as a result of its particularly complex structure. Our digestive enzymes are actually unable to break the protein portion into individual (and much smaller) amino acids and it is therefore resistant to digestion. The undigested proteins then interact with our intestinal barrier and actually increase its permeability (intestinal permeability), to allow for the bigger molecules to pass through. While this may initially sound like a positive thing, as you may think nutrient absorption or digestion may be enhanced, the small intestine is actually our physical barrier to the outside world. When its integrity is compromised, it can no longer maintain control over what enters our bodies, and chaos occurs.
Significantly, gluten is high inflammatory. Constant inflammation in the gut leads to intestinal permeability and potential inflammation elsewhere (or everywhere) in the body. The inflammatory effects then appear as anything from an autoimmune disease, to chronic fatigue, allergies, arthritis, psoriasis, eczema and even brain related conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Inflammatory consequences are virtually unlimited and may be silent. Just because you are not experiencing specific gastrointestinal problems, does not mean you are tolerant to gluten. Even if you don’t currently have an autoimmune disease, consistent exposure to gluten means you are always susceptible. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can occur at any time. It is your environment that pulls the trigger on any genetic susceptibility.
2. Refined Sugar
Refined sugar is the leading cause of inflammation, which can be directly linked to the longer term development of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
In the shorter term, the consumption of refined sugar causes blood sugar disregulation, cravings, mood swings and body fat gain.
Keep your refined sugars low by minimising your consumption of processed and packaged foods and keep your overall sugar intake under control by keeping fruit at a maximum of two pieces per day, avoiding agave syrup (and other “natural” but high fructose sweeteners) and nourishing your body with good fats, proteins and predominately non starchy vegetables.
3. Seed & Vegetable Oils
Oils such as canola, cottonseed and grapeseed oil are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and therefore contain multiple double bonds in their molecular structure. Their structure can be referred to as highly ‘unsaturated’, which makes them incredibly unstable in the presence of heat, light or oxygen. PUFAs therefore, turn rancid and toxic at high temperatures. The longer-term consequences of this include inflammation, atherogenic changes in the body and premature aging. Please avoid magarine; keep olive oil for cold use only; and cook with stable saturated fats like butter, coconut oil and animal fat. For more detail, please read Fats: the truth!
4. Poor Quality Dairy
The reality is that the majority of dairy products are highly processed via a process referred to as pasteurisation. Pasteurised dairy is subject to high temperatures to destroy impurities, which at the same time, destroys the nutritious constitutes. The truth is that the calcium actually becomes insoluble, the vitamin C is damaged, and 20% of the iodine is destroyed, just to start.
Significantly, pasteurized dairy is potentially inflammatory. Inflammation makes the body acidic, which the body then attempts to neutralize. In order to do this, calcium is leeched from the bones, causing decreased calcium levels and potentially, osteoporosis in the longer term. I know you have been told for decades to drink milk for strong bones, but we were also once told the world was flat and that saturated fat was the cause of heart disease. For natural and nutrient dense calcium sources, please prioritise dark leafy greens, sardines, sesame seeds, almonds, celery, rhubarb and oranges.
In the case of skim milk, it is often fortified with powdered skim, which is liquid sprayed under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidizes the cholesterol. In animal studies, oxidized cholesterol triggers a host of biological changes, leading to plaque formation in the arteries and heart disease. Low fat yogurt is mostly high in sugar and again, devoid in nutrients due to the pasteurisation process. Throw your low fat products in the bin please.
Great alternatives to cow’s milk include coconut milk and unsweetened nut milk. For more information and the best options if you do choose to consume dairy, please read Dairy: the scoop!
5. Trans Fats
Here we are referring to the artificial, synthetic, industrial or manufactured trans fats that are found in foods that use hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable fats, such as deep-fried and baked foods. These foods are especially harmful as they contribute to increased total cholesterol and lowered HDL cholesterol (the good stuff). They are highly inflammatory, and like refined sugar and poor quality oils, can contribute to mutagenic changes in the body and an increased chronic disease risk.
Sure it’s easy for me to say that you need to avoid deep-fried and baked foods, but the reality is not that simple. My suggestion to you is to be savvy about where you eat and purchase your food, and to find out more about the companies you are supporting first.
What foods would you like to add to the list?
*For gluten free recipe ideas, grab your copy of Free From Gluten (FFG) here.