I don’t know about you, but working my way through the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) has been heavy work. I use the word heavy as that’s how I felt during those first few months. That feeling of being weighed down, not only by my illness, but by the mental and physical preparation I needed to get this thing started. Grieving the foods I had to eliminate, as well as the feelings of isolation and frustration. You know what I’m talking about….the “why me!”
Really, this can apply to anyone who has had to change their diet and lifestyle due to an autoimmune disease.
We focus so much (naturally) on the foods we’re letting go of – the negatives – in saying goodbye and feeling deprived.
But I’m here today to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel my friend.
Yep, it may involve a slight shift in your thinking, but once I made the shift, it made a huge difference to my overall wellbeing and I believe, with my healing.
And it’s free!
The shift I’m referring to is simply changing your focus from deprivation to abundance. Embracing all of those wonderful foods we can still eat, and in fact, should be eating on a daily basis. These foods are recommended to us for a reason as they help us heal. They’re highly nutritious, delicious to boot and they nourish us from the inside out.
Yes, eliminating inflammatory causing foods is a major step, I believe, in our wellness journey (see why I think this here), however embracing these nutrient dense foods is just as important. Don’t underestimate them.
So to help you with your own little “mind shift” from deprivation to abundance, I’m sharing with you my 4 top nutrient-dense food groups that you can add into your life, starting today. I’ve done all the research. You just need to sit back and enjoy.
As always, pay attention to how your dietary choices make you feel. Everyone is different, so it’s up to you to decide which type of diet ultimately serves you best.
Ready for Part 1? Grab your cuppa and let’s go!
Ideally, I personally believe that at each meal we sit down to enjoy, we want to ensure our plate is ½ to ¾ full of vegetables, and this includes both starchy and non-starchy vegetables, as recommended by Dr Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom website. In fact, the latest research suggests that we should be aiming for 8-9 servings of veggies per day - as a minimum!
You see, plant foods are the most accessible and affordable source of many of the essential vitamins and minerals we need for our overall health. They give us major bang for our buck! Their antioxidants and phytochemicals actually support our immune system and our body’s ability to detoxify all on its very own. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Did you know that many of the scientifically supported diets out there today (including Paleo and the Mediterranean diets), all promote a high intake of vegetables? This could be due to:
- vegetables being rich in vitamins and minerals, including the most absorbable form of calcium
- vegetables containing loads of fibre to help boost and support our gut health (and protect against leaky gut!)
- vegetables being rich in beneficial plant phytochemicals – providing an abundance of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
So what veggies are we talking about?
NON STARCHY VEG | Think asparagus, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, green beans*, sugar snaps* and zucchini, as well as the cruciferous vegetable family that are full of vitamins and phytonutrients needed for us to heal. Cruciferous veggies are also a rich source of sulphur- an incredibly important mineral supporting the detoxification process in our body, particularly via the liver. This group includes cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale and brussels sprouts
STARCHY VEG | These veggies provide the fibre that feeds our good gut bacteria. They’re high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which help remove toxins from our body, lower our cholesterol and help improve our immunity. Think sweet potato, beetroot, potato*, peas*, parsnips and pumpkin
LEAFY GREENS | Provide us with an abundance of wonderful chlorophyll, magnesium, folate and vitamin K. This group includes spinach, rocket, and dark lettuce leaves, along with silverbeet, chard, sorrel and don’t forget those fresh leafy herbs like parsley, mint and basil
LOW FRUCTOSE FRUIT | Provide us with a multitude of antioxidants which allow the cells in our body to stay healthy. Reach for berries, kiwi fruit, green apples, papaya and avocado
SEA VEGETABLES | Offering the broadest range of minerals of any food. This group includes dulse, kelp, nori, arame, kombu, wakame, chlorella and spirulina
*Denotes foods not suitable if following AIP
So how much is a serving?
As mentioned above, making sure we eat 8-9 servings of vegetables per day (including fruit - however limit this to 1-2 servings per day) means we get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre in our daily diet for overall good health. 8-9 serves sounds like a lot, right? But it actually is very achievable.
8-9 servings per day breaks down to 2-3 servings at every meal (yes, even breakfast), and 1 serving looks a little like this:
- 1 cup raw vegetables
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- 2 cups raw leafy greens
- 1 medium fruit (about the size of baseball)
- ½ cup chopped fruit (or berries)
- ½ cup cooked fruit
So what’s the big deal with fibre?
Fibre can be found pretty much in every vegetable, however in general, the darker the colour of the vegetable, the higher the fibre content. So think dark leafy greens and cruciferous veggies as well as those bright colourful starchy vegetables – pumpkin, beets, sweet potato.
When we eat fibre, it:
- helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts – improving our digestion;
- helps stabilise our blood glucose levels;
- binds with toxins, waste products, excess hormones, cholesterol, and other substances in the gut to help with elimination;
- adds bulk to our stool, improving the quality of our bowel movements; and
- helps reduce overall inflammation in our body
There are two main forms of fibre to be aware of, and it’s good to make sure we eat a mix of both at each of our meals:
Insoluble Fibre | Found in just about all vegetables (particularly in the skin) which works like a broom through the bowel –helping prevent constipation, encourage regular bowel habits and keeping our bowel environment nice and healthy. Foods to include are pretty much every vegetable, especially green leafy veggies and non-starchy/cruciferous veggies, tomatoes*, avocado, carrots, peas* and green beans* (remember – skin on!).
Soluble Fibre | Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance when combined with fluid in our body (hence the need to up your water intake!), and acts like a sponge, absorbing toxins and waste products on its way out of our body. Foods to include are starchy veggies, cruciferous veggies and those low sugar fruits. Also include citrus fruits, spinach, asparagus, peas* and zucchini.
*Denotes foods not suitable if following AIP
So what are water/fat soluble vitamins?
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t quickly touch on this topic - one of my favourite subjects, as it involves fat!
Basically, the vitamins we eat are classified into 2 groups – water soluble and fat soluble:
Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) | Our bodies require these vitamins to function properly and are critical to our health and wellness. However, majority of people today are sadly lacking in these vitamins, especially those who follow a low-fat, no-fat and often vegan diet. These vitamins MUST be eaten with good quality fat. And plenty of it. So think about drizzling your vegetables with olive oil, or eat them alongside avocado or perhaps some olives.
Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) | These vitamins are not stored in our body, which means we must replenish them every day. They’re easily absorbed when eaten, and should you consume more than you need, they’re easily excreted through our urine.
Bottom line = eat a whole variety of vegetables each day and ensure you add good healthy fats to them to get the most nutritional value!
Why I buy organic?
Vegetables grown outside of their season or natural environment need a lot more human assistance in the form of pesticides, waxes, chemicals and preservatives to grow and look appealing.
Personally, buying organic is a must for me, and I believe, for anyone dealing with the effects of Hashimoto’s (or any autoimmune disease for that matter).
Eating organic helps to reduce your body’s total toxic burden.
New to buying organic, or concerned about the price tag that often comes along with it? Then perhaps start by purchasing organic, those vegetables that fall inside the “Dirty Dozen” category. The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides, identifies those fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest pesticide residues.
Hope this has inspired you to hit your farmers market and get in that kitchen of yours.
Stay tuned .... because Part 2 is up next ...