As a very wise person said: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
You don’t know how good you can feel until you raise the bar. This is what we experienced when moving away from a life of disease, afternoon blood sugar crashes, upset belly and lack of energy. We thought we were healthy, but man did we notice a difference when making changes to our diet and lifestyle!
In this post I’ll point out some of the changes we have done in terms of how we eat, along with what we try to focus on in our anti-inflammatory eating.
We have been hooked on an anti-inflammatory eating for quite a few years now. Check out this post to learn why: How and why we live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. So, what’s the deal with anti-inflammatory eating? It’s quite simple; it makes us look good and feel great! Gone are the days when all the food taste the same and look the same. Instead we have invited colors and flavors into our lives. The more colors you combine in a meal, the more nutrients and antioxidants you bring to the table. In fact, when different antioxidants are combined they get extra super-powers and can do amazing things to your body!
Just to be clear, when I say colors, I don’t refer to colored pasta or artificial coloring of any kind. I am talking about real, whole food. Vegetables of all sorts, shapes and colors. Herbs and spices. They are the ones with super-powers in the form of antioxidants. Not sure where to start? Aim for eating a rainbow at every meal, with minimum three different colors and your body will thank you.
I am by no means an experienced chef, however I do enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and am not afraid of trying out new combinations and flavors. The aim with our anti-inflammatory eating is making every meal as nutrient dense and colorful as possible. Sometimes it’s just about adding a few spices and herbs. I like to keep it simple, but yet rich in flavors. We want food with intelligence and by that I mean food that brings us lots of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, food that can heal us or prevent disease. Food that gives us energy and vitality. That’s intelligent anti-inflammatory eating to us!
Where to start?
In the beginning it might be easier to focus on adding things, rather than going cold turkey with excluding and prohibit yourself from certain foods. Try saying to yourself: what can I add to this meal to get some extra nutrients? Perhaps another color of vegetables, or some fresh herbs? Like with most things, anti-inflammatory eating is about mindset, having a clear why you’re doing it and not being afraid of trying new things. The more you move towards adding a few extra things to every meal, the easier it will become to move away from the foods that create inflammation in your body.
Try to be aware of how different foods make you feel. Does some food tend to give you a bloated belly? Does some food give you more energy whereas some make you feel like having a nap? This is the key to healthy eating habits. Listen to your body, nurture it as the house you live in and do your best to prevent disease from knocking on the door.
What we avoid and why
The essence of anti-inflammatory eating is cutting down on what creates inflammation in our bodies and increasing the foods that prevent inflammation. The core aim for us is avoiding refined sugar, gluten, dairy, unhealthy fats and additives.
This translates into avoiding the following:
- Pasta, noodles etc. At least if they are made out of wheat, which the traditional pasta is. Wheat is usually genetically modified and contains a very strong protein called gluten, which many of us have a hard time digesting. It is the cause of many stomach-related symptoms and autoimmune diseases like IBS. Check out this post to learn more about: Why we don’t eat wheat. These days you can find gluten-free pasta made of beans, sweet potato, buckwheat etc., but remember, they are still processed food and might contain additives. Pasta doesn’t grow on trees or bushes!
- Bread, crackers, pastries. Same as above, usually contains wheat, rye and barley. These grains are rich in gluten and carbohydrates which drive inflammation. Nowadays some bakeries make gluten-free bread made out of buckwheat (has nothing to do with wheat!), rice flour, coconut flower etc. and this is something we occasionally buy or make ourselves. A slightly better alternative to the standard bread would be the sourdough version as this process breaks down the gluten, making it less inflammatory. BUT not something we would eat on a regular basis. Also, don’t be fooled by the gluten-free section in the supermarket as these products usually contain lots of salt, sugar and additives in order to make up for the missing gluten. This has no place in an anti-inflammatory eating.
- Dairy. Yes, we try to avoid all kinds of dairy, including milk, cheese, ice-cream… Dairy leads to inflammation and increased mucus production. This is even if you are not lactose intolerant, although dairy is high in lactose (sugar) which is a driver for inflammation and will affect your immune system negatively. These days most milk come from pregnant cows, which means that the milk is high in hormones (including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) and other growth factors designed for the offspring to grow rapidly and become sexually mature within a year. This is not ideal for human consumption. An over-representation of these hormones has been linked to cancer, overweight and early puberty in kids. Additionally, milk is not exactly milk anymore… It has been pasteurized (heated up) in order to destroy all bacteria (including the good bacteria) and homogenized where the fat is separated from the skimmed milk. Then the “milk” is put back together again according to the assigned fat content of each product. Usually there are also different sorts of synthetic vitamins and minerals added to the end product. This kind of modification of the milk makes it even harder for our bodies to recognize and know how to break down properly.
- Refined vegetable oils. Which is what you find in margarine, cookies, crisps, chips etc… These oils are generally high in disease-causing, artery-clogging trans fats that should be avoided at all costs.
- Sugar and candy. The candy offered in supermarkets is usually high in sugar along with a long list of ingredients, including gluten and lots of additives. Basically an inflammatory cocktail… Sugar is one of the main drivers for inflammation and something consumed way too much these days.
- Juice. Fruit juices, even fresh cold pressed ones are unfortunately very high in fructose (sugar) and very low in fibre. This means a spike in blood sugar levels which drives inflammation. Instead, if we buy or prepare a juice we try to go for the green vegetable juices which contain much less fructose and more antioxidants and vitamins. A better option to a fruit juice would be to eat a whole fruit as you then get all the vitamins, fibre and good stuff and when provided with the whole fruit, our body knows how to break this down efficiently.
- Sodas. Mostly sugar and artificial sweeteners…
- Alcohol. Yes, whatever they try to tell you about a glass or two of wine being healthy, alcohol is still poison to the body. Additionally, do you actually know what is in these products? Well, to start with beer contains gluten. Whine usually contains chemicals and pesticides from the grapes and a long (hidden) list of additives. There are actually 63 approved additives allowed to use in wine (45 in organic wine) without any need to label them. The purpose of many of these additives is to modify the flavor of the wine. How crazy is that? Would you buy a wine where the list of additives is covering the whole bottle..?
- We try to avoid most things from the supermarket arriving in a package, as this means there is usually a long list of weird ingredients and a lot of additives.
The anti-inflammatory eating
So what we focus on is real, clean and whole food. Food made by nature, not by man and ideally without a list of ingredients.
This is what we try to prioritize in our daily life:
- Focusing on organic fruits and veggies. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the lists Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen by the non-for-profit organisation EWG. They constantly update their list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides. Now you know which fruits and veggies that are most important to change into organic.
- Eating lots of vegetables with every meal, ideally a rainbow of different colors.
- Making sure to get plenty of the good fats (super important for healthy brain function); avocado, coconut oil, butter/ghee, olive oil (unless heated up), fatty fish etc. We also supplement with good quality Omega 3.
- Quality protein. By that I mean meat from grass-fed animals and not the industry produced meat, often from sick animals. For more info on this, check out our post on What qualitarians eat. The same goes for eggs, we want the hens to have been outside, healthy, free from hormones, eating what they are designed to eat and not been fed grains etc.
- Wild caught fish. Unfortunately most of the farmed fish we see these days have been proven to contain toxins and pesticides. Some of it comes from the food they feed the fish, which might come from polluted waters. Farmed fish might also be fed grains like soy and corn which makes them inflamed and less nutritious. Salmon might also be fed additives with the purpose of making them more pink! Wild fish can freely swim and roam in its natural habitat. They can move around as they are intended to do and eat what they are designed to eat. This makes wild fish healthier and more nutritious.
- Bone broth. Including some bone broth in your diet is one of the best things you can do for your gut. It is super healing and gives you good fat along with important minerals. Read more in this post: Healing bone broth.
- Choosing our carbs and limit the amount. Complex carbs like sweet potato, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, durra, teff, oats, brown/black/red rice take longer for the body to break down and don’t cause the same blood sugar spike. Those are the carbs we tend to focus on.
- Spices and herbs. They all have anti-inflammatory characteristics and provide different benefits, so challenge yourself in using new varieties and try out new combinations. Our favorites are turmeric, ginger, garlic, basil, cinnamon, chili…
- Nuts and seeds. They provide good fats and nutrients, but try to soak them beforehand to allow for easier digestion. Great as a snack or to use for baking or breakfasts. Check out our Recipe Section for inspiration.
- Limited amount of fruits and natural sugars. Most fruits are still high in fructose, so we try to limit this to one per day or so. We use natural sugars like honey and dried fruit as sweeteners when baking or making deserts. As this is the whole “product” and not just the extracted sugar, they also provide more nutrients like vitamins, antioxidants and fibre, compared to the refined sugar.
- Plant based “milks and creams”. Coconut milk/cream and nut milks are great alternatives to dairy based milk and cream. Great for cooking, baking etc. If you buy them in the supermarket, make sure to check list of ingredients as they tend to be high in additives and sometimes also added sugars. Avoid soy milk as soy is usually genetically modified and high in hormones.
- Limited amounts of coffee and tea. High amounts of caffeine increase the stress hormone cortisol in our system, which our bodies compensate by increasing blood sugar levels. This is not good and means the beginning of an inflammation process in our cells. At the same time there are anti-inflammatory factors in coffee and tea as well, but try limiting the consumption to 1-2 cups per day. Remember that even green tea contains caffeine. Herbal teas don’t contain any caffeine though and if organic they will provide many benefits and can be consumed as much as you like!
- Caring for our gut bacteria. We know disease starts in the gut and this is also where your immune system is based, so taking care of your gut bacteria is crucial for anti-inflammatory eating. We do this by adding fermented veggies (like sauerkraut and kimchi), kombucha and apple cider vinegar to our diet. Yoghurt has good bacteria too, but ideally it should be unpasteurized (otherwise most beneficial bacteria is destroyed when heated up) and from healthy grass-fed cows. Occasionally we supplement with probiotic capsules.
- Dark chocolate, cacao, nibs (minimum 70%). My favorite! Once you start cutting down on sugar, you just can’t stand the typical chocolate bars full of sugar and dairy products. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is high in fat and antioxidants as well as flavanols which have been found to improve heart health. Dark chocolate is also intelligent as there is a natural mechanism making us stop after a few bites. Compared to the sugary chocolate where a whole lot can be finished within minutes.
If you want some inspiration as to where to start or complement your anti-inflammatory eating, check out our Healthy Recipe Section where we constantly add easy, healthy and delicious recipes from our life.