Check out the chart below for a high level explanation of which foods you should increase your consumption of as well as unhealthy foods you should try your best to decrease or completely eliminate.
This is also a good guide to the foods you should stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with as well as the unhealthy foods you should ditch if possible.
In later posts I will expand in more detail on these items, but below I will include a short explanation to get you started!
Foods to increase (healthy foods) and decrease (unhealthy foods)
Fresh or frozen vegetables & fruits vs canned
I’m sure it’s no surprise that fresh vegetables, fruits and legumes are the absolute best choice, however, you might be surprised to find out that frozen vegetables are generally minimally processed (double check the ingredients!) and retain a decent amount of nutrients.
Canned foods on the other hand undergo a lot more processing, which can break down nutrients, and can often contain added preservatives, sugar, table salt and more.
To top it off, cans are lined with bisphenol-A (BPA) which is an industrial chemical. BPA can mimic estrogen in the body, which can affect our body’s natural hormone balance. Studies have also linked BPA to a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and type II diabetes.
Higher BPA levels have been found in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), so it is incredibly important for women with PCOS to avoid BPA, especially if infertility is a problem.
Healthy fats versus unhealthy fats
Consuming fat has gotten a bad rap in the past, but slowly and surely more research and evidence is coming out to confirm that it’s actually very important in the body. There are good fats and bad fats though.
Healthy fats provide the building blocks for our cells and for the production of our hormones. They also help our bodies absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.
Omega 3 fats are helpful for lowering inflammation in the body and the risk of disease. They are also good for our brain and eye health.
When you are not consuming enough omega 3 fat in relation to omega 6 fats, too much omega 6 oils (such as those in the right-hand column) can lead to increased inflammation. If you are eating the standard american diet (also known as the SAD diet), you are very likely getting plenty of omega 6 in your diet but not much omega 3 thus promoting this imbalance.
The oils found in the right hand column consist of man-made saturated fats (hydrogenated fats and margarine) and highly processed oils. These fats are prone to oxidization and promote inflammation in the body.
Real salt vs table salt
Salt is made of chloride and sodium, which are both essential to the body. You will often hear that consuming it in large quantities will raise your blood pressure, however If you are eating a natural, unprocessed whole-foods diet, you will be taking in far less salt and can get away with adding some good quality Himalayan sea salt to your meals.
Himalayan sea salt contains many valuable trace minerals and is very minimally processed. I personally use Real Salt and have for years.
Regular table salt is very highly refined, and therefore most minerals are removed In the processing. It also contains added anti-caking ingredients. It does contain iodine though, which is very important for thyroid health.
If you choose not to eat regular table salt, make sure you are getting foods in your diet that are high in iodine such as seaweed, seafood, organic dairy and eggs or consider adding an iodine supplement such as Genestra liquid iodine.
Whole grains (complex carbohydrates) vs refined carbohydrates and baked goods
Carbohydrates are one of the bodies main sources of energy (unless you are doing the ketogenic diet in which case your body is creating energy from fats).
Carbohydrates are often demonized, but it’s really about choosing the right types of carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down into sugar very quickly in the body. This can lead to a sharp spike in blood sugar and then subsequent blood sugar crash.
Simple carbs include table sugar, corn syrup, fruit juice, pop, refined grains and flours (such as white rice and white flour), most breads and baked goods. Eat less of these.
Fruits also contain simple carbohydrates as well, however because of their fiber content, they break down slower in the body and are high in nutrients so they are healthy in moderation.
Complex carbohydrates contain more fiber and are broken down more slowly in your body leading to less of a blood sugar spike and crash, which helps you to maintain a better blood sugar balance throughout the day and helps you avoid negative health effects of both high blood sugar and low blood sugar.
Complex carbs include vegetables, whole grains (such as brown rice, rolled oats or quinoa), beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.
Organic, pasture raised grass fed meat & dairy vs conventional meat & dairy
Animals are naturally meant to graze and eat off the land however these days they are often kept in very small confined spaces and are mainly fed grains (mostly corn and soy because its cheap) to make them gain weight more quickly. To maximize growth, animals are also often given antibiotics and growth hormones.
What animals eat can also have an impact on the nutrient composition of the meat. Grass fed beef for example contains higher amounts of Vitamin A and E.
Basically the bottom line is that organic meat, eggs and dairy products are from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. They are also fed organic feed, which has much lower levels of herbicides and pesticides.
Wild fish vs farmed fish
Wild fish eat other organisms that are found in their natural environment but fish that are farmed are given a processed fish feed in order to make them larger.
Because of these differences, the nutrient composition of these fish is very different. Farmed fish is much higher in omega 6 fat and as we learned earlier, this can have negative effects on the omega-3 versus omega 6 balance in the body that can lead to inflammation.
Wild fish is much higher in omega-3 and minerals which combats inflammation.
Farmed fish may also be higher in contaminants and are more prone to infections which means antibiotics are often added to fish feed.
Filtered water vs unfiltered water
Filtering water removes contaminants, heavy metals, fluoride, viruses and bacteria.
Although measures are taken to lower contamination in municipal tap water, it can still contain trace amounts of contaminants.
I personally use the Berkey water purification system and it is known to be one of the best out there.
Although there are many benefits to drinking filtered water, it can also reduce the amount of necessary minerals from the water so you might consider adding trace mineral drops into your filtered water.
Whole foods vs packaged & processed foods
Whole foods by definition are unprocessed and unrefined, or are very minimally processed and are therefore still very rich in nutrients and fiber.
Try to limit your intake of processed and packaged foods because they are very highly refined and often contain food colours and dyes, preservatives, unhealthy fats, GMOs, added sugar and the list goes on.
This also means ditching most pre made sauces. Check the ingredients first.
You may find that whole foods seem boring at first because they aren’t always as flavourful as packaged and processed foods are. The trick is to use natural salt, healthy fats, herbs and spices to season your food. I promise, eating healthy can be equally as delicious if you get creative and think about all the benefits to your health!
When I first went paleo, I started by trying to paleo-ify all the junk foods I was used to eating all the time. It made the process of ditching unhealthy foods a lot less painful to start!
What kinds of unhealthy foods do you have a hard time staying away from? What foods could you replace these with that still satisfy the craving but without the negative side effects?
Tara Klippert is a Registered Health and Nutrition Counselor and holds a diploma in Holistic Nutrition and Health Coaching. Tara helps people clear up cystic acne, balance hormones and blood sugar + improve anxiety and gut health NATURALLY with food.