Low Carb the Healthy Way

healthy low carb

The very low carb keto diet is super popular right now. People have found some weight loss success with it. You could do it and probably lose weight. But you most likely won’t keep the it weight off. Because realistically you won’t follow it forever and you’ll sneak carbs back into your diet. Because most people who lose weight gain it all back (and then some) within 1 year!

So why not use a simple approach for weight loss that you can maintain forever? And avoid the nasty keto flu along with it?  I’d be game. Follow these simple guidelines to go low carb the healthy way.

Low Carb Meal Plan Basics

The plan is to follow the plate method of eating and limit your carbohydrates to 30-45 grams of carbohydrates at your meals. This will keep your blood glucose steady and supply adequate fuel to your body without making it rely on ketones and suffer the negative effects of an very low carbohydrate diet. Why a range of 30-45? That’s just a starting point and you many need to adjust based on your experience. Typically I recommended 30 grams for women who typically are at a lower calorie intake and 45 for men at a higher intake. However, if someone is extremely active they could increase based on their needs. I believe once you have the tools and knowledge you can listen to your body and feed it what it needs.

This is a great example of the plate method.  You can go here to read more about their healthy eating plate philosophy. In the image below fruit and whole grains are the 2 food categories that contain carbohydrate. Be aware that for this low carb plan that beans and legumes and starchy vegetables would also be in the same part of the plate as the whole grains because of their starch content.

Harvard Healthy Eating Plate

Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.harvard.edu.

Low Carb Foods

Animal proteins, fats, and cheeses don’t contain any significant amount of carbohydrate. These are “free” of carbohydrate but still should not be eaten in unlimited amounts when trying to lose weight. This is where Atkins and Keto diets get things wrong. They don’t pay as much attention to the quality of proteins and fats as they should. What type of protein and fat you consume still matters if you want to be healthy and keep weight off long-term. Low carb and healthy should not be considered two separate goals!

Non-starchy vegetables are also extremely low in digestible carbohydrates. I don’t typically count the carbohydrates of these foods when counseling clients on reducing carbohydrates but if you use a tracking app it will probably count all your carbohydrates. If that’s the case, subtract your total dietary fiber from your total carbohydrate intake to get your net carbs. AKA the actual carbohydrates your body can digest. Because fiber is non-digestible it shouldn’t be counted against your carbohydrate count for the day/meal. So even though all vegetables are technically carbohydrates; non-starchy vegetables are still considered low carb.

High Carb Foods

Fruit, grains, legumes, milk, and yogurts all contain carbohydrate. These foods need to be monitored in a low carb meal plan. Additionally sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages also contain carbs. I recommend against sugary beverages, including fruit juice, completely and reducing your sweet intake to about once per week or very tiny portions a few times per week when trying to lose weight. It’s hard to maintain a low carb meal plan and eat a lot of sweets. Sweets are nearly all carbs or they’re carbs and less healthy fats; either way they are empty calories that will hinder your weight loss goals!

Below I have a list of foods that contain carbohydrates in 15 gram carbohydrate portion sizes. Choose 2-3 options below per meal and 1 option at snacks. You can mix and match any way you prefer. Making a smoothie? Pick 2 fruits and a yogurt serving and add a protein powder (sugarless) to balance the meal. Having pasta for dinner? Make all 3 options as pasta (3 x 1/3 cup = 1 cup) with a side salad and meatballs to balance the plate. These will keep you low carb and balanced at your meals.

15 Gram Carbohydrate Serving Sizes: Pick 2-3 per meal for low carb eatingLow carb diet foods to monitor

For items not listed, read the label. Figure our how many carbohydrates it contains per serving and do the math. You can have 30-45 grams per meal so adjust as needed. This is a great starting point for most people who want to lose weight, and bonus: manage their diabetes or prevent diabetes. But like always consult your personal physician or health care professionals before making any dietary changes. Carbohydrates per serving size above were obtained from the glycemic Index or by searching Calorie King.

Low Carb Foods to Eat More Often

What makes my low carb plan a little different than keto or Atkins? Because it’s a little higher in carbohydrates, the protein and fat amounts are more moderate. You shouldn’t go into ketosis on this diet and if you already have diabetes or prediabetes this plan is a lot safer for you than keto. The type of protein and fat also matters. Yes bacon is low in carbs but it isn’t healthy for you!!

The foods below are all low carb and can be eaten in quantities that you decide. They won’t contribute much or any carbs to your intake but you should still be mindful of overall calories and portion sizes. Also, vegetables are technically carbohydrates; but since they only contribute a couple of carbohydrates per serving and are rich in fiber they don’t count against you on this eating plan. There is NO reason to limit non-starchy vegetables.

Low carb food list

Foods to Limit to Stay Low Carb and Healthy

Finally, we have foods you should eat less often. This is where a lot of people disagree, feel deprived, or begin to cheat. There are foods that we should NOT eat on a daily basis. We use the phrase “everything in moderation” and believe that one cup of ice cream per day counts as moderation.  I have a different view. I am not saying my opinion is 100% correct but it will help you lose weight by reducing the calories you eat and keep your body healthy at the same time. Losing weight on an Atkins type diet won’t do you much good if your cholesterol goes up and you have a heart attack. So the foods below should be limited. Not avoided. Just eaten less often.

Low carb diet food to limit

Now you have to tools to go low carb the healthy way. It’s up to you to utilize these tools and start losing weight. Please share these resources with others so they can learn how to obtain a healthy weight without drastic fad diets. Stay in touch to get more information about healthy eating, weight loss, anti-inflammatory foods, and other healthy lifestyle information.

In case you were wondering. You can follow the anti-inflammatory meal plan and go low carb at the same time with AMAZING health benefits! Check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-inflammatory Diet for more information.

healthy low carb

25 Weight loss tips that actually work

Weight Loss Tips that Work

Weight loss is a hot topic. There are so many tips and diets and supplements out there its hard to know who or what to trust. These tips are tried and true; plus they’re scientifically backed. Consider trying out several of these tips to help you meet your weight loss goals.

Use smaller plates and bowls

Aim for a 9 inch plate. The same amount of food on a 12 inch plate will look like less food due to the plate having more empty space than on a 9 inch plate. Use this tip to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you are.  Check out this example from Jen Lee. Our brains can be fooled by this optical illusion and we can end up eating less. Check out this research on the matter.

9 inch plate

Drink a glass of water before meals

The water will help fill you up faster! You will eat less than your usual amount each meal. Plus, fiber needs fluid to do its job well. Fiber expands and moves through our digestive track with adequate fluid intake. Water works best for weight management because its calorie free!

weight loss course

Practice mindful eating

Pay attention to your food. Not the TV. Not your phone. The food you are putting into your mouth. Focus on it. How does it smell? Look? Taste? This focus will help prevent overeating because you’re tuning into your body. Here is a great article from Psychology Today on mindful eating and how it helps with weight management.

Set your fork down.

How often do you just shovel food in your mouth without coming up for air?! Set the fork down. Take a drink. Take a breath. Then continue your meal. This will naturally slow down your eating. It takes 15-20 minutes for the hormones that control hunger and fullness to do their jobs and for our body and brain to realize we are no longer hungry. If we scarf our meal down in 5 minutes we may still think we are hungry and go back for more. Wait 15 minutes before getting seconds. Then if you are still hungry choose low calorie options like vegetables and fruits to fill up. If you aren’t willing to eat a vegetable, you must not be that hungry!

weight loss course

Fill up on veggies

At least half of your meal should be non-starchy vegetables.  They’re low in calories and high in fiber. A perfect weight loss friendly food group! The health benefits to vegetables are too many to list. If you want to learn more about how the quality of your foods effects your overall health check out the Ultimate Guide to the Anti-inflammatory Diet.

Choose whole grains

Whole grains have more fiber. Fiber helps you feel full. It also does a lot of other nifty things like keep blood sugar in check and get things moving in our digestive track. White and refined grains will quickly be digested and the energy kick we get from them will quickly dissipate. Before we know it we will begin to feel tired and “hungry” again. Not a great option when you are trying to lose weight.

Keep a food log

Write down every, single bite. You’ll be able to determine where you may be getting excess calories and prevent mindless snacking. If you have to write it down you may be more likely to say no. It’s like being your own accountability partner. Many people don’t like this or feel its tedious. But people who track their food intake lose more weight than those that don’t. You can’t really make improvements if you don’t know where your going wrong in the first place. Check out this simple food log from the American Heart Association. Consider using pen and paper, different apps, or some other tracking option.

food log

Ask yourself if you would eat an apple

When you’re about to eat something ask yourself if you would eat an apple (or other favorite fruit) right now instead. This will help you determine if you’re eating out of habit or boredom instead hunger.  The idea is if you would eat a healthy snack instead you’re probably hungry. If not, maybe you shouldn’t be eating at all.

Leave 1 bite

I once had the bad habit of “saving the best bite for last”. Why is this a bad habit? First of all it encourages you to clean your plate, even if you’re not hungry, to get to the best bite. Secondly, it’s scientifically impossible for the last bite to be the best.  Yeah, you read that right. It’s actually the very first bite of each meal that’s the most pleasurable (biggest endorphin release) and tasty. So eat the best bite first!

weight loss course

Don’t drink your calories

Say you should be averaging 500 calories a meal. If you drink a 12oz soda then you only have 350 calories left.  That’s a lot less food for something that has no benefit and increases the likelihood of obesity and diabetes. Plus, sugary beverages increase our inflammatory response.  Leading to chronic health conditions over time. If you would like to learn more about eating to fight inflammation check out my Ultimate Guide to the Anti-inflammatory Diet.

Go for a walk after meals

All you need is 10 minutes. This will help improve blood glucose control and help increase the calories you’re burning throughout the day. Here is some preliminary research on this topic and preliminary research on how it can help manage diabetes (bonus!)

Eat real food as snacks

We have a bad habit of eating candy, donuts, and other dessert type items as snacks. They’re treats!!! Not snacks. Choose fruit, veggies and dip, or nuts instead. Spark People has an amazing list of 55 snacks under 200 calorie. Visit their website for the full list. Here is a sneak peak:

Example snacks

Eat more proteins and fats, reduce carbs

Higher protein intake can help improve weight loss efforts. It’s the science behind why Atkins and keto diets work. But you want to do it the healthy way. Not stuffing yourself with hot-dogs and bacon. Choose lean proteins and eat plenty of veggies. Nuts and seeds are great options too. Remember to keep starches limited to one quarter of your plate.

Make a Plan

Plan meals, plan workouts, and plan to eat healthy choices. That great saying If you “Fail to Plan, you are planning to fail” (credited to Benjamin Franklin). When it comes to losing weight, nothing could be more true. Plan your grocery list, plan ahead when going out to eat, plan your strategies and you will succeed.

Meal Plan

I know I just said to make a plan, but meal planning deserves its own note here. Meal planning is so important because if we don’t have a plan we will inevitably make less healthy choices that lead us away from our weight loss goals. Too tired to cook = drive-thru. There’s nothing to eat = restaurant. Didn’t bring any snacks to work = vending machine. This spur of the moment decisions often lead to unhealthy food choices. Don’t be that guy (or girl).

Eat Breakfast

Start your day off right! Eating balanced meals in the morning (not sugary cereal people!) can prevent over eating later in the day. It also helps ensure we get all our nutrients throughout the day. Breakfast doesn’t have to be eggs and toast. Anything that breaks your fast is considered breakfast. According to The National Weight Control Registry 78% of people who successfully lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast every day.

weight loss course

Get Quality Sleep

Good sleep is a vital part of weight management. 8 hours is what the average person needs, but you may need more or less as an individual. How do you know if you’re getting quality sleep? You wake up feeling rested, you aren’t napping during the day, and your mental game is on point.  Consider talking to your doctor about sleep apnea if your significant other tells you that you stop breathing during the night or that you snore heavily. Sleep apnea can disrupt your sleep and often coincides with being overweight. Check out what Harvard has to say about sleep and weight control.

Choose high fiber foods

Foods that are high in fiber such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts help you feel full and prevent over eating. Eat more of these foods and less refined foods to prevent hunger throughout the day. Make sure to eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice for the same benefit.

Start Small

Change just 1 or 2 things at a time until you’re able to make it a habit. Trying to change everything all at once becomes overwhelming and can cause burnout. Weight loss is often about experimenting until you find what works best for you. Trial a couple things out and determine if they are working well or not. Then try a couple more!

Lift Weights

or add some type of resistance training to your workout. Cardio doesn’t cut it for weight loss. You need muscle to burn fat. Just twice per week for about 30 minutes can help you reach your weight loss goals! Strength training includes weights, resistance bands, and even body weight exercises like push-ups and squats. Doing both weight lifting and cardio together will get you the best results, learn more here.

weight lifting for weight loss

Stay Consistent with Meals

Aim to eat at least 3 meals a day and keep consistent. Skipping meals or eating 1 large meal with a couple small ones can throw your metabolism off and make weight loss harder to achieve. Some people prefer to eat more often, which is fine as long as you’re waiting 3-4 hours between meals and snacks. Aim not to go longer than 6-7 hours between meals during the day.

Reduce Portions by One-Fourth

Cut your current intake by a quarter. This tip is way easier than counting calories. You don’t have to drop to teeny-tiny portions on day one. Reduce by a quarter and once that smaller portion is your new normal, reduce again to continue losing weight.

Don’t Bring Junk Food Home

Having tempting, unhealthy foods in the house just increases the likelihood that you’ll eat them! If you’re craving something less healthy then only buy a small amount to quench your craving. Then you won’t have the rest of the item sitting on the counter tempting you to overindulge.

Practice Stress Management

Chronic stress literally causes weight gain. If you are not  managing your stress levels it can hold you back from reaching your weight loss goals. Meditate, practice mindfulness, journal, or find something else that helps reduce your stress levels. Research shows that women with chronic, un-managed stress tend to have higher abdominal weight gain levels.

Stress management

Limit Added Sugars

I’m not saying you can never have ice cream or cookies again. What I am saying is that it shouldn’t be after every meal or even every day! When you do have them keep your portions small and don’t lose sight of the end goal. There is nothing about treats that will help move you forward with your weight loss.

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Weight loss tips

Anti-inflammatory Diet: Ultimate Guide

Everything You Need to Know About the Anti-inflammatory Diet

You are about to learn all the basics to the Anti-inflammatory nutrition plan – I don’t like the word “diet” but it catches people’s eye and it’s probably why you clicked to find out about it. But this is NOT a diet! WAIT! Let me explain.  This is a nutrition plan that should be adapted into your daily life permanently. Diets are short-term and only provide short-term results. The anti-inflammatory meal plan will be life long and provide you with life long results.  There is no pill you have to purchase or program you have to sign up for.  Anyone can learn to eat an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan and everyone can benefit! 

Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition

Why would you want to follow an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan? Well, for starters, EVERY chronic health condition in America has underlying chronic inflammation! ALL. OF. THEM. Yes, you read that right. EVERY chronic health condition can be managed better or be more likely to be prevented by changing eating habits to a less inflammatory plan. This includes the typical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But the list goes on to include: neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, auto-immune conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Again, I have not found a chronic condition that did not include chronic inflammation. Eating an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan can help manage these conditions. You don’t have any chronic health conditions? That’s great! An Anti-inflammatory nutrition plan will also help prevent you from obtaining one!

You will learn the foundations to an Anti-inflammatory meal plan in this post BUT you will need to individualize per your health needs. For example, Gout is an inflammatory condition in which too much uric acid builds up in joints and causes extreme pain. Individuals with gout may need to avoid or limit their seafood choices – however, those without gout (or a seafood allergy) should incorporate fish into their diet for the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. If you are not sure what individual modifications you need to make I suggest you consult with your physician or a Registered Dietitian for an individualized nutrition plan.

The Anti-inflammatory diet is a cross between the Mediterranean diet, a plant-based diet, and a traditional Asian diet with a few other tidbits sprinkled in. The healthiest people in the world follow a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet. They just don’t call it that.

The Anti-inflammatory Plate

You’ve probably heard of the “plate method” by now. If not you can view some research on it here and you can learn a lot about the USDA My Plate version of the plate method here. The plate method is useful for managing pretty much any nutrition related condition from diabetes to weight management to inflammation. The Anti-inflammatory plate looks a little different than other versions:

Anti-inflammatory plate

The plate is split into 4 main sections: Non-starchy vegetables, fruits, proteins, and starch. Protein and starch each get a quarter of the plate. Non-starchy vegetables need a little more space than fruits. Healthy fats are also an integral part of the anti-inflammatory meal plan. Healthy fats are noted on the side to emphasize that our portions of fats typically doesn’t need to be very large (think oils) but optimally are included daily. There is not a separate dairy category on an anti-inflammatory plate. Dairy can be included in other parts of the plate but it is NOT an essential food group. We can get all of the nutrients in milk from other food sources. Beverage choice is important and should mainly consist of water and teas. The most important part of the anti-inflammatory plate is the section that gets the most space: non-starchy vegetables. If this was a food pyramid, non-starchy vegetables would be the bottom or the foundation of the pyramid.

Anti-inflammatory Non-Starchy Vegetables

First of all, lets clarify what counts as a vegetable here. I often ask people what they’re favorite vegetables are and they will tell me “peas and corn”.  For an anti-inflammatory meal plan legumes and grains are not considered a vegetable. So peas (a legume) and corn (a grain) do not fit into the non-starchy vegetable group. Didn’t know corn was a grain? Check out this post to learn even more mind blowing facts about corn. For nutritional purposes and for the anti-inflammatory plate purpose corn will be considered a grain.

Since this food category is literally called NON-STARCHY the starchy vegetables also do not belong here. They belong in the starchy part of our plate with grains and legumes. Starchy vegetables include all types of potatoes, some root vegetables such as Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, and jicama, and winter squashes. They are healthy additions to many meals but should not replace your non-starchy vegetable at that meal. Anti-inflammatory non-starchy vegetables should be included in EVERY meal. But starting out, just aim to have them at least once a day and increase as you get more familiar and comfortable with these additions to your meals.

Here is a long, but not definitive, list of anti-inflammatory vegetables:

anti-inflammatory vegetables

What makes these non-starchy vegetables anti-inflammatory? The nutrients they contain. The wide array of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and prebiotics makes this the most important food group regarding fighting inflammation and maintaining health.  Non-starchy vegetables are also high in fiber and low in calories and starches making them ideal for individuals who are trying to lose weight or manage blood sugars (diabetes). Nearly every non-starchy vegetable can be considered anti-inflammatory. You can eat vegetables in almost unlimited quantities.

Leafy greens have been shown to reduce colon cancer risk, improve heart health, repair DNA damage, protect again osteoporosis, and assist with maintaining healthy digestion.  Read what the USDA says about Leafy Greens here.

Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals that are known to have anti-cancer effects. These effects include preventing DNA damage, inactivation of carcinogens (cancer causing agents), anti-inflammatory properties, and inhibiting metastasis (spreading of cancer cells). You can learn more about their anti-cancer benefits here. Cruciferous vegetables also help reduce cognitive decline, improve our body’s natural detoxification systems, and help fight pathogens (boost immunity).

Mushrooms help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars. They boost immunity and have anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. Mushrooms are unique in the fact that mushrooms should be cooked prior to consumption due to some potential carcinogens that are often found in common mushrooms such as button and portobello. Cooking mushrooms also helps make their nutrients more bio-available to our bodies (increased ability to absorb and utilize nutrients).

All vegetables contain a variety of nutrients (things that benefit our body) and the key in the non-starchy vegetable group is to get a variety of color and type.  Eat the plant rainbow! You can learn more about the different colors of our vegetables and fruits and their health benefits in the upcoming Anti-inflammatory Rainbow Foods series.

Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. Again, the key is variety. Certain nutrients need to be heated to be “unlocked” or become more bio-available to our system. Other nutrients don’t like heat and can be lost in the cooking process. Lycopene – an anti-oxidant found in tomatoes works better for us when tomatoes have been cooked. Vitamin C – found in many vegetables (and fruits) is often cooked out of foods if heated too long or at too high a temperature.

Fresh and Frozen non-starchy vegetables and fruits are just as healthy as each other. Research has shown that the freezing process often preserves nutrients versus fresh produce that has been picked prior to ripening and shipped thousands of miles before consumption. One tip is to consume fresh, local produce in season and purchase out of season produce frozen. You should limit your intake of canned vegetables. Notice I said limit and not avoid! Canned vegetables are still better than no vegetables at all.

When using canned vegetables consider the following tips: Always rinse and drain canned items before cooking/consuming. This helps reduce the sodium content and washes away some of the pesticides and chemicals on canned vegetables. Look for canned items that say “low sodium” or even better “no salt added”; again to help limit the extra salt intake. You can also find brands that do not use BPA in their can linings if avoiding BPA is important to you. The research on BPA is still mixed but many health companies are switching to BPA free containers and all baby bottles and formula containers are required to be BPA free in the USA.

Anti-inflammatory Fruits

Fruits are also high in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Many contain prebiotics that support our good bacteria in our digestive track. Adults need a minimum of 3 servings of fruit daily and kids need 2 a day. Preferably eat your fruit throughout the day instead of all at once. Fruit does contain natural sugar and for people who are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic, or have diabetes they  especially need to keep fruit portions appropriate. What’s a serving size of fruit? Well it depends on the fruit!  But a good guide for single fruits (apples, pear, peaches etc) is 1 serving = a tennis ball, berries = 1 cup, small fruits like cuties or plums = 2 fruits, melons or tropical fruits = 1 cup of 1 inch chunks. You can find more information on fruit serving sizes here. Below is the list of anti-inflammatory fruits; again it’s not an extensive list.

Anti-inflammatory fruits

Most nutrition resources will count fruit juice as a serving of fruit. For anti-inflammatory purposes, fruit juice does NOT count as a serving of fruit. Because fruit juice lacks fiber. The more fiber you intake, up to 40 grams a day, the lower your inflammation will become.  One of the essential nutrients of fruit is the fiber it contains! Also, without the fiber, the natural sugars in fruit get into your blood stream much faster – causing a bigger and quicker rise in your blood glucose. Whether you have diabetes or not – large rises in blood glucose (sugar) creates an inflammatory response in your body.  Here are some research links about blood glucose, insulin resistance, and inflammation: Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health (supports an anti-inflammatory diet), Chronic inflammation in fat plays a crucial role in the development of obesity-related insulin resistance (obesity and insulin resistance are inflammatory conditions!), and Inflammation and Insulin Resistance.

Most of the same things that apply to non-starchy vegetables also apply to fruit. Fresh and frozen are just as healthy as each other. Canned fruits are a little less healthy – they contain added sugars and lack fiber. See above for the importance of fiber.  Removing the skin of fruits (and vegetables) removes a lot of the fiber. Always aim to eat the skin of fruits and vegetables when possible. Apples, pears, peaches, and nectarine skin should be eaten.  Obviously some of them cannot be eaten (pineapple skin?!?). Use common sense here.

Dried fruit should be limited. A serving of grapes is 1 cup – but if you have diabetes a serving is 15 grapes. (You can read more about diabetic serving sizes here.) Just think for a minute how many bites of raisins equals 15 grapes? If you were to fill up on raisins, or any dried fruit, you would most likely have a severely large increase in your blood glucose with an equally as large inflammatory spike. Dried fruit should not be eaten alone or in large quantities. You can always top oatmeal or salads with dried fruit or bake them into granola bars, just don’t over do it. Most companies also add sugar to dried fruits – making them even sweeter! If you do use dried fruits, look for ones with no added sugars.

Anti-Inflammatory Starches

The starchy food group has a couple of sub-categories: Whole Grains, Starchy Vegetables, and Legumes.  All of these food groups go on the same spot of the anti-inflammatory plate. But each one has special properties and considerations.

Anti-inflammatory Grains

For a grain to count as anti-inflammatory it should be a whole grain. The definition of whole grains is a little vague. Most people would consider whole wheat bread or whole wheat bagels as a whole grain. But if you can’t tell already, I’m not most people. For a grain to be considered whole for an anti-inflammatory purpose, it should be un-milled. Think of quinoa or wild rice. Things made with whole grains are still better than bleached or refined grains. So there is a spectrum to the grain category. It’s always encouraged to make the most wholesome choice you can in regards to food choices. So whole wheat tortillas are still a better choice than white flour tortillas. Without further ado, take a look at the anti-inflammatory grains:

Anti-inflammatory grains

What about Gluten?  I knew you were thinking about it! It comes up all the time. Gluten is, well, unique. My opinion (supported by research, another paper), is that anyone with an autoimmune disease, cancer, or a nervous system disorder should avoid gluten. In general, wheat or gluten is not harmful, but it can be when your immune system is compromised. Many people have improvements in autoimmune conditions after removing gluten from their diet. You can always trial going gluten free to see if your symptoms improve – I strongly encourage meeting with a registered dietitian to make sure you are meeting all of your nutrient needs on a gluten-free diet if you choose to go down that path. If done incorrectly, you can become nutrient deficient which can cause other problems!

When purchasing pasta, tortillas, and breads – aim for ones high in fiber. A lot of pasta alternatives such as lentil pasta or edamame pasta have much higher fiber content than any wheat ones (even whole wheat). Sprouted breads make a healthier options in the bread realm. Again, look for fiber! There are healthy options every where.  Aim for 50% of your grain choices as whole grains (listed above) and another 30% as made from whole grains (whole wheat products for example). Limit refined grains to 20% or less of your grain intake.

Pay special attention to your portions of grains. In America we tend to cover our entire plate with pasta or rice when eating these foods. That is an excessive amount of starch and will lead to an inflammatory reaction in your body. Keep grains to a quarter of your plate (or less). If you are still hungry after eating a balanced meal with less starches then you can fill up on non-starchy vegetables, proteins, nuts/seeds, and small amounts of fruit.

Anti-inflammatory Starchy Vegetables

Potatoes get a bad rap. I don’t really know why, if I had to guess it started with the “avoid white foods” trend that is really unsound scientifically. If I could rewrite this saying I would say “Don’t eat unnaturally white foods” but no one asked me. Potatoes are actually highly nutritious. Although starchy vegetables don’t get as much of a bad rap, they still aren’t as consumed as often as they could be. Let’s take a look at this flavorful food list:

anti-inflammatory starchy vegetables

Starchy vegetables should be limited when a meal contains another starch. For example, you wouldn’t want to eat a baked potato and a cup of rice at the same meal. Soups or casseroles that contain several starches must be balanced with non-starchy vegetables and contain a healthy source of protein and fat for optimal blood glucose regulation and to prevent inflammatory reactions. Another thing to consider with starchy vegetables is how we prepare them.

Potatoes, for example, in and of themselves are actually very healthy for us. They contain large amounts of vitamin C and Potassium. But when we start adding butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, etc. to our medium baked potato it quickly explodes from about 150 calories to over 500 calories! Potatoes are high in several vitamins and mineral which vary depending on the type and color of the potato. Sweet potatoes are often considered much healthier than white potatoes, but again, it matters how its prepared. I’ve seen recipes that add so much butter and brown sugar to the sweet potatoes you might as well just eat a pie – and don’t even get me started about adding marshmallows on top! I think we are really great at making healthy food less healthy.

Anything can be deep friend now-a-days. Fried green beans, fried onions, fried okra, fried potatoes… Let’s not pretend these are actually healthy choices because they “contain” vegetables.

Jerusalem artichokes and jicama are extremely beneficial for us because they contain large amounts of prebiotics (types of fiber that feed the good bacteria in our intestines). Consider adding them to stir-fries or salads. You can even eat jicama sticks as a snack. Spaghetti squash makes an awesome pasta alternative. Experiment a little in this sub-category. You might be surprised.

Anti-inflammatory Legumes

What’s a legume? Glad you asked.  It’s something that grows in a pod. Nutritionally this included beans, peas, and lentils. Scientifically peanuts are also legumes but nutritionally they fit into the healthy fat/protein section with other nuts. Pretty much every bean is anti-inflammatory. This is where all the paleo lovers will hate my opinion. But I have based my opinion on facts and science (like this) not a fad diet. I digress… Beans and other legumes are a very important part of any healthy diet. Eliminating this entire food group from your intake is just down right unhealthy. You would be limiting your sources of certain phytonutrients, fiber, and plant-based proteins. The research is very clear on consuming a plant-based diet versus a diet high in animal proteins. To get adequate protein intake in a plant-based diet you will need legumes:

anti-inflammatory legumes

Beans, peas, and lentils have an average of 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup. They work great in almost any dish or cuisine depending on the legume. They are also wonderful options for those on a tight budget! I always respond to “eating healthy is too expensive” with “go buy some beans!”. Seriously this is a topic for another post, but eating healthy is NOT more expensive than eating unhealthy. It just requires a little more planning.

Legumes are extra special because they contain high amounts of protein. For vegetarians and vegans they make up a large portion of the protein section on a vegetarian/vegan plate. Even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, legumes can be a wonderful protein for you too! If you’re having red beans and rice for example, there is no need to add sausage (or any type of animal protein) to complete the meal. Beans are the protein and rice is the starch (don’t forget to add some veggies). But if you were having chicken and baked beans, chicken is the protein and baked beans become the starch. So this is the one instance where two starches at a meal is completely healthy and even encouraged. Just be mindful of portion sizes, especially if you have diabetes.

Why would someone who is not vegetarian or vegan care about plant-based proteins? You’re about to find out.

Anti-inflammatory Proteins

ALL Animal proteins are inflammatory. Let me repeat that very important statement. ALL animal proteins are inflammatory. You can argue all day long that this is not the case but you would be wrong. It’s not a popular thing to say. But its honest and backed by science. Does that mean you have to avoid all animal products from here on out if you want to avoid inflammation and get healthy? Not exactly. There are several things you can do to reduce the inflammatory by-products in animal proteins; which I will cover in another post. To start, just try to reduce your animal protein intake by 50%. You can cut back by reducing you portion sizes, going vegetarian a few days per week, or skipping animal proteins at 1 meal per day. Choose an option you feel would work for you and your family. You can also choose healthier options in the animal protein section by choosing lean proteins, skinless poultry, and avoiding processed meats.

A word about Dairy: Cheese, milk, and yogurt contain protein and may be part of the protein section on your plate. Milk and yogurt also contain starch. Research is mixed on the anti or pro inflammatory effects of dairy. For some people, namely those with autoimmune disorders or chronic pain disorders, dairy can be inflammatory. For others, dairy may be anti-inflammatory or it can be a perfectly healthy choice. If you are following the anti-inflammatory meal plan but are still struggling with symptoms you may wish to do a 2 week dairy-free trial.

You can get all the nutrients in dairy products from other food sources so dairy is not an essential food group – check out this resource for more information. In my work with individuals who suffer from chronic pain I have successfully counselled many individuals to a dairy-free anti-inflammatory diet. Many reported going dairy free changed their lives. However, others have done a dairy-free trial with me and found no benefit.  Listen to your body. If dairy aggravates your symptoms – make sure you’re eating a well balanced anti-inflammatory diet and you’ll be just fine without dairy. But if you enjoy your milk or yogurt and have no ill-effects then by all means, continue!

If you do choose to keep dairy in your diet choose hard cheeses, goat milk products, and Greek yogurts to support an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan. Soft cheeses and regular yogurts can have higher inflammatory effects. Also, I’ve decided to rename conventional yogurt to: *drum roll* Refrigerated Ice Cream. Seriously, it’s really sugary and more like a dessert – not part of a healthy breakfast! Read the nutrition label. You’ll be surprised some of those tiny little yogurt containers have as much sugar as a soda.

For now lets focus on getting more anti-inflammatory proteins in your diet to replace animal products. There are 4 main anti-inflammatory protein sub-categories. Legumes were discussed above. Nuts and seeds will be discussed below in the anti-inflammatory fats sections. Here, we will focus on soy and seafood.

Anti-inflammatory soy options include:

  • Edamame (soybeans)
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Soymilk
  • Soy-nuts

Many people believe the hype that eating soy will alter your sex hormones in unnatural ways and wreck havoc on your health. This is ABSOLUTELY FALSE! Whole soy foods actually help maintain proper hormone function, prevent breast cancer, reduce inflammation, and should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Here are some resources of the health benefits of soy: Dietitians of Canada, Cleveland Clinic, Nutrition Facts with Dr. Michael Gregor,and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This is another place paleo diet lovers will call me crazy. But again, science – not opinion here.

Soy has been shown to be protective against cancers (including breast cancer), helpful for preventing and managing heart disease and diabetes, useful for increasing longevity, and has many additional healthy benefits.  The only people who should avoid soy are women who have an active diagnosis of breast cancer or those with a soy allergy, of course.

Soy foods that are not included in the anti-inflammatory nutrition plan: Soy protein isolates (this is where some research shows negative health effects) and soybean oil (highly refined and pro-inflammatory). Limit these foods in your diet. Whole soy foods contains vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients while these foods/products are highly refined and missing said nutrients.

Anti-inflammatory Seafood

Seafood that is higher in omega-3 fatty acids has the biggest anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential (meaning we only get them from eating them) and most Americans don’t get enough. The current ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids has been estimated at 20:1. Optimal ratios have been suggested at a 4:1 or even greater 2:1. Research is still pending in this area but we know we don’t get enough omega-3s and we get too many omega-6s. So its time to make some changes. One way to boost omega-3 consumption is to eat more fish! But we do need the right types of fish. (note if you have a seafood allergy please do not consume foods you are allergic to). Although national guidelines encourage fish twice per week, to get optimal anti-inflammatory benefits I recommended closer to 4 times per week. Also, aim for variety in your seafood choices.

These are listed from highest omega 3 content to lowest and none of these fish are in the top mercury contaminated group:

Anti-inflammatory Seafood

Limit these high mercury containing fish to few times a year:
  • Mackerel (King)
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)

Canned seafood can be just as healthy as fresh seafood, but should be canned in water and not oil. Seafood that is not listed, such as cod or catfish, is not necessarily inflammatory, but just lower in omega-3s. Try to choose higher omega-3 content fish at least 50% of the time. Also, don’t kid yourself – deep fried seafood of any kind does NOT count as anti-inflammatory. Preferred cooking methods for seafood include: Grilled, steamed, baked, or poached. Be aware of how much butter you use when preparing or eating your seafood as well.

If you are strict vegan or a vegetarian who does not eat seafood, see below for plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to a few nuts and seeds, seaweed also contains omega-3s.

Grass-fed meats and some eggs have omega-3 fatty acids as well, but in much lower amounts. Those amounts alone are not enough to help us reach our needs of this vital nutrient.

Anti-inflammatory Fats

Hopefully you have learned by now that the low-fat craze was doing more harm than good. We need fat. Healthy fats are essential to good health. The type of fat is what is most important. For anti-inflammatory purposes omega-3 fatty acids and omega-9 fatty acids are the most researched and supported. Omega-6 fatty acids in too high amounts causes pro-inflammatory effects. Omega-6 fatty acids should be avoided, what we can do is choose oils that are higher in the other fatty acids as our main cooking oils. Saturated fats should be monitored and not eaten in excess. Trans-fats must be avoided completely. Anti-inflammatory fats include a wide variety of foods.

Anti-inflammatory fats

In general, any nut or seed butter is a healthy choice. Peanut butters, however, should only be purchased without trans-fats. Most name brands contain the hydrogenated oils so you most likely will need to purchase a natural peanut butter. The nuts/seeds above that make great cooking oils are noted, however some oils do not stand up to heat well. No-heat oils should only be added after cooking or used as salad dressings. The 3 nuts/seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids are also noted. If you have a fish allergy or are vegan you may wish to increase your consumption of these nuts/seeds to meet your omega-3 needs.

Canola oil is a little controversial on it’s anti-inflammatory properties. I included it in the list but do not recommended it as your main cooking oil. Olive and Avocado should be your main cooking oils. When cooking with oils try to avoid extreme heat. Keep your oven at 400 or lower and the stove top around medium most of the time. If your oil is smoking you are cooking it at to high a temperature.

Coconut oil, butter, and other cooking fats not listed should only be used in moderation. A few times a week is acceptable. But butter 3 meals a day, 7 days a week is excessive. Coconut oil is okay, but it isn’t as healthy as many people would have you believe. Again, a few times a week is great – just don’t make it your only cooking fat.

Many people shy away from nuts and seeds due to their high calorie content. Don’t be one of those people. We only absorb about 75-90% of the calories in nuts and seeds (almonds for example). You can enjoy a variety of nuts and seeds and their many health benefits without worrying you will pack on pounds. Again, use common sense – if you’re going through a pound of nuts or seeds in a few days you might need to cut back. There is no reason to limit them to “a handful a day” either. Find your balance.

Anti-inflammatory Beverages

This section is going to be short. There are really only 2 anti-inflammatory drink choices. Water and tea. Black coffee up to 2 cups a day is acceptable but not necessarily anti-inflammatory. There is so much research on coffee that its hard to really determine what’s what. Your mocha cappuccino with a shot of espresso and heavy on the whip IS NOT COFFEE! Seriously people – stop fooling yourselves. Artificial sweetener containing products are pro-inflammatory and not allowed on this meal plan. Fruit juice, sports drinks, and soda are also pro-inflammatory. A good quality, low sodium vegetable juice would be acceptable. However, I prefer that you just eat the vegetables – again, we need the fiber. Stevia sweetened options are okay. Milk and milk substitutes are unique. They are not considered anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory; rather it depends on the individual and their health conditions.

Teas: black, green, white, oolong, and herbal teas are really all great choices that are high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Be wary of herbal teas that could potentially interact with medications. 2-4 cups of tea a day is optimal. I really enjoy turmeric and ginger teas. Many teas offer a myriad of health benefits. Some teas contain caffeine so be aware of the time of day when consuming them.

Anti-inflammatory Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices not only provide anti-inflammatory benefits but also have anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, and anti-viral properties. Some herbs and spices aid in digestion. Many contain phytonutrients and vitamins and minerals. You can use fresh or dried herb and spices to obtain positive health affects. This is not an extensive list of herbs and spices but the most commonly available. Consider a fresh herb when possible.

Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices

Try experimenting with different herbs and spices. Get a variety in your diet. Fun fact: Herbs are the leafy part of the plant and spices are everything else. Spices range from seeds, bark, roots, and other plant substances.

Anti-inflammatory Sweets

70% or greater cocoa content dark chocolate and desserts made with whole fruit. That’s basically your options for anti-inflammatory sweets. The good news is that Pinterest has a ton of wonderful healthy dessert recipes. You can find some on my profile here if you want to take a peak. Most people know that dark chocolate has health benefits. The trick is to get high quality dark chocolate. Your favorite name brands do not often get up to that 70% cocoa content so double check your labels.

Now realistically most people are going to eat pro-inflammatory sweets. I’m not saying you can never have another brownie or your favorite candy ever again. I am saying to eat less. Everyone should limit refined sugars due to their inflammatory nature. A good rule of thumb would be limiting the less healthy sweets to once per week or less. Also, just because you are eating inflammatory desserts once a week does not mean you can eat the entire pie! Appropriate portions are a must when it comes to sugary food items as explained in the anti-inflammatory fruits section above.

Final Thoughts

Be honest with yourself. Does your intake contain the foods listed consistently? Are you eating vegetables and fruits on a daily basis? Do you get enough seafood in your diet?  Your grain and legume intake – are they whole grains or highly refined? Pick one category of foods to improve upon at a time. Work your way to 80% of your food choices as anti-inflammatory to get the biggest benefit from this nutrition plan. Also, give yourself a few weeks to notice a difference in your health. Eating one spinach salad with quinoa and salmon isn’t going to erase your chronic health condition. Over time you will reap the benefits of changing your nutrition habits to an anti-inflammatory plan. It’s never too late to start eating healthy.

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