First of all I want to start off with a fun fact, not all fiber is the same, nor does it work the same in the gut. Fiber can be complicated. However, today I am going to try and break it down for you. Dietary fiber refers to plant carbohydrates that we humans cannot digest because we lack the digestive enzymes to break them down. These fibers include cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, lignin, gums, beta-glucans, fructans, galactooligosaccharides, and resistant starches. Each part of the plant (stem, root, leaf, etc) and its age all are factor into what fibers are present upon consumption. See Table 2 below for more info on each type of dietary fiber.
SOLUBLE VS INSOLUBLE
There are two main categories generally used to categorize dietary fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. We need both for optimal gut health. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and often has a high water holding capacity, creating a gel like (viscous) substance. This gel like substance can firm up and soften stool, and therefore can help reduce severity of diarrhea while also softening hard stools. However, it also slows down the speed of which food/fibers travels through the gut and can reduce the absorption of nutrients. Soluble fiber is also highly fermentable by gut bacteria. Insoluble fiber on the other hand, does not dissolve in water, does not create a viscous gel, and generally is poorly fermented. Instead it acts like straw, bulking up the stool, supporting movement out, and cleaning the gut along the way helping to slough off dead cells. Soluble fiber is more gentle and can be better tolerated if someone has gastritis or intestinal inflammation, while insoluble fiber is more rough and can be irritating to inflamed tissue.
Although both soluble and insoluble fibers can be degraded by colonic bacteria, soluble fibers are fermented at a much higher degree. Fermentation of fibers usually happens in the first part of the colon, where bacteria breakdown the fibers that we cannot digest and produce hydrogen gas as a byproduct. Therefore, fermentable fibers are known as prebiotics, or food for good gut bacteria. The most fermentable dietary fibers include fructans, galactooligosaccharides (GOS), pectin, gums, beta-glucans, and resistant starch type 3. Fermentation produces energy for the beneficial microbes and provides humans with short chain fatty acids (mostly acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid). Short chain fatty acids provide humans with a lot of different health benefits including 1) they stimulate mucous production in the colon which aids in elimination and encourages the growth of akkermansia (a keystone species of gut health), 2) they decrease the pH of the colon which prevents the growth of pathogenic bacteria, 3) they provide fuel for the colon cells, 4) they enhance immune function, 5) they help prevent colon cancer, and 6) they can inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the liver. Each unique bacteria preferentially ferments different fibers and therefore produces different types of SCFAs. Therefore, in order to reap these benefits, we need to eat a wide variety of plant fibers.
Viscosity, or gelling power, varies amongst fiber types. Some soluble fibers are viscous and all insoluble fibers are not. The higher the viscosity, the greater the gelling power, and the higher the water holding ability. Viscous fiber SLOWS stomach emptying and stool transit time. Therefore, it can help increase satiety and provide relief when struggling with loose stools. However, if soluble fiber is also fermentable (most soluble fiber), then it does not provide constipation relief. Since fiber is fermented in the first part of the colon, it loses its water holding capacity, and may therefore contribute more towards constipation (especially in supplemental forms like wheat dextrin). However, if the soluble fiber is highly viscous and NOT fermentable, like psyllium, it can increase stool water content throughout the entire length of the colon, providing relief for both loose stools and constipation.
Viscous fiber can also reduce absorption of nutrients by binding to them and reducing digestive enzyme function. Therefore, highly viscous soluble fiber is found to be helpful at reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. However, if someone is already struggling with malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies, too much soluble fiber may further impair nutrient absorption. BUT, if stools are loose, slowing them down with soluble fiber, will increase the time allowed for nutrient absorption, thereby increasing the ability to absorb nutrients from the diet.
Soluble and viscous fibers include pectins (apples, citrus, berries), gums (oats, barley, legumes), beta-glucans (oats, barley, rye, and mushrooms), and psyllium. They are all highly fermentable, except psyllium. The more processed (heat & pressure), the less they retain their viscosity. Therefore, muesli eaten cold with yogurt is going to retain more of its viscosity than Cheerios. Another example would be a functional fiber, partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG). This functional fiber has been chemically altered to remove the viscosity of raw guar gum. Therefore it no longer has gel forming properties but remains soluble and fermentable.
NON-FERMENTABLE, NON-VISCOUS INSOLUBLE FIBERS
Non-fermentable, non-viscous, insoluble fibers not only provide benefit by increasing fecal bulk and speeding up transit time, they also support detoxification. Since insoluble fibers help support regularity, they are essential for eliminating environmental toxins, chemicals, and excess hormones. If stool stays stagnant in the colon for too long, we can reabsorb these chemicals, toxins, and hormones, leading to increased inflammation and hormonal imbalances, and eventually leaving us feeling crummy, fatigued, and inflamed. Can anyone relate? If you don't have your daily poo, you don't feel like you?? Insoluble fibers also help increase stool bulk which aids in the laxation of the colon and reduces straining. Interestingly, research shows that the larger the fiber particle, the more potent the laxative effect. Therefore coarse wheat bran, which is high in insoluble fiber, is a much more effective laxative than fine wheat bran.
YOUR LIKELY NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBER
Unfortunately, 95% of Americans are not getting enough fiber. That means only 5% of Americans are actually meeting the daily recommended intake of 26-38g per day for women and men respectively. And although you may think you are getting enough fiber, research shows that only 1 in 20 actually do! With the rise of grain-free, bean/legume free, and gluten free diets, daily fiber intake can take a significant fall even in health conscious individuals. Ensuring adequate fiber intake is important because it helps eliminate waste products via stool, increases satiety and supports a healthy weight, and feeds good gut microbes. By eating a variety of plant foods, you will get adequate amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber and plenty of colorful polyphenols to boot! A general rule of thumb is to aim for ~10g of fiber per meal. If you are not sure how much fiber you are getting each day, track it to get a rough estimate, then make intentional changes.
But wait! If you have been eating a low fiber diet, tummy rumbles and gas may be more pronounced initially as the bacterial composition and stool viscosity changes. Therefore, to avoid discomfort make sure to gradually increase fiber over time, drink plenty of fluids, and move your body daily to help support proper elimination. Unfortunately, certain types of fibers may exacerbate GI symptoms for some individuals. For example, if you are struggling with diarrhea, you may want to limit your intake of insoluble fiber rich foods until the diarrhea is resolved. Alternatively, if you struggle with constipation, slowly increasing your insoluble fiber intake can be helpful. If you struggle with SIBO you likely need to be careful with some fermentable fibers, to reduce gas and bloating, until SIBO is addressed. In general, a healthy gut thrives off of a variety of plant fibers. Therefore, just because you cannot tolerate one type of fiber right now, doesn't mean you may not be able to tolerate it again in the future. It just means that you need to be mindful of which fibers you can or cannot tolerate. Ideally, work 1:1 with a gut health dietitian to help you navigate dietary and supplemental fibers and address the root cause of your digestive woes.
When using fiber supplements, you first have to ask yourself why do I need a fiber supplement? Is your diet lacking in fiber, then definitely start here first, gradually increasing fiber rich foods in your diet. If struggle with diarrhea you start by increasing soluble fiber rich foods and reducing insoluble fiber rich foods until loose stools improve. If this doesn't work, then try psyllium or Benefiber for some immediate support. Whereas if you struggle with constipation, you may consider adding in coarse wheat bran or using psyllium husk for relief. Finally, if you have SIBO then you may want to avoid inulin/FOS fiber supplements and try Sunfiber (PHGG). The table above will help guide you towards a fiber supplement that may help address your current needs. Ideally, work with a gut health dietitian to navigate all the other fiber options available and help you select a fiber supplement to fit your unique needs. And remember, if your symptoms worsen on a fiber supplement, please stop taking it, and ask your dietitian how to proceed.
For some fiber rich recipes check out the links below:
Turmeric Quinoa Porridge
Festive Massaged Kale Salad
Hearty Curry Vegetable Soup
Whole Grain Harvest Cornbread
Lemon Curry Four Bean Salad
FeedMe Belly Bowl
Apple Banana Breakfast Muffins
Chickpea Skillet Flatbread
4. Gropper and Smith. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th Edition.
In practice, many of my clients come to me not eating enough protein, which is leaving them hangry and fatigued. Often they tell me they cannot go for long periods without eating, and are constantly snacking or grazing. Plus, they are not noticing any improvement in lean body mass despite increased effort at the gym or on the trails.
Although the RDA for dietary protein is 0.8g/kg per day (about 10% of calories), this is based largely on the MINIMUM needed to avoid deficiency, but not to support optimal metabolic health. The acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for protein is 10-35% of daily calories. However, research suggests that 1.2-1.6g/kg (or about 20% of calories) is ideal for metabolic benefits. For an average 130lb woman eating ~1800kcal per day that equals to 75-90g per day.
Interestingly, on average Americans eat about 16% of their daily calories from protein. A vast majority (60%) of that protein is coming in at ONE meal and less than 15g of protein is consumed at breakfast. This practice may not be helping Americans. Researchers have found that a protein intake of ~30g per meal has positive effects on lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis when compared to meals containing <20g per meal. Furthermore, spacing total daily protein out over 3-4 meals is a very positive habit to enforce for many reasons. Find out more below.
So why is protein important?? Protein is required for cellular growth and repair, the production of enzymes that are necessary for sustaining life, for hormone production (thyroid, dopamine, adrenaline, melatonin, insulin, etc), for proper fluid balance in the body, nutrient transport and storage, for healthy immune function, and soooo much more. Plus, protein helps increase our satiety hormone leptin, speeds up our metabolism, improves blood sugar control, and reduces snacking behavior. Therefore, by spacing protein out evenly over 3-4 meals per day, you will feel more energized, free of constant cravings, and better to able to listen to your hunger and satiety cues. Without enough protein, especially quality protein, our health declines.
What is quality protein? The type of protein you choose is definitely important to meet your health goals. Conventional meats and dairy have a less desirable nutrient profile. Therefore, I recommend a variety of grass-fed beef, wild caught seafood, pasture raised poultry and eggs, pasture raised pork, organic beans and legumes, and organic grass-fed dairy if tolerated. Organic whole grains, nuts, and seeds also provide small amounts of protein. Supplements such as grass-fed collagen peptides, grass-fed whey protein, or organic pea/hemp/rice protein powders can be helpful to meet your goal.
Although protein is very important, more isn't always better. Pairing a small portion (4oz) of protein with both carbohydrates and fats is ideal. Not only does this macronutrient balance increase satisfaction (and satiety), it also increases nutrient density, and supports hormone balance.
Meats, Seafood, & Poultry — 3 ounce portions or ~ 1/2 cup (20-25g)
Beans/Legumes — 1 cup cooked (~15g)
Meat Alternatives (Extra Firm Tofu/Tempeh) - 3oz (~15g)
Whole Grains — 1 cup cooked (~8g)
Nuts & Seeds — 1/4 cup whole (~9g), 2 T Nut Butter (~6g)
Dairy Products — 1 cup milk, regular yogurt, or 1 oz cheese (~8g)
Chicken Eggs — 1 egg (6g)
Protein Powders — 1 serving (10-20g) varies a lot depending on the product
To those of you who made it to the end, thank you! Are you mindful of your protein intake? Are you already meeting the goal of 25-30g per meal or is it a struggle for you? I would love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below!
If you do not or cannot drink cow's milk (or goat and sheep) and rely solely on non-dairy milks, then this post is for you! It's high time for a nut milk makeover!! Not only to boost your health and keep your wallets a bit more full, but also to keep you out of the grocery store as often during these quarantine days. The only tools you need to make a creamy, rich, and smooth nut milk is a high speed blender and a fine mesh nylon nut milk bag. It's soooo simple to make and the quality and cost far outweighs what you can buy at the store. I know I might be preaching to the choir, but there is no shame in repeating it---because we all get lazy, me included. So here is some inspiration to cultivate a nut milk routine.
WHY YOU SHOULD PRIORITIZE HOMEMADE NUT MILK
Firstly, commercial nut and grain milks are expensive when really they shouldn't be. For example, Califia Almond Milk (which is one of my preferred commercial brands because it doesn't contain carrageenan and is fortified with calcium), costs ~$5 for 6 cups of nut milk. The ingredient list is as follows: water, almonds, natural flavors, calcium carbonate, sunflower lecithin, sea salt, locust bean gum, gellan gum, potassium citrate. For 45kcal per cup you get 450mg of calcium (via calcium carbonate fortification), and about 5 conventional almonds. That's it, for 80 cents per cup of non-organic nut milk. Wow.
Secondly, commercial nut and grain milks (and yogurts), are often lacking in calcium because the ingredients are naturally low in calcium. This is unfortunate because dairy free diets if not properly implemented with the guidance of a dietitian or knowledgeable health care provider, may contribute to calcium deficiencies. Some brands, like Califia, are fortified...which is great. However, they use calcium carbonate, a calcium supplement that has a low absorption rate. In addition, absorption is further compromised in situations where individuals have low stomach acid. As we age, we naturally produce less stomach acid, therefore the elderly struggle the most. However, even younger individuals live with inadequate stomach acid levels due to chronic stress, use of TUMS and PPIs, H. pylori infections, hypothyroid, etc. Furthermore, calcium carbonate can be constipating, and cause gas and bloating. So long story short, it's not ideal for many individuals, especially if you are dealing with digestive issues.
Thirdly, store bought nut milks contain a lot of stabilizers like locust bean gum, gellan gum, guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan, etc. Although these ingredients are deemed safe by the FDA, they may contribute to digestive symptoms such as bloating or discomfort in some individuals. I personally, try to limit gums and additives when possible.
IS THE COST AND TIME WORTH IT??
Heck yes! Why spend so much $$ on commercial non-dairy milks for such little quality?? If you are only getting 5-6 almonds per cup, with a good dose of poorly absorbed calcium carbonate, and a handful of fillers, why not make your own with a variety of nuts and seeds?!?
What is the cost? For organic, raw, sprouted, and fortified Mineral Rich Pumpkin Seed Milk, I spent close to $2.00 for a 48oz serving (including the fortification with supplements). This comes to about 35 cents per cup. Now, who can beat that price for the quality? If I wanted to increase the creaminess with a full cup of pumpkin seeds versus just a 1/2 cup, it would come to $3 for 48oz, or about 50 cents per cup. If you compare that to a commercial equivalent, Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Almonds (which provides 19 almonds per cup and costs about $7), it would cost you about $1.75 per cup....and the nuts are not even organic, nor is there calcium added. So, you definitely come out on top if you make it at home. And if you think it takes too much time, think again. From start to finish it takes about 5 minutes to make homemade nut milk. Much less time than a quick grocery store run.
THE EVER CHANGING MINERAL RICH NUT MILK
So my version of nut milk, is not just any nut milk. Most recipes you see on the web are for almond milk, cashew milk, sunflower milk, etc. Yeah they are great, but why not mix it up a bit? Each nut and seed has unique nutritional benefits. Almonds are rich in vitamin E and magnesium, Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium and zinc, sesame seeds are rich in calcium, and on and on it goes. Why stick with just the same old almond, cashew, or even oat? Why not make a super rich and creamy nut/seed milk that is always changing??
In addition to choosing a variety of different nuts and seeds, I also make sure to add an easily absorbed powdered calcium supplement, either calcium citrate or whole bone meal powder. Calcium citrate is absorbed about 25% better than calcium carbonate and it does not require stomach acid for absorption. Sometimes, I also like to add sunflower lecithin powder for added creaminess and emulsification. Without the sunflower lecithin, homemade nut milks tend to separate. Plus there is an extra bonus because sunflower lecithin is an excellent source of choline! Unfortunately, 90% of Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of choline per day. Foods richest in choline include liver and egg yolks, as well as animal proteins. Some plants provide choline (Brussel sprouts, soy, and broccoli) but in much lesser amounts. Generally, women need at least 425mg per day and up to 550mg if they are breastfeeding. Therefore, sunflower lecithin can be a great tool for anyone limiting the previously mentioned foods.
HIGHLIGHT ON MY CURRENT FAVORITE NUT & SEED COMBO
These nuts are pretty amazing because just one nut meets over 100% of your daily selenium needs. What is selenium? It is a trace mineral that along with iodine, and zinc plays a very important role in healthy thyroid function and helps reduce oxidative stress within the body. A diet low in selenium can thus have far reaching effects on metabolism, energy, and ability to combat free radicals. However, as with everything too much can be harmful to our bodies as well. Since Brazil nuts are the most concentrated source of selenium, limiting yourself to 1-2 per day is all you need.
If you haven’t incorporated pumpkin seeds into your life, you should start now. These tasty seeds are super rich in minerals zinc and magnesium, both of which are very important for optimal health. Interestingly, many people tend to be deficient in magnesium, either due to poor intake of whole grains, nuts and seeds, or also because the soil is becoming more depleted of this mineral. Either way focusing on getting more magnesium into your diet can have far reaching positive effects. Magnesium can help reduce headaches, reduce cramping, increase overall energy, control blood sugar, and just generally help reduce inflammation. Plus, organic pumpkin seeds are very cheap. What more do you want?
So, get out your blenders, purchase a nylon nut milk bag (it makes all the difference, trust me), and get creative! Swap the pumpkin seeds for sunflower seeds for another low cost alternative, or use a variety of different raw nuts and seeds that you have available right now in your home. Either way, mixing it up, is the best. Out with the old, and in with the MINERAL RICH! No more slacking, it's time for a nut milk revolution!!
Fortified Mineral Rich Pumpkin Seed Nut Milk
Makes ~6 cups
1/2 - 1 cup raw organic pumpkin seeds (or whatever variety of raw nuts and seeds you wish to use)
1-2 organic Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons NOW Sunflower Lecithin Powder
3 teaspoons NOW Calcium Citrate Powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Splash vanilla (optional)
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup/honey or 1-2 pitted medjool dates (optional)
Place the nuts and seeds into a bowl and cover with warm water. Allow the nuts and seeds to soak 4 hours or overnight. Strain and rinse the nuts and seeds and put them into the blender. Add 5 cups water and the remainder of the ingredients. Blend on high for 60 seconds or longer.
Line a bowl with the nut milk bag and pour the nut milk into the bag. Squeeze out the milk, leaving behind the nut pulp and fibers. Discard. Add an extra cup of water to your bowl to increase volume to 6 cups if desired. Transfer to a large jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Note: If you want to kick it up a notch you can also add 1 teaspoon of spirulina to the recipe. Read more about spirulina and its' benefits here, here, and here!
Nutrition Facts (per cup)- using 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds: 90kcal, 3.2g protein, 4.5g carbs, 7g fat with 23% of daily value of calcium, 16% of magnesium, 45% selenium, 5% of iron and zinc, and 17% of choline.
So I know I am going against the grain by saying this (especially as a dietitian)….but I don't like weekly meal plans or Sunday Meal Prep. There I said it. I see the appeal, and for some it may be helpful, but it may not be helping YOU. Meal planning principles take away from intuitive eating. It also reduces the potential to explore creative and seasonal cooking, which can make cooking so much fun in the first place! This is why I NEVER create week long meal plans for my patients. I provide them with recipes and put together a Sample Meal Plan based on their unique needs and preferences to be used as a template moving forward, including timing of supplements, portion sizes, etc. It is meant to be a guide, not the law. Meal plans can be a barrier to change and in my opinion do NOT support intuitive eating and food freedom.
I am a firm believer that if you listen, your body will guide you towards what you need nutritionally speaking. However unfortunately, there is a lot of nutrition confusion in the public due to generalized nutrition statements usually heightened by mass media, Instagram "influencers", propaganda, and well meaning friends/family members who are "into nutrition". So many times, people come to me with a variety of food rules (and anxiety around food) that they "read about", "heard about",etc. Most of the time, they have not been given individualized nutrition recommendations by a qualified nutrition practitioner. Consequentially, they are left with many nutrient gaps and possible nutrient deficiencies. However, if you are able to quiet the nutrition "noise" given by unqualified individuals and mass media, and simply focus on eating a whole foods diet limited in processed ingredients and rich in a variety of plants, slow starches, quality proteins, and fats, then the nutrient density of your diet will be more robust. Plus, if you eat a balanced whole foods diet, eating intuitively and listening to your body cues becomes a much easier practice. There is no need to follow a fancy meal plan using expensive superfood ingredients. With minimal mental power expended, you can create healthy meals that you CRAVE and WANT (and your body needs) in the moment using whole foods, no matter what kind of diet you may be following for therapeutic/religious/cultural reasons. How do you do that? Casual creative cooking!
The thing is, meal planning and Sunday Meal Prep can be helpful for some. They do expose you to different foods and methods of preparation, and also offer portion size control. For some people this rigid practice helps reduce stress around food. BUT, they totally disregard intuitive and mindful eating practices. Rather, you are eating food that you prepared on Sunday and may not actually want or desire to eat on Wednesday. What happens then? Either food waste, or lack of satisfaction, and food boredom. I know when I am not satisfied, I crave or want what WILL satisfy me. If I eat the pre-prepared bean/grain salad pictured above 3+ meals a week, I am not going to feel satisfied even if it is a healthy whole food based recipe. It may even cause me to desire choices that are not going to help me reach my health goals, especially if the meal I prepped is still leaving me hungry. Also, pre-made meal plans do not address what YOUR body needs. Eating the same meal over and over again can increase the likelihood of the development of nutrient deficiencies due to lack of variety. Nutrient needs fluctuate hourly, daily, and weekly depending on your activity levels, age, stress, menstrual cycle, etc. Food cravings are often signals that the body needs certain nutrients found in that food. By working with a skilled dietitian, they may be able to bring to light your cravings in relation to possible nutrient gaps in your diet.
Since meal plans and Sunday Meal Prep take away our innate ability to "listen to our bodies", I encourage casual creative cooking (CCC) as an alternative. With some tools, you can do this too and save mental power, save time, enjoy foods that you want here and now, and be more able to listen to your body cues. It also helps you be creative with what you have in the fridge instead of following a recipe to a “T”. Recipes are great to help you find new flavor profiles and cooking techniques, but cooking this way all the time, takes away flexibility. Buying foods that look good or sound good to you at the market or grocery store and preparing something on the whim is going to be so much more satisfying and fun! Plus, casual creative cooking can help you become more comfortable creating meals with "what's in the fridge", thereby reducing food waste, and naturally opening up a few days a month when "take out" or a dinner out can be a fun tasty way to fill the grocery gap.
So how can you do this?? Of course a little prep is required…but not all at once, and not a ton. I like to compare this to cleaning. If you clean the toilet one day, vacuum the living room the next, water the plants on the third, etc, etc… they all only take a few minutes each. BUT if you do them all at once, it seems daunting, and it DOES take a lot of time…usually leaving you stressed and exhausted. It isn’t fun. But if it’s in the moment, you have good music playing, and it’s only a few minutes here and there, you do not even realize that you spent time doing it.
In order to be successful with casual creative cooking, think staples. A healthy balanced meal usually consists of four main parts; a slow starch (carbohydrate), a protein, a fat, and veggies (cooked or raw). Plus, a few other fun things as you have them available. See the Bastyr Healthy Plate for reference. The main thing that helps you succeed is preparing some starches or veggies casually throughout the week, just like you would causally clean your home. For example, steam a bag of Yukon gold potatoes (or any tuber). This can be done without any real effort. Once they are steamed, you can eat the potatoes cold in a salad, quickly chopped as part of a breakfast hash, added into soups, reheated and eaten as is (with butter of course), or mashed into potato pancakes. You can use them in any way that YOU WANT IN THE NOW. Another example is you can cook some lentil pasta, rice, or quinoa, or simply drain a couple cans of beans. Once they are prepared and ready, they are easy to add into stir-fries, salads, or reheated with leftovers. The possibilities are endless when they ARE in your fridge. If they are in the cupboard, out of sight, out of mind waiting for that “perfect” recipe, then they will not make it on to your plate. As simple as that.
For veggies, casual prep is also essential. When you decide to use some chard or kale for a meal, wash and chop the whole bunch at once. It only takes a couple more minutes, and then you have easily available prepped greens to throw into omelets, pasta, one skillet bakes, smoothies, anything! They are just waiting for you to grab a handful! Same goes for onions, cabbage, etc. Also, buy veggies that don't require any prep at all, like sugar snap peas, baby bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, avocados, or bagged broccoli/cauliflower florets for easy snacking. All you have to do is buy them, as you crave them!
When it comes to protein, this is the only ingredient that requires a little bit of forethought. I have a freezer full of different pasture-raised protein options. An hour or two before a meal (or earlier that day), I ask myself, what sounds good? Then I pull that out of the freezer to thaw in some cool water. I also usually keep a few “easier” staples around in case I come home too late and don't have the time to thaw a protein. These include extra firm tofu, eggs, liver pate or deli meats, and packaged chicken sausages. I also always have canned sardines and salmon in the pantry just in case. Naturally, cooking larger portions of protein, also allows me to have leftover protein for the following day or days, making life even easier moving forward. For example, if I want a burger, I thaw a whole pound and make 4-6 burgers to eat throughout the week, or freeze for later.
Fruit is usually easy because it doesn't require cooking or much preparation. Generally, as part of a anti-inflammatory lifestyle, aiming for 2-3 fruit per day is ideal. Buying a variety of different fruits once again offers you a variety of nutrients. Read my article on Fruitphobia if you are concerned about the carbohydrates in fruit.
Finally, thinking outside of the box is essential to causal creative cooking and food freedom. If you let go of the idea that a certain food needs to be prepared or served a certain way, then you have endless possibilities. Not everything has to be Instagram worthy. If it tastes good, and if it satisfies you, then you did it! Just aim to have all four components of a balanced meal: a slow starch, quality protein, quality fat, and veggies. For example, the burger can be so many things. It can be used in a traditional hamburger with a whole grain bun and side salad, it can be cut up into a veggie soup with some steamed potatoes and handful greens, it can be served like a steak with roasted squash and asparagus, or it can be crumbled into tacos, etc. You get my drift. Also, casual creative cooking allows you to utilize leftovers in a different way then they were originally prepared.
So, what do you think? Is meal planning a MUST for you? Or would you rather learn the way of casual creative cooking, listening to what YOU WANT AND NEED IN THE NOW?
For this new year I encourage you to try something different. Your success as a human is not based on how many perfectly prepared work lunches you have stacked in your fridge. Instead of spending money on pre-made meal plans that don't address your unique needs and preferences, or spending hours planning out meals for the entire week, instead use the money and time to take a cooking class with a friend or buy an ethnic cookbook for recipe inspiration. THIS will help increase your kitchen skills and allow you to cook more creatively and intuitively. Just like anything, causal creative cooking is a skill that is honed over time. But it is a skill that will support you (and your family) forever. Your children will learn from you, and their children will learn from them. And yes, cooking from recipes is a great way to learn and experiment, but don’t let recipes and meal plans define you. Cooking should be fun, tasty, and nourishing. Try not to make it so complicated, and you (and your family) will reap the benefits of casual creative cooking, intuitive eating, and food freedom! You can follow me on Instagram to see how I incorporate casual creative cooking (or CCC) into my meals everyday. Please share with me how you incorporate CCC at home. And if its not for you, and you thrive on meal plans, please share your thoughts. Once again this is just an alternative to support food freedom and intuitive eating.
Some Staples I like to Have in My Kitchen to make Casual Creative Cooking Easy
(I don't usually have all of these at once, but a variety from each category depending on what I crave, what looks good at the farmers market/grocery store, what is in season, etc. Frozen foods are always great to have on hand when I am in a pinch. Also, this does not include all of my pantry staples.)
Protein (fridge): organic deli meats, liver pate, extra-firm tofu, organic chicken sausages, grass-fed jersey/guernsey yogurt, cooked protein leftovers
Protein (freezer) wild caught fish, different cuts of pastured-raised chicken, beef, or pork (including ground).
Protein (pantry): wild caught skipjack light tuna, canned salmon, or sardines in olive oil or water
Starch (fridge): steamed rice, quinoa, or potatoes/sweet potatoes, cooked lentil pasta, rinsed/drained beans, corn tortillas, GF bread.
Starch (freezer): cauliflower gnocchi, GF bread, corn tortillas
Starch (pantry): canned beans, rolled oats, pastas, whole grains, winter squash, potatoes
Veggies (fridge): broccoli sprouts, chopped hearty greens, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli/cauliflower, fennel, Brussel sprouts, baby bell peppers, pre-trimmed green beans, cucumber, sugar snap peas, leafy greens (washed and stored), fresh herbs (usually cilantro and parsley), onions (green or red/yellow usually), leeks, garlic, whatever is on sale and in season
Veggies (freezer): riced cauliflower, frozen spinach/butternut squash
Fruit: whatever is fresh and in season and frozen berries.
Fats/Oils: Grass-fed butter/ghee, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nut/seeds and their butters, coconut oil, canned full fat organic coconut milk
Dried Herbs/Spices (always) – TJ’s Taco Seasoning, TJ’s Everything But Bagel Seasoning, TJ’s Chili Lime Seasoning - see below for some common flavor profiles.
Toppings/sauces: goat & sheep cheeses, capers, garlic, pesto, a couple different dips (hummus/tzatziki/pesto), hot sauce, mustard
DIFFERENT SPICE PROFILES
Italian: fennel seed, chili flakes, oregano, thyme, basil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil
Mediterranean: Rosemary, thyme, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil
German: parsley, caraway, green onions, chives, apple cider vinegar, butter
Spanish: Smoked paprika, capers, garlic, parsley, red wine vinegar, olive oil/avocado
Mexican: cumin, paprika, chili, cinnamon, garlic, cilantro, lime/lemon, olive oil
Indian: curry, cardamom, star anise, cumin, parsley, lemon/lime, butter/ghee
Moroccan: ras el hanout, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, allspice, cloves, olive oil/butter
Some Local Bellingham Cooking Classes:
Bellingham Food Co-op Community Classes
In the Kitchen Class by Ciao Thyme
Tiny Onion Cooking School (for kids)
Cookbooks For Cooking Inspiration:
Orange Blossom & Honey
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Grandma’s German Cookbook
Fresh seasonal fruit is so delicious! There is nothing that compares to a bright red strawberry picked in the middle of June or a fresh papaya drizzled with lime juice when traveling in Hawaii. Especially in the hotter months, cooler water-rich foods like fruit are more often desired than a hot meal.
Unfortunately, with the popularity of low carbohydrate diets many individuals are fearful of fruit. Many paleo and low carb diet advocates recommend sticking to only small amounts of low sugar fruits like berries stating that other fruit provide too much unnecessary sugar. I have had multiple patients in practice that are too afraid to eat more than a ½ cup of berries per day!
I agree that it is important to reduce your intake of added refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, sugar, and other processed foods. However, this does not immediately place fruit into the same category. Although fruit does contain sugar (glucose and fructose), it is not found in the same concentration as high fructose corn syrup in sodas, pastries, pancake syrups, etc. For example, soda contains a sugar ratio of 60% fructose to 40% glucose. One 20 oz bottle of Coke contains roughly 36 grams of fructose. Now compare that to a banana, which contains 7 grams of fructose, or a medium sized apple with 13 grams fructose. When do you sit down and eat 7 bananas in one sitting? Never! Plus, that banana comes in a completely different package, rich in fiber, and made by nature.
However, this way of thinking can cause harm. You are not addicted to sugar if you enjoy fruit. Fruit is rich in easy to digest carbohydrates, antioxidant rich vitamins and minerals, gut healing fiber, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Plus, they are easy to throw into a bag and hit the road. Rather, if fruit is lacking in your diet you may be missing out on a lot of health benefits.
REASONS WHY FRUIT ARE GOOD TO EAT
Fruit are Rich in Polyphenols: Polyphenols are plant compounds that are found most concentrated in the outer parts of plants. These chemical compounds have been studied in relation to their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities. Each type of polyphenol has different health benefits. Therefore, it is important to consume a variety of unpeeled fruit (unless it's a melon or banana of course). Polyphenols have been shown to help:
Fruit Are Rich in Soluble Fibers and Prebiotics:
Soluble fibers and prebiotic fibers help support the growth of good gut bacteria. When these fibers reach the large intestine, they are fermented by bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids which help fuel colon cells and prevent colon cancer.
Fruit Are Rich in Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a nutrient that is very sensitive to heat, light, and air. Therefore, whole fruit become an excellent source of vitamin C. It is suggested that the current RDA for vitamin C is too low (75-90mg) and that we should be shooting for at least twice as much from whole foods. Especially if you are under a lot of stress, exercise a lot, or have an inflammatory condition, getting plenty of vitamin C is essential.
Fruit Are Easy to Digest Whole Food Carbohydrates for Active People:If you are on the go and active, especially in the summer months, then fruit can be a great way to fuel your activity. Generally, your carbohydrate intake increases with your amount of activity. If you are unsure what to pack to fuel a mountain bike ride, trail run, or hike, pack some fruit! It comes in its own protective barrier, and is easy to eat!
Fruit Can Help You Digest Protein: Some fruit contain unique enzymes that aid in digesting proteins and help reduce inflammation, support wound healing and relive constipation. You can even buy digestive enzymes in supplement stores made with these fruit enzymes.
Daily fruit consumption depends on the individual. Some can tolerate more than others due to activity levels and certain health conditions. For example, individuals with a fructose intolerance or severe gut imbalances may not do well with apples, pears, cherries, figs, and mangos. On the other hand, those that have metabolic disorders like diabetes and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) may have to stick to lower sugar fruits like kiwi and berries or pair their fruit with protein for better blood sugar balance. If you have any of these issues it may be best to work with a dietitian to help you find out what fruit and what portion is right for you.
Don't fear fruit!! If you are a healthy individual, eating seasonal organic fruit to your liking can provide many health benefits and should not be avoided. I generally recommend 2 servings of fruit per day and adjust the types of fruit based on the individual needs of the patient.
Like to read? Then get your evidence based nutrition information here! All posts written by Selva Wohlgemuth, MS, RDN Functional Nutritionist & Clinical Dietitian