I had a client the other day who called me crying:
“I’m so confused with this FODMAP diet, Taji. The foods that are supposed to ‘bother’ me on it don’t give me any problems, but ‘safe foods’ always leave my stomach in knots. I’m so sick of being on restrictive diets like this. I’m afraid to eat anything these days.”
Okay, so maybe you don’t have major digestive problems or other health concerns. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t gotten confused with all the diet, fitness, and health trends in a given day. One day red meat is bad, the next day it’s good. One day fat is the devil, and now we’re putting coconut oil on everything. One day carbs give you diabetes, the next day they’re the life force for all living beings.
I’ll be honest. If I wasn’t a health and wellness professional, I’d be confused too. And this isn’t to say that I still don’t get sucked into health trend traps every once in a while. But on the whole, I’ve learned to sift fact from fiction. Check out these 6 foods I want you to eat on a regular basis. These foods aren’t just key to maintaining a healthy weight, they promote overall health and wellbeing.
1. Sweet Potatoes
Photo credit: Marin Mama Cooks
You might think potatoes and other high-carb starches are on the no-no list. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve been raving about the health benefits of sweet potatoes for a while now. And for a time being, I was on a health kick where I was eating them for breakfast (yes, breakfast). To be fair, every once in a while I do still eat them for breakfast. Why?
The secret to sweet potatoes being such a wonder food is their high beta-carotene content. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant found in many orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (think carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash). The body takes beta-carotene and converts it into vitamin A, an essential micronutrient you need for a variety of physiological processes.
I could go on and on about why vitamin A is so good for you, but there’s one characteristics in particular I’d like to focus on: your skin! Vitamin A does wonders for dry skin, acne, and rosacea. Did you know that the retinols your dermatologist prescribes are actually derivatives of vitamin A? These topical cream, gels, and other treatments use vitamin A to exfoliate your skin, banish acne, and fight signs of premature aging. Sounds too good to be true, right?
You’re absolutely right. The downside of topical retinoid is that it can often make your skin super dry. That’s why I propose to getting your vitamin A from foods and letting your skin glow from the inside out. Working vitamin A-rich foods like sweet potatoes into your diet is a great way to improve skin health without a ton of fancy creams or makeup. Try my anti-aging breakfast for a simple way to start the day with sweet potatoes!
2. Raw Sauerkraut
Photo Credit: Integrity Botanicals
Raw sauerkraut might not totally be on your radar, and that’s totally okay. Few people really know about the benefits of fermented foods, but they really are the hallmark of the microbiome. And if you take a minute to read my post on gut health, you’ll learn that health and wellbeing truly begins in your gut. Fermented foods are thus a great way to get more probiotics and healthy bacteria in your diet and improve your digestion!
Why raw sauerkraut? If you’re new to fermented foods (other than yogurt), foods like kimchi or other pickled vegetables might feel overwhelming. Some fermented foods do have an acquired taste, and that’s why it’s important to start small and set realistic goals. I find with many of my clients that raw sauerkraut tends to be a great introductory food into the world of fermented foods. It can easily be eaten as a side dish with rice or quinoa, packed into a sandwich on whole grain bread, or put on top of a frittata for a savory punch!
3. Plain Kefir
Photo credit: The Little Pipe
Kefir is another probiotic-rich food I encourage you to get into your diet. For starters, one cup provides at least 30% of your recommended daily value of calcium and 11 grams of protein. For my clients who like yogurt, milk, and other dairy products, I’ve found it’s been easy to incorporate kefir into their diets. I especially enjoy kefir in a post-workout recovery shake.
Why multiple probiotic foods? Because as great as fermented foods are, they all have different advantages and disadvantages. Kefir, for instance, provides an overwhelming amount of probiotics. But it’s generally pretty low in fiber, and we’ve learned over time that probiotics feed on fiber. That’s why it’s important to drink kefir with fiber (i.e. a smoothie), or get a different type of probiotic-rich food during the day that also has fiber (i.e. kimchi).
4. Red Meat
You would think I’m not a fan of red meat. But that’s not true at all! In moderation, I think red meat is healthy and a great source of many essential nutrients. For starters, red meat is high in protein, which is essential if you live an active lifestyle.
You’ve probably heard about red meat in terms of iron content. I know there are plenty of foods out there like black beans, kale, and other leafy greens that are a good source of iron. But I find with many clients that these forms of iron aren’t very bioavailable. That is, your body has a really hard time extracting the iron out of foods like black beans or other legumes. For some of my clients, red meat is actually a better choice than plant-based sources of iron. It provides them with more protein, more iron, and more B12 than plant-based proteins.
Does this mean you should gorge on steak and burgers every day? Of course not. Over the years, I’ve tried different diets and lifestyle plans. I’ve ultimately learned that moderation is a wonderful principle when it comes to diet. So while I don’t think you should completely avoid red meat, eating it on the daily isn’t ideal either. Stick to 1-2 times a week to reap the maximum nutrient benefits of this food.
Photo credit: Daring Gourmet
It’s a well-known fact between all my friends and family that I’m obsessed with this fresh root and digestive aid. Almost every morning, I drink hot water with fresh lemon and a few slices of ginger. The combination is not only delicious, but it’s also very cleansing and a great way to get my day started.
Ginger reaps numerous health benefits. I personal love it for its digestive benefits. For those of you with IBS, GERD, and other digestive ailments, ginger is a natural food that can help with nausea, heartburn, and other gut issues.
Ginger also has very potent anti-inflammatory benefits. It has been linked to boosting immunity, helping with joint pain, and even the fighting the common cold. Work this wonderful root into your diet through any (or all) of the following ways:
- Make a healing tonic with hot water, lemon, and fresh ginger
- Add freshly grated ginger to curries, stews, and other meals for a hint of warmth
- Mix tamari, olive oil, garlic, and ginger for a simple salmon/seafood marinade
6. Brown Rice
Photo credit: Honeyville
Why do I love this carb? Because it’s relatively cheap, easy to prepare, tastes great, and provides an ample amount of fiber.
I know carbs have been getting a bad rap in recent years, but I’m here to tell you it’s not about whether you eat carbs, it’s about the kind of carbs you eat. Carbohydrate doesn’t always make you fat. For some individuals, it provides them with key nutrients and calories to recover after a hard workout.
Take this little personal story that you might like. For years, I followed a low-carb diet because I thought it was healthy and good for me. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I had no energy and felt like crap 24/7. Turns out, I needed more carbs. Now, I’m leaner than I’ve been in some time. My secret? I get a steady source of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in my diet throughout the day. I don’t follow a ridiculous low carb diet anymore. And as a result, I look and feel better.
Here’s an important take away from today’s post: health and wellness ‘gurus’ make it their mission to label foods as either good or bad. It’s much easier to explain to someone that broccoli is good and ice cream is bad. But anyone who knows anything about health knows that this definition is way too broad. Health doesn’t operate on a binary of good food or bad food. We also know that the absence of disease doesn’t indicate health. Instead, health operates on a spectrum. There might be foods that provide more nutrients than others, and there might be foods that provide more emotional fulfillment than others (brownies anyone?).
The point is, I want you to follow an inclusive diet that nourishes you from the inside out. I want you to follow a diet that keeps you happy and sane. When you focus on practicality, that’s when health will come along for the ride. When you focus on little things you can do every day to eat better, that’s when eating well doesn’t feel like a chore. And when you eat right, that’s when you become the best version of yourself.
Thanks for reading today’s post. I encourage you to share this with friends, family, and other loved ones.