In Canada, 40% of adults are overweight. And 20% of Canadian adults are obese. (1) The main contributor to this: the food you eat.
The food you eat, or, your diet is one of the main contributors to your health and well-being. Altering it can be one of the more challenging endeavors. Especially when it’s a complete overhaul.
The typical Canadian or American will get more than 50% of his/her calories from carbohydrates. (2) It’s likely that nearly half the food you consume in a day will contain wheat or gluten. The remainder of daily calories will come from fats (35%) and protein (15%). (3) At the clinic, we recommend a gluten-free or paleo-style nutrition plan. While nutrition is unique to the individual, there are some general guidelines you can follow.
A typical gluten-free or paleo-template diet contains the following macronutrient split: 20% carbohydrates, 65% fats, 15% proteins. Now, before we get stuck on numbers and percentages, I would like to say that this is not law. For every advocate or research paper claiming the above percentages are optimal, you’ll find another who argues that his/her percentages are in fact better.
Let us not get stuck on the details. This is fine-tuning. It comes after you’ve already changed your diet and are looking to optimize it based on your particular athletic or wellness goals. Today, we focus on the (often uncomfortable) transition from a standard Canadian diet to a gluten-free or paleo-style diet.
This transition begins at the grocery store. It is here where your purchase decisions need to shift. It is also one of the more confusing and potentially frustrating endeavors you’ll partake in. Fortunately, after guiding hundreds of patients through this diet, we have picked up many tips for making your transition comfortable. Below, you’ll find seven tips designed to make healthy grocery shopping a breeze.
1. Organic Produce
Are you familiar with the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen? This is a report put out by the environmental working group (EWG) to determine the foods containing the highest levels of pesticides. The general rule here is to purchase the dirty dozen as organic. The clean fifteen and other foods can be purchased conventionally grown or non-organic as they have been shown to have low pesticide levels.
However, this simple approach has come under scrutiny. A recent study showed that the pesticide levels on even the dirty dozen were well below safe ranges. (4) And instead of ranking dangerous pesticides higher, the EWG ranked all pesticides equally.
You’ll likely be ingesting safe levels of pesticides if consuming conventionally raised produce. This should be ok for those with a great baseline level of health. However, if you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, or, have a family history of chronic illness, I’d recommend sticking to the list:
The dirty dozen: (ranked from highest to lowest pesticide load)
- Sweet bell peppers
- Hot peppers
The clean fifteen:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
- Cantaloupe melon
2. Dairy and milk alternatives
A quick rundown on dairy allergies and sensitivities:
- Dairy allergies and lactose intolerance are two separate issues. They are not the same.
- Lactose intolerance is caused by not having enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Symptoms include:
- Stomach pain
- Those with dairy allergy experience symptoms because their immune system reacts as though milk and other dairy products are a dangerous invader. There are two main types of milk protein — casein and whey. Casein, the “solid” part of milk, comprises about 80 percent of milk protein. Whey proteins, found in the liquid part of milk, make up the other 20 percent. Those allergic to dairy react to either whey or casein. Common symptoms of a dairy allergy include:
- Bloody stools
Going dairy free is easier today than it has ever been. There is no shortage of dairy-free options. In most grocery stores, you will find cow’s milk alternatives (like almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, soy milk) in the fridge beside cow’s milk.
There are now dairy free yogurts. These are often made from coconut milk or almond milk. These will be found near to the dairy yogurts.
3. Know your produce codes
The 4 or 5-digit codes found on produce help to identify it. These are the stickers you’ll see on apples at a grocery store.
- 5 digit codes beginning with the number 9 are organic
- 5 digit codes beginning with the number 8 are genetically modified
- 4 digit codes are conventionally raised produce
4. Get used to reading ingredient lists and product labels
Gluten is hidden and re-labeled as many different ingredients. In this post, I go through all of gluten’s aliases and the types of food it is often hidden in.
5. Gluten-free does not equate to healthy
Gluten-free cookies are not good for you. Unfortunately, they have the same effect on our blood sugar as cookies with gluten. Marketing firms are trying their best to market gluten-free as though it is a healthy alternative.
Transitioning to a paleo-style diet is not about swapping all the wheat-related products in your house for their gluten-free alternatives. Instead, it is about transitioning to a diet that puts whole foods before packaged and refined foods.
Think of it this way: if it comes in a bag or a box, it’s best avoided. Gluten-free or not. The aim of the Paleo diet is to increase your consumption of real foods – fruits, vegetables, and meats.
6. Oils to use and oils to avoid
Vegetable oils sound like they should be a staple in any kitchen. They’re vegetable based and vegetables are healthy, right? Vegetables are healthy, yes. Vegetable oils, however, should not be in your kitchen. They are not healthy.
The vegetable oils in question are also known as industrial seed oils. They are called this as they were historically used for industrial purposes. Canola oil was used as a high-temperature lubricant on steamships during World War 2. (7) Industrial oils are high in calories and low in vitamins, minerals, and general nutrition.
Even more alarming, the use of industrial seed oils has lead to a dramatic change in our diet. Specifically, an exponential rise in unhealthy fats or omega-6 fatty acids. (8) High levels of omega-6 fatty acids are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, depression, gut issues, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)
Common industrial seed oils include:
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Vegetable oil
The oils to include in your kitchen should instead be high in nutrition and (relatively) low in calories. The preferred oil in a paleo kitchen include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil (not for high-temperature cooking)
- Butter and/or ghee
7. This is a step-by-step process. And it is successful
95% of diets fail.
Have you seen that headline before?
Why even start something that has a 95% success rate of failing?
Fortunately, that “fact” is not true. It originated in a 1959 study of only 100 people. (16) Since that time, there have been numerous studies that illustrate the successes of nutrition changes. Dr. Wing and Dr. Hill of Colorado have been tracking the success rates of obese patients following weight loss regimens. The results:
The average the respondents had maintained a 67-pound weight loss for five years (17)
One of the major findings of their study was that the weight-loss regimens needed to be unique to the individual. Cookie-cutter approaches didn’t work. (18) This is a hallmark strength of the paleo-template. The template can be adapted for personal tastes/preferences, genetic susceptibilities, and individual goals.
Going Paleo comes down to eating real food. The food our ancestors ate for thousands of years. With that in mind, the combinations and individuality that can be created are endless.
The first step towards adopting a gluten-free or Paleo-style diet?
Don’t try to do it 100% overnight.
This is a lifestyle change, it’s not a diet. Instead, start with a small, gradual step, like removing pop. Once you have the first step mastered, move on to the next. It’s ok for this process to take 6-12 months. Most sustainable practices take that long!
Now, I want to hear from you!
What grocery shopping practices help you make healthier choices?
Also published on Medium.