When looking at any diet, people tend to focus on all of the foods they can’t eat. Although this is an important aspect of any protocol, it’s not the whole story. The foods that you add in are just as important as the foods you take out. I follow a paleo style of eating and typically avoid inflammatory foods like grains and dairy. But more importantly, I try and add in nutrient dense foods that promote gut healing and overall health.
Growing up, I ate the average diet of any kid in the early 2000s: Go-Gurts for breakfast, a PB&J for lunch, and cereal for dinner. I was open to trying new foods, but stuck to these staples on a day-to-day basis. When I first started researching healing diets, like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I focused on cutting out all of the foods that were potentially undermining my ability to heal. While this a great first step, I knew it wasn’t the whole picture. After reading books on the Paleo diet, Autoimmune Paleo, and the Wahl’s Protocol, I noticed a recurring theme: Eat nutrient dense foods. It’s seems obvious, but I was certainly missing foods that packed a nutritional punch.
So one by one, I started to incorporate more nutrient dense foods into my diet. Some were fairly easy, like eating more greens, while others were a bit more unfamiliar and intimidating. How do I cook this? Where can I find this in the grocery store? What will my family and friends think? These were some of the common questions I faced.
Now I eat these foods on a regular basis and never think twice about it. Here are the top 5 foods that I could’ve never pictured myself eating a few years ago but have since grown to love:
Starting off with the most intimidating food of all: offal. When I read Sarah Ballantyne’s book, “The Autoimmune Protocol”, she suggested consuming offal a few times a week. I had to Google the word 'offal' because I didn’t have the slightest clue what it was. I was horrified by the realization that is was organ meat. Anything beyond chicken breast was new territory for me, so preparing and eating organ meat seemed impossible. I found a recipe for preparing liver and onions, and set forth into uncharted territory. I'll be honest, it took a few tries for me to appreciate the taste on liver, but now I consume it regularly.
I came across sardines after my doctor told me I should supplement with calcium. I was already taking a handful of supplements and wanted to increase my calcium intake with food instead. Sardines are high in calcium because you consume the whole fish, bones and all. Similar to chicken liver, sardines are an acquired taste but don't knock 'em 'til you try 'em. These are also a great snack on-the-go because they come canned and ready to eat. Choose high quality, wild caught sardines whenever possible.
Papaya wasn’t a difficult food to try, but I was unfamiliar with this tropical fruit initially. Most times I buy a papaya at the grocery store, the cashier asks me what it is. I came upon papayas while searching for information on digestive enzymes. Papayas naturally contain enzymes that help aid in the digestion process, helping you get the most nutrients out of the foods you consume. They also taste amazing and satisfy a sweet tooth!
Bone broth is one of the first new foods that I tried when I started my healing journey. Bone broth is made by slow cooking animal bones, typically chicken or beef, in water to create a nutrient-rich broth. By cooking the bones over a long period of time, essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are extracted from the bones and help aid in gut healing. Bone broth can be made with a variety of spices and herbs depending on personal preference, but this basic recipe can help to get you started.
Probiotics are a hot topic today in the health world. More than 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, so probiotics are vital to support a healthy gut microbiome and regulate immune function. I supplement with probiotics, but a good quality supplement can be pricey. I like to include fermented foods, like sauerkraut, into my daily meals to increase my probiotic intake. Other fermented foods include kimchi, kombucha, and kefir.
Changing your diet is an incredibly daunting task, and most people give up because they don’t know where to begin. For anyone looking to upgrade their diet, start by simply incorporating more nutrient dense foods into your diet rather than just eliminating the unhealthy offenders. Not everyone will be a fan of sardines and bone broth, but the key takeaway is to keep an open mind. Give new foods an honest chance, your taste buds may surprise you! Over time, the nutritious foods will crowd out the unhealthy ones and you will make a sustainable shift towards a healthier you.