The food you eat is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The food you eat either makes you healthier or will make you sicker. The problem often occurs in knowing which foods do what and trying to figure out what food is healthy can be confusing. Our modern diets of processed foods are deficient in many very important nutrients, especially antioxidants, B vitamins, and other minerals that are critical to support your gut health, energy metabolism, and natural detoxification processes - three things that are critical for your health and the way you feel.
By removing the foods that make you sicker and filling your diet with foods that support your health, you can nourish your body, make sure that it has what it needs to get energy and nutrients from the food you eat. This, in turn, can end feelings of fatigue and exhaustion, digestive upset, skin issues, and more!
Toxins and Detox
A toxin is something that is able to cause disease or that can damage your body in some way. Most of us think of things like pollution or pesticides when we hear the word toxin. But even substances that we can’t live without, such as water, can be toxic at high doses. This doesn’t meant that you should stop drinking water, it means that you need to become a good listener when it comes to your body and learn to interpret what it is telling you. If you drank so much water that you felt sick, you would probably stop well before the amount of water you drank became toxic to your body. It is a little harder to know when to stop with other substances such as toxins from foods, but once you learn to listen to what your body is telling you, that becomes easier to determine.
Your body is designed to manage a small amount of toxins. It has it’s own built in detoxification system that is constantly working to eliminate any toxins you consume or are exposed to. But that system can quickly get overwhelmed, especially if you aren’t aware of where you are exposing yourself to toxins. Think of it like a jar of water inside a paper bag. Everything you do is either adding a drop of water to the jar or helping the water evaporate more quickly. The problem is that you can’t see how full your jar is so you never know which drop is going to make it overflow and overwhelm your detoxification system.
Very few people feel sick when they eat a small amount of “toxic” food, but continually exposing yourself to them can cause a very slow onset of symptoms that you may not realize are connected to foods you have been eating your whole life. Because this process can be very slow, you might also not realize how bad you feel until you remove all the potentially harmful foods from your diet for awhile and start feeling better. I have had patients come back to me after completing a dietary reset and tell me that they had no idea how bad they felt and they couldn’t believe that they had lived that way for so long.
When one part of this system gets sluggish or stops working properly, everything else starts to slowly backup and fall apart. It may be a desperate situation by the time you experience any noticeable symptoms, or you may feel something is off very early on depending on how well your body compensates. Science has separated our body into separate systems, and many doctors treat them as separate systems, but the truth is that all of our systems are all interrelated and what happens in one system affects the others whether we realize it or not.
You can ingest toxins from your food (bacteria, parasites, chemicals like pesticides, or substances naturally present in some plant foods called anti-nutrients). If they make it through your digestive system and into your bloodstream they eventually find their way to your liver where they are broken down and eliminated from your body via urine, stool, or sweat (less than one percent of toxins in your body are eliminated via sweat).
Detoxification is happening continually inside your body (mostly via your liver), but you need adequate nutrients in order to keep it happening efficiently and effectively. The best way to make sure that your body keeps up with the detoxification process is to avoid exposure to toxins in the first place. But making sure that you are eating a diet that is high in nutrients that aid in detoxification is also important. These nutrients include B vitamins, folic acid, antioxidants, vitamin E, vitamin C, glutathione, and amino acids. If you try to regain your energy and rebalance your hormones without addressing the toxins coming into your body and ensuring you have adequate nutrients to support the detoxification process, you’ll end up right back where you started.
The following foods are the most common causes of inflammation and damage to your body. Not everyone has a negative reaction to all of these foods (with the exception of vegetable and seed oils, those should be avoided by everyone), but it is impossible to know if you react until you complete a reset or elimination diet (my ebook, The 30 Day Energy Reset, has one for you to follow if you need help getting started on that).
Grains & Gluten
Gluten can be harmful if you have gut issues because your immune system can get confused and attack your thyroid tissue instead of the gluten (I address this more in depth in The 30 Day Energy Reset book), but there are several other reasons why consuming gluten and grains can be contributing to your fatigue.
Eating grains has been linked to a wide variety of health disorders including most autoimmune conditions, food allergies, some cancers, nutritional deficiencies, and mood and nervous system disorders. This is because all grains contain substances called “anti-nutrients” that actually bind the very nutrients our bodies need to function so that they are not available for use by our body.
Gluten is one of the most difficult to digest plant proteins. In people who have a sensitivity to gluten, the problem is that gluten increases the level of a molecule called zonulin in the body. Zonulin likes to loosen the tight junctions between the cells lining the gut making them leaky. The action of zonulin is triggered by the gliadin protein in gluten.
Gluten isn’t just a problem for those with celiac disease. Others who have a reaction to gluten (or who simply feel better when it is removed from their diet) are thought to have something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
There are also people who have absolutely no issues with gluten. These people do not experience any measurable effects on a systemic or cellular level when consuming gluten. Removing gluten from their diet does not improve any of their health conditions or impact their energy levels. It is unclear why there is such a broad spectrum of responses to gluten but overall diet, gut microbiome, and genetics are all likely factors.
Why am I recommending that you avoid gluten then if some people can tolerate it? Because more than 97 percent of people who do have celiac disease are not aware that they have it. This is because there is a wide range of symptoms that can vary from person to person and many of those symptoms do not lead doctors to test for it (or consider non-celiac gluten sensitivity). There is also a lack of understanding what causes someone go from being able to tolerate gluten to making them unable to tolerate it. So, if you are feeling anything less than amazing, it is probably a good idea to avoid gluten. If you do not think gluten is an issue for you, I still recommend following a reset diet such as the one in The 30 Day Energy Reset and then adding gluten back into your diet during the reintroduction phase.
Vegetable & Seed Oils
Vegetable and seed oils are made from the seeds of plants such as corn, soy, and canola. Historically, foods were cooked in fats that came from animals, such as butter or lard. These animal sources of fat have key nutrients in them such as vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin K2. By the 1950s animal-based fats were being condemned for their saturated fat content and substances such as margarine and seed oils started showing up at the dinner table. Just how drastically have these things changed? Since 1900 the intake of soybean oil has increased more than 1000 times and linoleic acid (the primary fatty acid found in seed oils) has increased by more than three times.
There are three big reasons why these oils should be avoided:
They contain high concentrations of linoleic acid which research suggests is harmful when consumed frequently.
They are easily oxidized (damaged), and consumption of oxidized oils is associated with numerous diseases.
There is not any strong evidence that they protect against heart disease in humans and there is evidence that these oils may actually increase your risk of heart disease.
The processing these oils need to undergo to be considered edible should also give you pause. If you are curious, you can watch THIS VIDEO about how canola oil is made. You’ll find that the product that you see on the shelf of the grocery store has been mixed with chemical solvents, exposed to high temperatures, and chemically deodorized and bleached before it gets bottled. Animal fat sources are generally less processed and not exposed to nearly as many toxins before they make it onto store shelves.
There is almost no nutritional value in these oils either when compared to something like grass-fed butter which contains vitamins A, E, and K. So, given the health problems vegetable and seed oils contribute to, it is wise to avoid them as much as possible.
Processed Foods & Refined Sugar
Processed foods and refined sugars are some of the worst foods we eat. Processed foods are full of chemical additives, trans fats, grains, and refined sugars. All of these things can damage your gut and contribute to inflammation in your body, which make you feel sluggish and tired, and contributes to many modern diseases.
Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a package of food? Chances are that you have and you’ve probably wondered what sodium benzoate or soy lecithin actually is. After spending a second wondering what any of those things mean, you probably tossed it into your cart with the assumption that if it wasn’t safe to consume it wouldn’t be in your food. That’s not exactly true.
Consider a substance like food dye. Some of these colorings have been linked to behavioral issues in children and studies show that we are consuming far more artificial food colorings that we think we are. One study found that that the nine artificial dyes approved in the United States likely are carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems, or are inadequately tested. This is just one example of how harmful the additives in processed and packaged foods can be.
Added sugars are harmful because they promote overeating and weight gain. When you consume more fuel that you need (something that is easy to do with foods that have a high sugar content), you exceed the sugar storing capacity of your liver. Then your liver converts the excess sugar into fatty acids which re-enter your bloodstream and are stored throughout your body as fat. The other problem with excess sugar is insulin. When you eat sugary food, insulin is released into your bloodstream and causes your ability to burn fat as a fuel source to shut down so that the sugar can be used as energy first. Insulin makes sure that your muscles have full energy stores first, and then it converts any excess into fat, which is also stored.
After your blood sugar has been decreased (from the sugar being stored in your muscles and converted to fat), the mechanism that tells your body to stop producing and releasing insulin has a slight delay so your blood sugar levels continue to fall until the mechanism kicks in. This causes an increase in your appetite and production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers the release of sugar from your liver to increase your blood sugar levels. This, combined with the fact that you probably also just ate something because your appetite increased causes a cycle where you always have excess sugar in your system and are constantly storing it as fat.
In the world of conventional nutrition, dairy is considered an important part of a well-balanced diet because of the protein, calcium, and added vitamins like A and D. But dairy fat is often considered to be harmful to health because it’s a saturated fat which the conventional medical world believes is linked to heart disease. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend using non-fat, low-fat, or reduced-fat dairy products.
However, there is evidence that eating full-fat dairy is associated with a lower incidence of obesity and metabolic disease. There are compounds in these full-fat dairy products such as butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid that have beneficial effects on your body.
Most dairy products today fall under the processed food category. Dairy can be a healthy source of protein, nutrients, enzymes, and probiotics if it’s properly sourced (some would even argue that it needs to be raw). Modern dairy practices such as pasteurization and homogenization remove most of the nutrients and other beneficial substances from dairy making them a nutrient-void, processed food.