I often notice that the world around me feels noisy—especially when it comes to what to eat. I am bombarded by “rules” about food—many of them contradictory—blasted at me on social media, daily updates about the latest and greatest “superfood,” and more diets than I could ever reasonably expect to try. As somebody who had—no longer, thankfully—suffered from weekly migraines, painful digestive issues and even worse periods, I honestly believed the narrative that this state of health was just a part of life and there was little I could do to change it.
It was when I became involved in Crossfit years ago that I explored a different way of eating that completely contradicted my low-fat, high carbohydrate and low-quality diet. I was amazed how differently I was feeling after a short time of eating a Paleo diet and thus began my journey to find exactly what worked for me. Finding what works for me has not happened overnight and often changes due to many factors (e.g. my activity levels, where I am in my menstrual cycle, etc.) that are unique to me.
No diet or framework (or nutritional therapy practitioner like myself) can tell you exactly what your daily diet should be, at least without working with you on a more personalized basis. Just think about it: How could the same food have the same effect on two people with different genetics, allergies, sensitivities, and lifestyles? And as our bodies and lives evolve, shouldn’t our diets as well?
All photos by @kelseylawphotos.
This is why rigid “rules” and dogmatic diets can be so inaccurate: They are fixed, impersonal, and unchanging—the very opposite of the body they are supposed to nourish and fuel. This is exactly why as an NTP, my number one and only “rule” is that every diet is bioindividual and completely depends on my client’s needs.
Based off the major constituents of our bodies at a biological level and review of ancestral diets, I’m going to share some basic advice that you should consider as you think about building your own personalized diet. And I’ll also show you what my daily diet looks like, to give you an example of how you might bring these principles to life.
Guiding Principles for Any Diet
1. A whole-foods-based diet is vital
This means limiting processed foods (notice I said limiting, not eliminating—sometimes you just want to dig into a bag of pretzels) and learning how to read labels is key. When choosing prepackaged food, avoid inflammatory items like gluten, most grains, soy and preservatives that are so common. Also, watch out for hidden refined sugars as they hide behind many names such as sucrose, syrups or even fructose. A healthier alternative is grain-free snacks with ingredients that you actually recognize (like FitJoy’s grain-free snacks).
2. Healthy fats are your friend
Our cells are made up of lipids (fats), which our body uses for energy and even help to support your immune system. So that whole “fats are bad” and “use oils sparingly” has actually impacted our health in a negative way—our bodies NEED them to function properly. So when looking for fats to use:
-Avoid canola oil and other processed vegetable oils at all costs. They are highly inflammatory and actually decrease your liver and gallbladder function—aka they can compromise your digestion.
-When cooking at high heats (say, roasting vegetables or grilling), cook with avocado oil. Animal fats like beef tallow or duck fat are amazing for high heat as well.
-Use olive oil for lightly sautéing or for salad dressings as it has a low smoke point.
-Eat whole foods like avocados, coconuts, nuts or nut butters to get extra nutrients with your fats. These also help to satiate you and keep you from reaching for extra snacks due to blood sugar dips.
3. Eat your veggies!
Try to keep your plate full of vegetables and keep proteins like grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish as the “side” on your plate. That means when you look at your plate, you should see more vegetables than meat. Some of my favorite vegetables are:
-Cruciferous (a fancy word that means ‘related to cabbage’) vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These are full of vitamins like C, E, K, folate, and antioxidants. They help the body detox, do not spike blood sugar, and even show evidence of reducing the risk of cancer.
-Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. These are a good way to get some carbs into your diet and are equally nutrient dense. I tend to eat these sparingly but remember: your carb intake is individual to you, your blood-sugar regulation, and even your activity levels.
4. Quality over quantity
Eating high-quality foods is increasingly important as pesticides, poor environments for animals, and degenerative farming practices have all decreased the nutrient profiles of our foods.
-Eat organic produce when possible—especially “The Dirty Dozen.”
-Buy high-quality protein like grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised chicken, and eggs.
-Eat locally sourced food and seasonal, when possible. The less time from farm to plate your food, the more nutrients that are available in your food.
-Limit grains. When you do eat them, be sure they are organic, non-GMO grains to lessen the toxic burden of pesticide and toxic herbicide exposure, including glyphosate.
5. Practice mindfulness at every meal
What I Eat in a Day
First thing in the morning: Hydrate
Every day, as a morning ritual no matter where I am, I drink a mug of hot lemon water with a pinch of sea salt. This kick starts my digestion and helps restore electrolytes in my body. After my hot lemon water, I will have a green tea, herbal coffee or occasionally the real deal cup of coffee.
Breakfast: Fat, Protein, and Greens
I typically like to make this meal full of high-quality fats and protein to keep me full for longer and to prevent a blood sugar rollercoaster for the rest of the day. My go-to is pasture-raised eggs, organic uncured bacon, avocado, and some arugula covered in the fat from cooking my bacon. If I do opt for some carbs, I typically go for some overnight gluten-free oats made with tons of healthy fats such as full-fat coconut milk and nuts or seeds to help keep me satiated and reduce the chance of my blood sugar dropping too low later in the day. Side note, soaking your grains actually is an ancient practice that is shown to improve digestion of the grains by reducing the phytic acid that typically inhibits proper digestion of these complex carbs.
Lunch: Uncomplicated and flexible
This is usually a free-for-all and is dependent on my schedule for the day. Typically I like to keep this meal lighter with a nutrient dense salad full of seeds, vegetables, my protein of choice, and sometimes some raw, grass-fed cheese. I always dress my salads with some high-quality olive oil to get in some extra fats.
Snack(s): When I’m in the Mood
Sometimes I snack and sometimes I don’t—it truly depends on my day. But when I do, I like to snack on something I really enjoy eating but can get some good nutrients from too. For a snack that is nostalgic of my childhood, I love to eat grain-free pretzels with some almond butter or hummus. Or sometimes I swap out the grain-free pretzels for an organic apple.
Dinner: Lots of Veggies, Moderate Carbs, and Protein
This is typically when I eat my more complex carbs like sweet potatoes. I noticed that for me, personally, when I eat carbs in the evenings, I tend to get better sleep. This is likely because the stored glycogen from eating carbs is able to regulate my blood sugar overnight preventing a cortisol spike that often causes disrupted sleep. A typical dinner for me includes lots of cruciferous veggies, some starchy carbs and around 6oz of high-quality meat like my grain-free chicken meatballs—recipe on my blog, The Well Patel.
Ultimately, my goal as an NTP is to empower my clients to become more connected to their bodies and find what works best for them. I encourage simple guidelines such as a high-quality, whole foods based diet, minimal inflammatory grains, and always to practice mindful eating. Now my challenge to you is to start paying attention to how your food makes you feel, use my guiding principles, and if you need more support, find a professional who can help you find your food flow.
Eat Well. Live Full.
Tamara Patel, NTP
Tamara Patel, NTP, is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and the owner and creator of The Well Patel. Tamara lives in Houston, TX and loves sharing her passion for health and wellness with others. She works remotely with couples to identify how to best fuel their bodies and their lives for optimal outcomes in conception, pregnancy and postnatal recovery. Her goal is to help families create a legacy through nutrition and lifestyle that helps them to “Eat Well. Live Full.”