Originally published on DrHyman.com, March 2017; Used with permission.
In Dr. Mark Hyman's weekly house call video, he answers questions from readers about how to find your trigger foods, how to know the right amount of fat to eat, and what are the best superfoods.
Finding trigger foods
Julie, an Eat Fat, Get Thin challenge participant, is curious about transitioning off of a program and onto every day eating. She asks:
How do I get a good read on whether certain foods are OK for me? What’s the best indicator that a food is good or not good?
Normally, when I work with patients, I put them on an elimination diet. We get rid of specific trigger foods such as gluten, dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. This is a way for your body to hit the reset button on your health. After following an elimination diet for a certain period of time, you might want to add foods back in to see if you can tolerate them.
The key to determining food sensitivities (as opposed to food allergies) is that the food sensitivity might have a slow response or reaction. We’re talking about symptoms like bloating, brain fog, poor sleep, poor digestion, skin rashes – these symptoms can all be caused by food sensitivities.
When you’re adding foods back in, give yourself three to four days with each food and be sure to choose low-risk foods. For example, if you want to test out grains, test out whole grains like brown rice. If you want to test out dairy, try sheep or goat products first.
Food sensitivities might affect you immediately or it might take a few days. That’s why I recommend sticking to one food for three days, versus adding in all potential trigger foods at once. Then, give yourself one to two days before adding in another potential trigger food so you can see how your body responds to the previous addition. I know this seems like a long process, but it is truly the only way to know how individual foods are affecting you.
Can we eat too much fat?
Our next question comes from Sandra who asks:
Still have questions on upper limits of fats. Is there too much of a good thing?
Every human body is different and responds differently to different foods. Some people thrive on a high-fat diet; others need a moderate amount of fat; and still others do well with lower fat intake. In my experience, most people do well eating more fat, especially diabetics. Historically, the diet to treat diabetes is high in fat.
It is important to remember that you need to eat the right kinds of fats. When I say a high-fat diet, I mean foods that are rich in healthy fats like wild fatty fish, nuts and seeds, avocados, coconut oil and olive oil. Stick with good, healthy fats and experiment with the amount you eat.
The best way to know if a higher fat diet works for you is to keep a food journal. Write down how you feel after every meal that you eat. Do you have more or less brain fog? How is your energy? Get specific. You might feel worse eating a high-fat diet or you might feel a lot better. Depending on your observations, you can adjust the amount of fat you are including in your personalized diet.
With a little bit of investigation, you will find the best diet that works for you.
My top superfoods
Out final question comes from Anna who asks:
What superfoods are most important to stay healthy?
I like to think that everything I eat is a superfood. When I walk into the grocery store, which I call the “Farmacy,” I like to seek out powerful foods that are going to provide the right information for my body.
Here are my top superfoods:
Plant foods. The vast, colorful array of vegetables represents over 25,000 beneficial chemicals. Research shows the synergistic balance of these chemicals provides numerous health benefits. I recommend a diverse diet with numerous, colorful, fresh veggies and fruits. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate well over 800 varieties of plant foods. Today, we don’t consume anywhere near this amount. Make that extra effort to include as many varieties of these colorful superfoods as you can.
Eat from the rainbow. Every fruit and vegetable color represents a different family of healing compounds. Red foods (like tomatoes) contain the carotenoid lycopene, which helps eliminate free radicals that damage our genes. Green foods contain the chemicals sulforaphane and isocyanate, as well as indoles that inhibit carcinogens to protect against cancer. Simply put: The more color you incorporate, the more health benefits you’ll receive.
Mushrooms. While visiting China, I discovered folks there knew more about food’s medicinal properties than I did even after many years of research. Medicinal foods are a part of their everyday diet, and mushrooms play a huge role within Chinese medicine. Reishi, shiitake and cordyceps contain powerful healing properties that boost your immune system and support healthy hormone production. Mushrooms are anti-viral and anti-inflammatory to support healthy liver function, optimized cholesterol levels and anti-cancer benefits. I use them often: I make a reishi tea, cook with shiitake mushrooms and make mushroom soup.
Healthy fats. Healthy cell walls made from high-quality fats are better able to metabolize insulin, which keeps blood sugar better regulated. Without proper blood sugar control, the body socks away fat for a rainy day. The right fats also increase fat burning, cut your hunger and reduce fat storage. Eating the right types of fats makes you lose weight, while eating excess sugar and the WRONG types of fat make you fat. So again – avocados, nuts and seeds, wild fatty fish, grass-fed meat, extra-virgin olive oil – these are all superfood fats.
Seeds. My three favorite seeds are chia, hemp and flaxseeds. You can add all three super seeds to smoothies, puddings or on top of coconut yogurt with berries. Let’s look at their benefits.
- Chia seeds provide an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that have numerous benefits, including glowing skin and mental clarity. Just one ounce of chia seeds packs a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Its insoluble fiber acts as a prebiotic that feeds friendly gut bacteria and ferments into short-chain fatty acids to support gut health. Chia seeds also contain more protein than most plant foods. And they contain more calcium than milk.
- Hemp seeds provide healthy omega-3 fats, protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and iron.
- Flaxseeds are another great source of omega-3 fats, dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Flaxseeds have powerful, anti-cancer, hormone-balancing phytonutrients called lignans. Freshly ground flaxseed sprinkled into a smoothie is an excellent way to ease constipation.