Last week I had a client looking for help with inflammation.
After taking his health history, I began our session focused on weight loss. Excessive visceral abdominal tissue (aka belly fat) secretes high levels of substances known as pro-inflammatory cytokines1. While some of these cytokines have a protective effect, pro-inflammatory cytokines are released by cells in response to infection, inflammation and trauma2. So, to me, it naturally made sense to start him on a weight reduction plan.
It turned out he wasn’t happy with this approach. A few days later when I followed up, he said he was going to take his nutrition concerns elsewhere because the “diet was so bassiccc.” At first I was upset because 1) criticism is tough 2) I’d lost a client 3) I felt like I had misguided someone. After thinking about it though, though, I don’t know what I would’ve done differently. Except for messaging. Perhaps if I’d focused on how this approach could lower levels of inflammation, we’d have both ended up on the same page.
In our fast-paced world, we’re all looking for a quick fix. I suspect that’s what he was looking for and while I don’t think there is a “one size fits all approach,” there are some “bassiccc” nutrition principles that we should be following.
So, call it what you want, but here are a few simple strategies that’ll help you get moving toward better health.
FILL UP ON FIBER
Fiber plays a double role; not only has dietary fiber been shown to support weight loss, top sources such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are rich in phytochemicals 3. These powerful plant-based substances are associated with lower levels of inflammation 4. Women should be aiming for 25 g of fiber per day; men, aim for 38g/day.
+ Opt for fiber-rich fruits and vegetables with a skin (berries) vs. a peel (banana)
+ Ask for double veggies on a sandwich or pizza
+ Add grated veggies to recipes including, pasta dishes and baked goods.
POWER UP WITH PLANT-BASED PROTEIN
Protein takes more energy for us to breakdown than refined carbohydrates, helping us to keep us full and our hunger at bay. Depending on activity level and body composition, we need ~0.8 grams/kg of protein/day, meaning a 150 pound person needs 54 grams per day.
+ Add plant-based proteins such as edamame, hemp seeds and tofu to boost your intake of anti-inflammatory foods.
SET DOWN THE SALT
Sodium, a core ingredient in table salt, is most commonly found in highly processed, refined, canned and packaged foods. Not only does it stimulate our appetite, studies suggest that a high sodium intake is positively associated with inflammation 5. The current recommendation for the average healthy adult is 2,300 mg/day of sodium, equivalent to 1 tsp. of salt 6.
+ Look for “low sodium” products
+ Dilute spreads by blending in plain dairy-free yogurt
+ Eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas to help offset sodium in the body
AVOID SKIPPING SNACKS
When we go for a period of time without eating, ghrelin, our hunger-stimulating hormone, starts to kick in. Secreted mainly from the stomach, it signals our brain that it's time to eat. Ghrelin works on a cycle; levels build before we eat and drop after a meal 7. This happens naturally about every four hours so regularly eating stabilizes hunger levels.
+ Stash a packet of nuts in your bag
+ Store fresh fruit on the counter and pre-cut veggies at eye level to make them easy to grab
+ Track your meal timing in a food log
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Underlying stress is a key our trigger for giving in to cravings. When faced with a stressor, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol; cortisol may increase our motivation to consume calories in the form of sugary, high-fat foods 8. Give yourself a break; restricting food choices and telling yourself “I can’t have this” is exhausting, leading us to overindulge when our stress levels are maxed.
+ Plan ahead and enjoy a treat on a regular basis