Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Eating real food is non-negotiable in sustainable health. Gluten and dairy are the most common foods that cause inflammation in our body. Inflammation is at the root of many illnesses and disease, including type 2 Diabetes, insulin resistance, and intestinal issues. There are plenty of replacements for the foods you crave that will still satisfy and improve your health. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started on a lifestyle change that will best support your health.
Pasta and Rice
“Foodles” – pasta replacement from vegetables. Zoodles (zucchini), swoodles (sweet potato), sqoodles (squash) and many others. It is helpful to use a spiralizer if they like the idea; it’s a fun family-friendly activity to make these noodles actually. Otherwise, most stores now carry pre-made Foodles in the produce aisle. Spaghetti squash (shredded with a fork after roasting) is always a great option too.
Cauliflower rice – a winner for rice lovers. Start out by replacing half of the regular rice with riced cauliflower in recipes and work up to complete rice elimination. Buy frozen cauliflower rice to avoid the possibility of mold contamination and add it just in the last minutes of rice cooking for optimal texture.
Shirataki / Miracle Noodles – convenient and made from konjac yam, a resistant starch, these can hit the spot for pasta and rice lovers. Be prepared for a different texture – these are a bit gelatinous and sticky and soften nicely when cooked in a sauce. A great source of prebiotic fiber for the microbiome. You can also purchase using online resources for healthy foods such as Thrive Market.
Bean and legume pastas – many varieties in a bunch of shapes – from spaghetti to rotini; Try them to see what works for you. Popular brands are made from black beans, lentils and chickpeas. A high fiber, grain-free alternative to flour-based pasta. Great for kids too.
Veggie Extravaganza – the goal is to progressively reduce refined or excessive carbohydrates in your diet (especially in grains),you may enjoy trying a bed of various types of vegetables as a base for a sauce. Try chicken in peanut sauce on top of a mound of steamed broccoli or your favorite bolognese sauce atop a bowl of green beans. There are endless, nutrient-dense and flavorful possibilities here!
Potatoes and Fries
It’s hard to say no to French Fries or roasted potatoes. But you don’t have to. Just substitute white potatoes with one of the options below. Use melted ghee, coconut oil or avocado oil instead of highly refined vegetable oils. Roast, bake, or air fry for a crispy, nutritious side:
For a healthier mashed potato dish, substitute steamed cauliflower for half (or more – all!) of the potato. Whip (or cream in a food processor or with a hand mixer) until smooth with generous olive oil and ground pepper and salt to taste. For variety, try well-steamed turnip, parsnip, or kohlrabi as well – you will be surprised at the flavor in this swap!
An area most of us need improvements in – to increase both the amount and the variety of vegetables they consume on a day over day basis. Here is how to incorporate veggies in unconventional ways. Yes, spinach and leafy greens in smoothies, but what about left-over cooked veggies in a breakfast scramble? Or in a lunch wrap?
Frozen Freedom – one of the most accessible ways to introduce veggies into the diet: buy a bunch of frozen bagged vegetables and eat a bag a day. You can also stock up on favorite varieties when they are on sale. Be sure to include generous use of olive oil or ghee, a sprinkle of sunflower or pumpkin seeds or a healthy sauce to help take the edge off the bitterness, especially for tentative palates. An easy, customizable habit which can work 365 days a year.
Crudité – why not clean and prep raw veggies just twice a week. Keep in containers in the fridge and use as snacks (with hummus, guac, or nut butter) or for quick meal prep. An easy answer to “mom, there is nothing to eat.” If you struggle with this, you can buy a prepared crudité tray from the grocery store. Do this prep with your kids; especially for adolescents, it’s a great opportunity to teach them about knife safety and involve their handiwork in the food (hint: they are a lot more likely to eat it as a result!).
Sweet Roasting – when we slow-cook vegetables in the oven (toss with oil and salt/spices and put on baking sheet or air fryer in a single layer) until they are just light caramelized, we free up the sugars in them and ease the bitter flavor of many vegetables, especially cruciferous varieties. Many people will not come near steamed Brussels sprouts, but they will gobble up a bowl of roasted ones. Try this for root vegetables too which become very sweet and creamy in texture.
Bagged salad – no need to be snobby. Bagged, prewashed leafy greens hold the key to salads, smoothies and quick meal prep. Salad kits are popular and are truly a 1-bag wonder – all the ingredients including the dressing included! Choose organic as these vegetables carry a high pesticide burden.
Veggie Steaks – ever heard of cauliflower steaks? Well, most of your clients haven’t! Slice to ½ inch thickness, coat with butter or oil, and roast with your favorite spices. Ditto for portobello mushrooms. Makes a beautiful side or a centerpiece of a vegan meal.
Those who love their milk, butter and cheese don’t need to suffer. The stores are filled with plant-based dairy replacements.
Non-dairy milks – the varieties are astounding. Make sure that you choose organic products without unnecessary glues and additives. Great as a base for smoothies, creating creamy sauces or soups, and with granola. Making your own with almonds, cashew, or even brazil nuts is fun and easy, but likely too daunting for those just exploring (to make your own, find copious guidance online; it only requires a mixing bowl, high speed blender, and cheesecloth).
Almond yogurt – while other dairy-free options are veterans in this category, many find that almond yogurt is the most like traditional dairy yogurt, especially Greek. Can also suggest cashew and coconut-based ones to see which variety hits the spot.
Butter replacement – Myokos coconut/cashew brand is highly butter-like in all aspects. Seriously, this has been vetted by butter aficionados. You won’t believe “it’s not butter”.
Cashew- or Almond cream cheese – Kite Hill seems to be the closest in taste and texture to a milk-based variety. Comes in many flavors too.
Not-Missing-It Alternatives? – So much of what we crave in cheese is about a rich, creamy, salty addition to a dish. You can try adding pine nuts, crushed cashews or hazelnuts to a savory dish; sauté them briefly in a little olive oil in a sauce pan with some spices (e.g. thyme, oregano), seasalt, and, if tolerated, a dash of nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast makes the dish taste cheesy with the added benefit of a great dose of B vitamins.
Convenience is likely the #1 reason why people will try a new food but eventually gravitate back to less healthy options. You’ve got to get in front of this boomerang! Plan your meals ahead so you don't have to create a meal from scratch on a daily basis. Bulk meal prep and smart shopping can help (don’t go grocery shopping while hungry!). These hacks can aid in throwing together a quick, healthy meal in a pinch.
Cook once, eat many times, every time – leftovers are king. Make more than you need, repurpose leftovers or eat as is. Most food is safe in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (unless you have histamine intolerance). For favorite meals, make extra and freeze to forego food prep on future, busy days.
Ready-to-go proteins – frozen fish filets, meatballs, and chicken sausages. Roasted prepared whole chicken from the grocery store. Canned salmon and sardines. Canned beans and chickpeas (always rinse very thoroughly!). Choose organic, clean varieties. These provide a quick protein to build a meal around.
Ready-to-go grains – frozen organic brown rice, quinoa, and wild rice can be used as a quick side dish or base for a grain salad. Don’t microwave in the bag – dump into a glass dish and cover with a paper towel instead.
Sauces, dressings, and marinades – always have some on hand. Choose options that are “dump and go” – no need to add anything. Yes, over time, they can indeed make their own, but for many patients, they need more convenience upfront in order to explore and lock in new healthy habits. Be sure to check the ingredients so you aren't adding something in that will cause inflammation.
The night before prep – lay out the first meal “kit” before bed – e.g, clean blender or fry pan, measure and prep dry ingredients, clean and cut veggies/fruit and pre assemble a smoothie to just stick into a blender in the morning. Having things ready in sight will also help discourage any impetus to drop a healthy intention and just grab a bagel or a donut on the way in to work.
Everyone needs snack options, especially if you have hypoglycemia or poor stress resilience. A key to a smart snacking is to make sure it contains all three macronutrients – fats, carbs and protein – to provide satiety and blood glucose stability. Here is a list of snacks for pairing protein and fat with a fruit or a vegetable:
pistachios & strawberries
olives & baby bell peppers
hummus & carrot sticks
guacamole & crudité
hard-boiled egg & grape tomatoes
almond butter on apple slices
grapes & cheese sticks
jerky with oranges or cucumbers
sunbutter with celery sticks
An after-meal treat is almost a given in the Western diet. Luckily, many healthy alternatives exist – deprivation not necessary.
Fresh fruit sautéed in a little coconut oil with vanilla extract and/or cinnamon (with a few drops of stevia or tsp. of honey if family members need it sweeter) and topped with some crushed nuts (and maybe a drizzle of melted dark chocolate?!). Try blueberries with almonds. Banana with walnuts. Nectarines with cashews. Figs with pecans. Pineapple with macadamias.
Chia pudding (gets even better after sitting in the fridge for a few days)
Avocado based puddings
Frozen banana ice cream
Fat bombs (great for keto)
Nut and seed balls
Frozen cherries and grapes (you can dip these in warm, melted dark chocolate too – a wonderful hot/cold treat)
Or even just a square or two of organic dark chocolate. I recommend looking for 70% cacao or higher and a brand with as few ingredients as possible. Remember, the pleasure is about slowing down and savoring. Don’t “gobble” up a treat. Put a small bit of one square in your mouth and just let it melt. That one square can give you 5 seconds or 5 minutes of pleasure depending on How you enjoy it!