Nikola Howard posted this on the Low Carb in the UK page yesterday and I thought it was excellent and needed to be shared. I especially like the ending. Thank you Nikola.
Our food falls into three categories:
Optimal (eat freely, “ad libitum” and with gusto!):
Plentiful amounts of
- Brassica family vegetables,
○ This is all the “cabbage” family, “green leafy veg” as well as red and white cabbage, broccoli, mustard greens, all the Chinese leaves such as bok choi, choi sum and tatsoi, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, flower sprouts/kalettes, turnips and turnip greens, swede and swede greens, kohlrabi etc.
○ Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchee, are awesome for your gut heath.
- Fish, especially oily fish,
- Hard Cheeses,
- Animal fats such as cream, butter, ghee, lard and dripping,
- Plant based fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and all nut oils,
- All Herbs and “above ground” spices.
- Beef, Whey, Egg and Pea protein powders
○ The latter three being useful for vegetarians and vegans respectively
Suboptimal (eat these good for the guts, nutrient dense foods that mostly also have a small carbohydrate load in moderation, with care and enjoyment):
Moderate amounts of
- Offal (Organ meats)
○ All Offal is excellent for our bodies and enjoying them is part of a healthy life but they just slide into suboptimal because they usually carry a small amount of glucose as well as causing a possible vitamin and mineral overload if eaten every day. Once or twice a week at most is usually enough to get the benefit from these nutritional powerhouses.
- All soft cheeses, kefir and full fat natural yoghurt
○ These products retain some of the lactose through the manufacturing process but are awesome for your gut heath.
- Fermented soy products, such as tempeh, natto and miso,
- Onions, leeks & garlic,
- All tree nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, pistachio, brazil, macadamia, pecan
- Vine grown vegetables such as cucumbers, aubergine, courgettes and other summer squashes and tomatoes (which are all technically fruit)
- Protein based processed foods that have 5 ingredients or less
○ Making it yourself is always better, but not always possible or even practical. This is food such as sausages, hamburgers or part prepared “ready to cook meat with a sauce” type dishes – Read labels, and if there are ingredients in it that you couldn’t find to use at home, don’t buy it.
Small amounts of
- Root vegetables rich in colourful phytonutrients such as beetroot, parsnip, and sweet potato,
- Root spices such as ginger, galangal and turmeric,
- 70% and over top quality dark chocolate,
- Cocoa powder and cocoa nibs,
- Berry fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blueberries,
- Stone fruit, such as peaches, plums, apricots and nectarine
- Red wine,
- Stevia (ka’a he’ê)
○ This is an herb that naturally grows in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay between the Uruguay and Lower Paraguay rivers, widely used by the indigenous Guaraní population for its sweet taste and was officially “discovered” and given its taxonomy label in the 19th Century by Dr Moises Santiago Bertoni .
○ The Guaraní either use it as it is, chew it to sweeten their breath, or dry the herb and crumble to sweeten their food, but Stevia as we know it is made from the sweet compounds in the herb (a group of chemicals called “steviol glycosides” – stevioside and rebaudioside A-E. Rebaudioside A being the only one approved for use in the EU at this time) extracted and crystallised into a white-ish powder.
○ The extract is either dissolved in water and sold as drops (the preferable way to purchase and use) or mixed with a bulking agent to enable it to be “spooned” – sometimes Maltodextrin (a very fluffy form of glucose), but usually the polyol Erythritol, which does have its own issues and is a non-optimal in itself in my opinion.
○ You only need a tiny amount, Stevia is approximately 200 times sweeter to the tongue than sucrose, however, it can also carry a liquorice aftertaste, and if you use too much it delivers a bitter sensation, rather than a sweet one,
○ It can be used for cooking, as it is heat stable to 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit)
○ It’s a sub optimal because using it as you would have used sugar keeps our tongue in the habit of expecting sweet stuff (Yes, your sweet tooth is a habit, more on this in the next part!)
- Monk fruit (Luo han guo)
○ Monk fruit or “Lo Han” is part of the cucurbitaceae (gourd) family and grows on vines in the southern Chinese Guangxi and Guangdong mountains. The fruit itself tastes rotten soon after it is ripe because it contains high amounts of volatile sulphur-based compounds.
○ Historically it was dried and used medicinally as a “lung improver”. In modern times, the fruit has an antioxidant compound in it that is also intensely sweet – mogroside – which is extracted as a brownish powder and now sold worldwide by China.
○ Like Stevia, buying Monk fruit drops is the best way to use this product, as in powdered form it is usually bulked with maltodextrin.
○ You only need a tiny amount, Monk Fruit Extract is approximately 150 times sweeter to the tongue than sucrose, however, it can also carry a “off-ish” aftertaste, and just like Stevia, if you use too much it delivers a bitter sensation, rather than a sweet one,
○ It is rather expensive, as the Chinese Government do not allow any Monk fruit genetic material to be exported from China, so it can only be grown, harvested and processed in China.
○ It can be used for cooking, as it is also heat stable to 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit)
○ It’s a sub optimal for the same reason as Stevia.
- Pulses – Eat in minimal amounts and extra care is advised.
○ This includes chickpeas, garden peas and peanuts as well as lower carb seeds such as cashews, sunflower, pumpkin, linseed (AKA flax), hemp, poppy, pine nuts, chia, sesame.
○ Although they are nutrient dense, with nice amounts of fibre and some protein, they pack both a carb punch and contain phytates, compounds that are not great for the body.
Modern cooking practises tend to leave this substance behind, so if you are eating pulse, soaking them for twelve hours, draining and rinsing three times for a total of thirty-six hours and then cooking them at over 65C is a must. Sprouting them and then cooking is also a good way to reduce phytates
Pulses represent a protein source that has issues, but are always better than a non-optimal choice in a pinch, hummus and crudites at a party for instance, or a packet of peanuts grabbed on the run instead of a packet of crisps.
○ Note that some seeds also have the phytates issue.
○ If you are a vegetarian, pulses are an “incomplete protein” that is usually paired with rice to create a “complete” protein. In a low carb diet, seeds would be a better choice, but please do your own research here, as I’m not a vegetarian.
Non-Optimal (really not at all good for the body. Enjoyed without guilt once in a blue moon, if at all):
- All potatoes except sweet.
- All grain and grain products, especially wheat; pasta, rice, bread, rusks, cake, biscuits, crackers, cereal bars, as well as sweet corn, oats, spelt, barley, quinoa etc.
○ Apart from their high carb load, grains also have high levels of phytates.
- All unfermented soy products; Edamame, Tofu, commercial soya milk,
○ Raw Soya contains phytates, goitrogens and phytoestrogens. Fermentation removes these harmful compounds .
- All highly processed food products.
- All processed low-fat products.
- All plant based oils from seeds; sunflower, safflower, corn, vegetable
○ Seed oils contain high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids, and eating more of these that the Omega 3 fatty acids contributes to cell aging. As it is harder to eat more Omega 3 that to remove Omega 6 fatty acids if seed oils are included as a major fat source in the diet, these are non-optimal for that reason, even though they contain zero grams of carbohydrate.
- All tropical and autumn fruit.
○ Such as grapes, banana, apples, pears, mangoes and pineapple
- All forms of sugar; granulated, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup.
○ Anything ending in -ose .
○ I’m not saying never, heck, I enjoy a nice glass of sub-optimal gut microbiome enhancing Red from time to time, but overall, Alcohol is damaging to the body and contributes nothing but body fat in the visceral area. I’ll talk about this in excruciating details later
- Any form of fibreless fruit product; Juice, fruit leathers, apple sauce, jam & jellies.
○ Fruit is make by nature with fibre, and fibre buffers the fructose within fruit to render it less harmful.
- All synthetic trans-fats, such as margarine and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from your diet.
○ These fats are not found at all in nature and our bodies are simply not equipped to deal with them. They contribute to accelerated cell breakdown and to coronary heart disease and so are at the very bottom of the non-optimal end of the scale, even though they also have zero grams of carbohydrate!
- Artificial Sweeteners, especially aspartame
○ There are studies that show that artificial sweeteners can increase hunger by stimulating insulin and so cause us to eat more to compensate, so ultimately, we are aiming to remove them from out diet. Although they are useful at the beginning of your low carb journey, only use them to get over the initial bump, and then I strongly advise that you aim to ramp down until you have removed them entirely from your diet.
○ As I said above with Stevia, use of sweeteners keeps you in the habit of a sweet tooth.
- Polyol based sweetener products
○ These naturally occurring very long chain carbohydrates taste sweet, perform the same chemistry in baking as sugar does but are like fibre, in that they are almost indigestible to the body.
○ I say almost, as some of the shorter chains of the family, Sorbitol, Mannitol and Maltitol are up to 60% digested into glucose, and as such act like “half-hit” carbohydrates to our systems. Even the longer chain ones, Xylitol and Erythritol are still around 15-20% digestible, and all this really adds up to bad news for both us and our guts as they tend to ferment on their way through our bowels, killing off our gut flora.
○ Consuming too much polyol leads to bloating, farting and potentially cramping and a sharp run to the toilet with violent diarrhoea. This effect is known as “The Polywobbles”.
■ If you ever read the reviews on Amazon for sugar-free gummi bears, you will know exactly what I’m talking about!
○ All Polyols work as laxatives by drawing water into the large intestine when they are poorly absorbed, which moves the food quickly through the intestines, triggering bowel movements. The shorter chain polyols are more likely to cause this effect than the longer ones.
■ This is exactly why prunes are laxative, as well as a healthy amount of fibre, they contain relatively large amounts of Sorbitol compared to other fruit.
○ Whilst Polyols occur in small amounts naturally in vegetables and fruit, and inside a food don’t usually cause any issues for most people, they are an IBS trigger.
○ If you are going low carb to help your IBS, (which it usually very much does), know that Polyols are a FODMAP and so to be strictly avoided .
○ Xylitol is deathly toxic to dogs and cats.
○ Erythritol is a potent insecticide.
I call this overall way of looking at food the OSN scale, mostly because it’s way quicker to type than “optimal, sub-optimal, non-optimal”!
These lists are not exhaustive, there is simply too much food to classify! So, use the OSN scale and your discernment to classify your food.
1) How many carbs does it have?
0-5g – optimal
6-10g – If a vegetable, optimal. If not a vegetable, sub-optimal
Over 10g – sub-optimal,
Over 25g – non-optimal.
2) How nutrient dense is it?
Nutrient dense – bumps it up the scale
Nutrient sparse – slides it down the scale
3) How much harm it does the body
Little to none – bumps it up the scale
Very harmful indeed – slides it down to non-optimal
So, look at the nutrient density, “human food suitability” and how much good it will do the body versus the carbohydrate load the food carries and how processed it is.
You will notice that there are no “banned/forbidden/naughty/sinful” foods in this world view; assigning negativity to food is simply setting yourself up for guilt and failure. Which is not at all productive for a happy life.
This is where living by the third tenet comes into play; aim to make choices of optimal foods mostly and the sub-optimal ones occasionally. Take it one mouthful at a time, and as you go along, listen to what your body is asking you for, it knows what it wants and will ask you for it once you get rid of all the processed junk.