Especially when it comes to autoimmune diseases, research suggests that genetics may only account for one-third of contributing factors — which means you may be able to help manage your condition by feeding your body the right foods.
To start your journey toward better living — whether you're currently suffering from an autoimmune condition or not — I'm sharing four of the more uncommon foods I recommend for optimal health.
One thing to note: You'll notice that three out of four of these foods aren't for a vegetarian diet. That's because most of the bioavailable nutrients discussed are only abundant in animal meat. Of course, vegans and vegetarians can be in great health, and there is nothing wrong with that choice. But if getting those nutrients from animal products isn't an option, consider careful supplementation as the next best option.
1. Sea vegetables
Examples: Nori, dulse, kombu, kelp, arame, Irish moss, alaria esculenta.
Eat: At least once a week.
Most Americans aren't eating sea vegetables — but we should start! Seaweed contains a variety of minerals and an incredibly large variety of trace elements.
These green superfoods are an abundant source of B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K. Sea vegetables are also considered the most effective way to get iodine, which is needed for thyroid hormone production.
Plus, sea vegetables contain good amounts of a compound called fucans that has anti-inflammatory properties. It's also been shown to have a positive blood sugar balancing effect in patients with type-2 diabetics.
One thing to note: Because our oceans can be polluted, some sea vegetables might be high in toxic metals. That means it's always important to buy from companies that test for heavy metals and are committed to providing an organic, non-toxic product.
So how do you bring these foods into your diet? They can be soaked and eaten raw, added to soups or sprinkled onto food in the form of dried sea vegetable flakes.
2. Organic organ meat
Examples: Liver, kidneys, heart, sweetbreads.
Eat: At least once or twice a week.
People tend to have strong opinions about organ meats like liver — they either love them or hate them. But many people don't know that they actually store many bioavailable nutrients essential for your health.
Choline and vitamin B9 (folate) are two nutrients that are found abundantly in liver. Beef liver also offers some of the highest amounts of Vitamin B12, which is generally only found in animal products. And organ meats are rich in CoQ10, a nutrient that's crucial for heart health.
All of these active B vitamins are essential for methylation, the biochemical superhighway that helps with your brain, gut and immune health. (It's estimated that 40% of our society has MTHFR genetic impairments, which increases risk of chronic brain, hormonal, digestive and autoimmune conditions.)
They are also an important source for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K2, which are often lacking in our modern Western diet.
Examples: Oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, lobster, crab, shrimp, sea snails.
Eat: At least once or twice a week.
In addition to many of the nutrients I mentioned above, shellfish are also rich with zinc.
Why is this important? Medical literature has linked decreased zinc to copper imbalances that may lead to anxiety and brain problems. Eating shellfish, the superfood of the sea, is a great way to balance the proper trace mineral ratio and help with your stress levels. Zinc is also needed to strengthen your immune system.
And oysters are also a good source of iron, which is essential for proper functioning of red blood cells.
4. Clean, wild fish
Examples: Arctic char, rainbow trout, pole-caught albacore tuna, Alaskan salmon and barramundi.
Eat: At least three times a week.
Sure, most people know salmon is healthy — but how many of you have heard of a barramundi?
The fish listed above are some of the healthiest and cleanest in the world. They all make Seafood Watch's "Super Green" list of seafood that come from the least-pressured habitats. They also have low levels of industrial pollutants like mercury and dioxins, and contain the highest levels of healthy omega-3 fats.
The omega fats found in fish have been shown to lower risk of heart disease and improve cholesterol. Research also shows omega fats can decrease the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
And although the omega-3 fat ALA can be found in plant sources such as chia and flax seed, it's not easily used by our bodies because it must be converted into DHA or EPA, which is an inefficient process.
If you'd like to learn more about how to incorporate these four superfoods into your diet, be sure to check out my Facebook page, where I'll be sharing my favorite recipes. And if you're struggling with an autoimmune health condition, consider taking advantage of a free evaluation to find out how using food as medicine might help.