Do you find nutrition information to be a bit confusing? For most people, being bombarded with the latest and greatest in nutrition information and new diets trends on a daily basis makes them wonder “Just what is the Holy Grail?” when it comes to eating correctly. Is it about weight loss? Is it about disease prevention? Is it about a flatter tummy or muscle building? There is just so much out there on the subject of how to eat and most people do find it to be somewhat confusing and often-times conflicting. Nutritional science is a relatively new field, with vitamins only being discovered in 1912. But way back in 400 BC Hippocrates “The Father of Medicine” spoke wisely about how nutrition prevented illness and how it affects our health, our bodies and our minds. “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
Interestingly, in those days across Europe and Asia, foods were typically used to ‘treat’ different illnesses. It is said that they would squeeze the juice of liver into the eyes for eye disease (vitamin A) and in 1747 the British Navy doctor (Dr. James Lind) observed that sailors developing scurvy only ate non-perishable foods like bread and salted meats because they had not access to their regular food supplies. He had an observational hunch and experimented by dividing the sailors into groups where only one group was given fresh limes. The lime group was the only group to not develop scurvy. He didn’t even know what Vitamin C was, but this little obscure experiment paved a new way of looking at food and how it affects wellness and prevents disease.
Think about how our wise ancestors relied upon the powers of observation to discern the relative benefits of different foods. The current nutritional research has come to support and scientifically bolster some of these past observational ponderings.
Here are a few common sense changes you can make to your eating plan that incorporate age-old wisdom and cutting edge nutritional science that can help you live longer, prevent disease, feel good and have a great positive impact on any chronic condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Eat more fruits & vegetables: Hands down, this is the best practice you can implement for good health and disease prevention. What Grandma said stands true. Fruits and vegetables consumption is the most important aspect of eating healthy that you can do. The USDA recommends 5 -13 servings PER DAY of non-starchy vegetables and fruits. What’s a serving? About 1 cup of cooked veggies or 2 cups of raw veggies is equal to ONE serving. One small apple is a serving, as is one banana or a fresh orange or pear etc. Of those 5 -13 servings, most should be vegetables. Are you getting enough? Eating fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, prevent some cancers, lowers your risk of digestive issues, improves eye health and can lower blood pressure. Eating sufficient fruits and veggies improves blood sugar regulation, helps you lose weight and keeps you feeling full. Fruits and vegetables are Mother Nature’s medicine chest and provide the synergistic whole compounds for good health and disease prevention.
Eat fatty fish: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to benefit both the brain and the heart. They are essential for the facilitation of nerve transmission in normal brain development and function. Eating 2-3 servings of fish per week decreases the risk of heart attacks.
Eat more Nuts, Beans and Seeds: Nuts have gotten a bad rap in the past because of the fat phobic trend of the 1970’s and 80’s. But nuts are nutritional powerhouses! They contain fiber, protein, vitamin E, folic acid, niacin, magnesium, copper, potassium and argenine ( protects arterial walls) More recent studies have shown that they reduce the risk of heart attack and coronary events by as much as 50%; protect from type II diabetes, lower the risk for macular degeneration and may help control weight. Do watch your portion sizes however because nuts are calorie dense and it’s easy to eat too many which can impede weight loss or cause weight gain. Think of 7 walnuts as a serving size, or 23 raw almonds to get an idea of how many nuts are equal to one healthy fat serving. Beans are an excellent source of protein, are loaded with nutrients and fiber. They lower your risk of heart attacks and stroke. Seeds are little powerhouses of nutrients, healthy fats and fiber. They can help lower blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. Try adding flaxseeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds to a smoothie, or top off a non-fat Greek yogurt “parfait” with seeds and fresh fruit.
Use more olive oil: Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat which can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels in your blood.
Eat whole grains: Whole grains contain Vitamin E which can aid in the prevention of cancer, especially prostrate cancer. Studies show that it can boost immunity, treat and prevent arthritis and can slow Alzheimer’s disease. Whole grains can help prevent against breast, colon and liver cancers. barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, oatmeal, organic popcorn are all good examples of whole grains. (Hint: Look for the word “Whole” when reading the ingredient list).
Drink Tea: Tea is rich in bioflavonoids and anti-oxidants and has been shown to be protective against disease. Tea has been used for over 4000 years in Asia as a ‘tonic’ for ailments.
Skip the “Simple Carbs” and eat “Complex Carbohydrates”: Complex Carbs the” Good Carbohydrates” which generally mean fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. “Simple carbs” (anything with sugar, white bread, white flour, white pasta and refined baked goods) spike insulin levels and drive blood sugar levels up which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even cancer. Research from the University of Texas demonstrated that just one teaspoon of sugar can suppress the immune system for up to 8 hours. Cut out sugar completely. It serves no use for good health in your body!
Restrict red meat, processed meats, trans fats, and sodium: Red meat, although a rich sources of vitamin B12 can have large amounts of saturated fats which have been shown to contribute to coronary disease by raising LDL levels. Skip processed meats like cold cuts, bacon, sausage which generally contain nitrates (a carcinogen) and extremely high levels of sodium. Trans fats are produced in oil when it is processed (vegetable shortening, margarine) and have been shown to be twice as damaging as saturated fats in their ability to raise LDL and reduce HDL. Remember, even if a food label says ‘Zero Trans-Fats” it may still contain a trans-fat. Become a label detective and look for the words “hydrogenated oil” or ‘partially hydrogenated oils” to determine if there are trans fats in the item. No amount is safe- ditch the food if you see those words on the label. Sodium should be restricted to under 1500 mg per day if you have high blood pressure and not more than 2400 mg per day if your blood pressure is normal. Processed foods (anything in a box, bag or package) can have extremely large amounts of sodium. Read labels! Even so-called ‘healthy’ foods that are packaged are generally loaded with sodium.
Eat Less: Food intake and needs vary according to many physical aspects of a person. It depends of gender, age, genetics, activity levels and many other hormonal and physical aspects of a person. Recent studies demonstrate that reducing caloric intake while maintaining nutritional integrity may increase longevity.
Take a “Whole food sourced” multi-vitamin: Your body needs vitamins to run- just like an engine needs the correct amounts of fuel, oil and water to run smoothly, your body needs vitamins to make your engine run- your metabolism and every life function in your body. Our bodies do not make vitamins- we have to eat them. In a perfect world, we would get all of our vitamins from our food. However, it is almost impossible to eat the variety, quality and amount of food necessary to supply our body with all that it needs every day. Our soils are depleted and stripped from massive farming efforts; pesticides, herbicides and travel time from farm to table all diminish and minimize vitamins in food. It is very difficult to constantly keep up on with the minute by minute nutritional demands our bodies need to think, move, perform and function, especially in our high stressed lives, so it is commonly supported that taking a multi-vitamin daily can help to counteract some of the nutritional lacking in our food intake. Find a good Whole Food Sourced multi vitamin by asking for it at your local health food center (synthetic sources are not as easily assimilated into your body).
Overall however, whole real foods, are our best source of vitamins due to the ‘synergistic effects’ of phytonutrients. This means that the whole is more than the sum of its parts in real food. Nature creates the perfect balance of vitamins in real foods that work together to supply your body with all that it needs.
Following these simple guidelines can help you navigate the path towards healthy eating. The food you eat every day affects not only your physical health, but your emotional and mental capabilities and functions as well.
“Let food by thy medicine and thy medicine by thy food”; Eat well, be well, stay well!
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach