ABC’s of Healthy Eating
There is no longer any dispute that a “balanced” “nutritious” diet helps prevents disease but what do those terms mean and how do we sort through the seemingly conflicting advice? It really is pretty simple. Are you interested in the cancer-prevention diet, the diabetes-prevention diet, the heart-disease prevention diet, the arthritis-prevention diet or the dementia-prevention diet? Or, you say you want to prevent all of those conditions? Well, you can relax because they all benefit from the same way of eating.
Common denominators. I’ve looked at dozens of diet plans that all claim success. What I list here are not the fine points of what % carbohydrate, etc. but rather the threads common to all those plans. I think we can easily be confused by experts because, no matter how well-intentioned, it is hard to structure a study that controls for all factors and they may end up taking a narrow view based on their preexisting bias. It seems to me that history provides the best reference. What is the “factory specification” diet? In essence, what did people eat for thousands of years before their choices were swayed by economic factors and food technology? Refer to my page Historic changes in the food supply. I think it is safe to say that the more your diet resembles the left side of that chart, the better off you will be. Here are a few highlights:
Read labels. You will never know if you are making progress on improving your diet if you don’t know what is really in the food. Read labels on even the products you think you know because there are often surprises. Read labels. Read labels. Read labels. Here is a link to the USDA database where you can research the nutrient content of even foods that do not have labels.
Eat REAL food. And get it in as close to its original form as possible. Avoid refined, processed foods and chemical additives. The goal is high in nutrient density and low in junk.
Reduce sugar in your diet. Sugar leads to obesity and diabetes. It is inflammatory, hard on the immune system, feeds cancer cells and may feed Candida yeasts that cause a myriad of symptoms. They at the very least drag down the system. Sugary foods also create blood sugar swings that cause fatigue, brain fog, mood issues and cravings. One teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4 grams. So, if a soda label lists 40 grams of sugar, we should visualize that pile of 10 teaspoons of sugar and have a glass of water instead.
Eat more vegetables. They are the source of crucial nutrients and fiber that feed our good bacteria. Greens are very important but the greater variety of colors you eat the better because you get a better assortment of phytonutrients. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli have been shown to be protective against cancer, heart disease and many, many other diseases. Aim for several servings a day. The lettuce on a burger doesn’t count as a serving. And I don’t give any credit at all to French Fries because the nutrients are gone and the fats are bad. Ketchup? Yes, it came from a tomato (technically a fruit) but the problem is that a tablespoon contains 4 grams of sugar.
Eat nutritious fruits whole. Select the varieties that are lower in sugar but higher in antioxidants such as berries. Other fruits like apples and oranges have benefits too but stick to the whole fruit—not the juice. Juicing discards many of the beneficial properties and concentrates the sugar and calories by using several fruits to make one glass.
Have some protein at each meal. The amino acids in protein build our structure (muscle, bone, nerve tissue, skin and hair). They are needed to make hormones and brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Also protein will help carry you to the next meal without hunger.
Don’t be afraid of fat. It is crucial for life. Just be fussy about the kind and quality you eat. Read my book, Fat Free Folly for more background and answers to the tough questions. Work hard to balance pro-inflammation omega-6 fats and anti-inflammation omega-3. Selecting wild fish and grass-fed beef help with that. Use monounsaturated fats instead of vegetable oil. Macadamia nut oil is richest in monounsaturated fats and is safe at higher heat. Olive oil is a good second choice but should be used cold or at low temperatures.
Eat whole grains when you eat grain. That means 100% whole wheat flour—not “wheat bread” if the first ingredient on the label is “enriched” flour. That is just brown-colored white bread. Be aware that many people are sensitive to the gluten in wheat, rye and several other grains. (Anyone with a bone-thinning condition should be checked for celiac disease.) Read more about gluten in this article. Brown rice is whole—white rice is not. Don’t go out of your way to eat corn because it is often contaminated with fungal mycotoxins. Also, corn and corn derivatives are over-used in the food supply and over exposure can lead to sensitivities. For reasons that are not quite clear, women seem to benefit more from eating grains than men do.
Don’t eat more than you need.
From this point on the rest of the list isn’t from the major diet studies, but is in line with the historical view and common sense.
Be picky about dairy. We hear constantly that dairy is important and that you should have several servings a day of low fat dairy products. Dairy is a big category in the USDA food pyramid. However, from the alternative medicine side, we often hear that we should avoid dairy all together. I think the truth lies somewhere in between as is often the case. (Remember that the USDA is charged with boosting the sales of US agricultural crops and that there is a lot of money in the dairy-based part of the economy. That funds a lot of public relations and advertising to sway public and even medical opinion.) Some facts:
Dairy is one of the top 8 allergens.
A significant number of people are lactose-intolerant (they can’t digest the milk sugar)
Introduction of cow’s milk to infants too early may contribute to Type 1 diabetes.
It isn’t clear that the calcium in milk is particularly well absorbed and there are other good sources of calcium—almonds, beans, oats and greens to name just a few.
The health properties of milk may decline with pasteurization (heating) and homogenization (breaks down to smaller globules). Because of what is apparently misplaced regulatory concern, raw milk is only available in some states.
Commercial dairy products may contain residual hormones and antibiotics used in dairy cows. Therefore, organic milk is a better choice.
Fermented milks (yogurt and kefir) are more digestible and can provide useful bacteria.
If I had the full range of choices, I’d pick organic raw fermented milk without added sugar. Don’t feel obliged to eat dairy if it doesn’t set well with you.
Season with herbs rather than a load of salt. Doing so you achieve a double benefit. Herbs contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and protect against cancer and other diseases. Turmeric and ginger are great examples. The food supply is already overly salted and reducing sodium helps many people lower their blood pressure. (However, the government guidelines on salt are too low for most people’s good health.)
Eat seasonal and local. Foods in-season best suit your body’s changing seasonal needs and foods grown close to home don’t lose as many nutrients traveling to your store. (Better for the environment too.)
Eat at least some of your food raw. Raw foods still have their enzymes intact and that gives your body’s enzymes less work to do. Not everyone is suited to a completely raw foods diet.
Cut yourself some slack. If you fall off the wagon and eat a meal that is terribly unhealthy, don’t beat yourself up. We are all human and can be in situations that make our health objective take a back seat. Just know that the next meal is an opportunity to try again and that it gets easier with practice.
Supplement. Because our food supply is depleted in nutrients and because the challenges of modern life require more, most authorities now agree that dietary supplements are very beneficial even for those who eat a very healthful diet. Read more about nutritional supplements.
Best wishes ! If these guidelines are helpful to you, please consider passing them on.
This information is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of a healthcare professional. The statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Consult with a health profession who knows nutrition regarding any illness.
Copyright 2008, 2014 Martie Whittekin, CCN