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? 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 below 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 studies. No matter how well-intended, it is hard to structure a study that controls for ALL factors and researchers 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, it is what people ate 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:
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. We were led way astray by the old 4 food groups chart and even further mislead by the original lobbyist-instigated “food pyramid”. Here is one from a wise nutritionist, the late David Getoff–it makes sense! LINK.
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.
Reduce sugar in your diet. Sugar leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and acid reflux to name a few. Sugar is inflammatory, hard on the immune system, feeds cancer cells and feeds Candida yeasts that cause a myriad of symptoms. 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 can visualize a pile of 10 teaspoons of sugar and have a glass of water instead. According to this study, a low carbohydrate diet lessened pain from osteoarthritis. Sadly, a government endorsed myth caused the public to fear fat in foods and gravitate toward carbohydrates. Science has continued to refute that idea (typical study), but too many people still avoid even the very good fats such as in nuts and avocados. Read about how to avoid Blood Sugar Spikes.
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. (Of course, the lettuce on a burger doesn’t count as a serving.) Never mind what the government says, I don’t give any credit at all to French Fries because the nutrients are gone and the fats are bad and/or damaged. 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. Ideally eat more of the varieties that are lower in sugar but higher in antioxidants–berries for example. 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. Unnecessarily concerned about red meat? Please read part 1 and 2 of Ronald Hoffman, MD’s great article.
Don’t be afraid of fat. It is crucial for life. Just be fussy about the kind and the quality you eat. Work hard to balance pro-inflammation omega-6 fats and anti-inflammation omega-3. Selecting wild fish and pasture-raised beef helps with that. Use monounsaturated fats (think olive and macadamia nut oil) instead of vegetable oil. Olive oil is a good choice, but should be used at low temperatures. Learn more about MCT oil.
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 which is related to gluten.) Read more about gluten in this article, Gluten Grief. Another article gives many reasons to cut back on grain. 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. Read about that. 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.
Season with herbs. Herbs contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that reduce inflammation and protect against cancer and other diseases. Turmeric and ginger are great examples. The processed food supply is fairly high in salt and low in the potassium which is supposed to balance it. For some people, reducing sodium helps them lower their blood pressure. (However, I believe that the government guidelines on salt are too low for most people’s good health.)
Don’t eat more than you need. And, besides moderating serving size, give your body a break from eating to do its repairs and housecleaning. Studies show that Time Restricted Fasting has a lot of benefits. That means to leave an extended fast of 12-16 hours between dinner and breakfast. At the least try to avoid snacking after dinner and wait as long as practical before breakfast. Learn more about intermittent fasting.
From this point on the rest of the list isn’t from the major diet studies, but is in line with the historical view, common sense and widely understood in the natural medicine community.
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 (studies actually show more benefit from full fat). Dairy is a big category in the questionable USDA food pyramid. (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 charge funds a lot of public relations and advertising to sway public and even medical opinion.) 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. 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 may be 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. Pasture-raised is even better.
Fermented milks (yogurt and kefir) are more digestible and can provide useful bacteria.
- There is new interest in what kind of cows the milk comes from and what type of protein they produce. Here is some basic information on that.
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.
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 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 because it takes more energy to digest raw. (A therapeutic diet may specify cooked vegetables.)
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 (like the State Fair or Thanksgiving). Just know that the next meal is an opportunity to try again and that it gets easier with practice. And don’t think that anything that tastes good is automatically bad for you. This study showed that even milk chocolate, especially eaten in the morning may lower blood sugar and lead to a reduced waist size.
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 2008-2020 Martie Whittekin, CCN