We hear and read a lot of conflicting information on nutrition and what to eat including information from major universities, top government agencies, and leading nutritionists. It seems sometimes the best thing to do is trust your instincts and find what works best for you! To help you with this, the following information has been compiled from the integrative/holistic health community. While not all-inclusive, these suggestions for healthy eating are generally agreed on in the current literature.
• Eat REAL food – as Michael Pollan would say “Don’t eat anything your great great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
• Eat whole food – this means nothing processed – think and eat
“outside the box.” Processed food is devitalized, containing little nutritional value and usually contains a plethora of artificial colors and flavors and preservatives. In addition, toxic ingredients such as MSG (hidden under a variety of names) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are often lurking.
• Eat a variety of food colors – this ensures you receive the necessary phytochemicals (e.g., bio-flavonoids) which help protect against chronic disease.
• Choose foods high in antioxidants – This includes fruits, veggies, and fresh herbs to fight free radicals. Free radicals find their way into our bodies through air pollution, tobacco smoke, radiation, herbicides, and rancid fatty foods. (Be sure to refrigerate all nuts and oils to prevent rancidity.)Free radicals contribute to premature aging and chronic disease. Antioxidants are found largely in fruits and vegetables.
• Choose organic – This eliminates most of the synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, & fungicides many of which are known carcinogens as well as endocrine disruptors which also wreak havoc on our immune system. Choosing organic will ensure you are not eating so-called “Frankenfood” – genetically modified organisms or “GMOs” which are believed to be contributing to an increased incidence of food allergies. Most all processed foods contain GMO’s, often in the form of corn and/or soy. If a product is not certified organic, it most likely contains genetically modified organisms.
• Drink Filtered water – Tap water (of which a large percentage of bottled water is comprised of) contains heavy metals, toxic chemicals including chlorine & fluoride, and medications (Silent Spring Institute has tested drinking water here on Cape Cod and found Sulfa drugs and fire retardants among other contaminants in our drinking water.) How much filtered water should you drink? Newest research suggests you drink half of your weight in ounces of water daily – so if you weigh 150 lbs. you should divide that by 2 which equals 75 ounces of water daily.
• Limit intake of caffeinated beverages – Caffeine increases stress by releasing more stress hormones into the body – thereby impacting the immune system, blood pressure, heart rate, and insulin. It also contributes to dehydration by it’s diuretic action. It is recommended that for every caffeinated (or alcoholic) drink, you should consume one extra glass of water in addition to your minimum daily requirement.
• Limit alcohol consumption – In addition to being toxic to the liver and compromising immune function, alcohol raises the blood sugar, requiring large amounts of damaging insulin to be secreted. It is also dehydrating. While there is no recognized “safe” recommendation, the CDC’s newest guidelines state “Women are classified as heavy drinkers if they have eight or more drinks a week, or roughly one per day. Men are classified as heavy drinkers if they have 14 drinks a week or two per day. Some integrative health practitioners recommend no more than 3 drinks per week for women and 7 for men.
• Eat only meat & dairy that is organic and free-ranged – This ensures the meat is free from antibiotics, synthetic hormones and other harmful chemicals. It also ensures the inclusion of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), present only in grass fed beef and its milk which is believed beneficial for weight control, skin disorders, and other health problems.
• Buy organic free-ranged eggs – meat & chicken that have been raised in CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) are fed an unnatural diet of primarily (genetically modified) corn. As Michael Pollan observed “We are what we eat eats.”
• Increase consumption of Omega 3’s – Omega 3 & Omega 6 oils are essential fatty acids. This means that your body cannot produce them internally and hence they must be obtained from outside sources. Since most of us have an imbalance in these essential fats, consuming too much inflammatory Omega 6 oil, we need to concentrate on obtaining Omega 3’s which are anti-inflammatory. Sources of Omega 3’s include cold-water fish (e.g. Salmon, Cod, and Tuna) flax seed oil, and walnuts.
• Increase fiber – Newer guidelines recommend up to 50 grams per day. Most of us consume about 10 grams. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.) Fiber acts to keep the colon clean, reducing toxins and cholesterol as well as ensuring the recommended number of bowel movements – one for each meal. Hippocrates believed that auto-intoxication from constipation was the cause of chronic disease!
• Eat low glycemic foods – this automatically eliminates sugar and “junk food” but also includes foods such as white rice, potatoes, and grains as well as artificial sweeteners which can trick your body. High glycemic foods cause insulin spikes which can eventually lead to Metabolic Syndrome and diabetes. High glycemic foods also raise blood lipids and can lead to fatty liver.
• Consider eliminating wheat consumption – while not everyone is in agreement on this, there is much evidence that the wheat of today is vastly different from the wheat of yesteryear, having a much higher percentage of gluten which may be contributing to the rapid rise of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. In addition, farming methods include spraying wheat prior to harvest with Roundup, a notoriously toxic herbicide, to hasten drying.
• Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated fats – these are fats which have been chemically altered and are especially toxic to your body.
• Consume healthy fats – Among those generally considered healthy are olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and meat and eggs from organically raised animals.
These are some of the major points to remember when planning your food menus. One thing is clear from all this: “Eat your fruits and veggies” is probably the best advice your grandmother ever gave you for healthy eating! They supply much needed fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Newer recommendations advice up to 7 servings per day and some recommend filling your plate ¾ full with veggies while another source recommends we choose 35 different fruits & veggies per week! (I tried this and it was fun keeping track as well as flavorful!) Hope all this food for thought was helpful – let me know!