How Can I Achieve Optimal Health?
Secret #1 - Nutrition
Before I reveal Secret #1 to you, you might want to check out my article on an overview of the Essentials for Optimal Health covered in the acronym NEWSTART. You’ll find it right HERE.
The first secret to enjoying optimal health is Nutrition. This is a broad area but the fundamental principles of nutrition for optimal health cluster around the areas of quality, quantity, and timing.
In terms of quality, the best nutrition will be found in a diet that focuses on whole, natural, plant-based foods that are prepared simply and with minimal amounts of refined and processed foods like oils and sugars. A variety of fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and legumes (beans) provide the nutrients needed for best health. According to the non-profit Physician’s Committee on Responsible Medicine (PCRM), using the Power Plate food group model is the most powerful way to both prevent and reverse chronic lifestyle diseases. This is an evidence based model, well supported with years of research and thousands of studies. It is heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer that kill the majority of people living in Western societies OR living anywhere and copying Western lifestyles. The food groups are Fruits, Vegetables, Grains and Legumes. Nuts and Seeds in smaller quantities are also important. Here is a diagram illustrating the Power Plate.
For best health you need to consume some of every food group every day. Most people will be greatly benefited by increasing their intake of green leafy vegetables and other vegetables and making sure they have legumes every day. The vegetables are your best source for Vitamins and minerals which are very important for fighting disease and maintenance of health. The legumes provide an excellent source of both protein and fiber. The fiber is especially important when you want to balance your blood sugars throughout the day. What the best proportions for you between these food groups may vary some depending on your current health status.
Although many people are cutting back on grains and gluten sources, it is important to note that whole grains are an important part of a diet for optimal health. If you find that you do not tolerate wheat well, you may want to focus on other grains like millet, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, GF oats, and ancient grains like kamut. If there are whole food groups that you do not consume due to food allergies or other health challenges, it’s important to remember that as you follow the 8 secrets to health many of these conditions can improve, allowing you to eat a better variety of foods. It is always of concern if whole food groups are being eliminated from the diet. Inevitably it will lead to its own problems related to deficiencies in certain nutrients. In these cases a trained lifestyle medicine professional can offer guidance to work around these potential obstacles.
In terms of quantity, over eating is greatly decreased with a plant-based diet as it is very rich in fiber providing meals that are high volume but low calorie and nutrient dense. This is an important secret to good nutrition. It is important to make sure you are getting enough to calories to maintain your ideal weight or, if needed, a moderate decrease in calories to lose weight at a reasonable rate (1-2 lbs/week). Any tighter restriction on caloric intake can cause a nutrient deficiency due to not consuming adequate quantities of these highly nutritious foods. Normally an adult stomach should be able to hold about 4 cups of food at a meal. When choosing healthy foods as described above, it is easy to get this volume without getting excess calories. So no need to feel like you are starving or deprived on a 100% plant-based diet!
Timing is also important. The body’s digestive system is designed to process a maximum of 2-3 meals a day with nothing, not even healthy snacks, in between. This allows it to digest a meal, move it along the digestive tract, and prepare for the following meal. When snacks are introduced between meals, the stomach is forced to being the digestion process again on the new food until the consistency matches that which has been in the stomach for a while. This delay easily make it so that by the following meal, the previous meal is still in the stomach. In other words, if you eat a good breakfast, then have a doughnut and coffee mid-morning, your stomach may still contain some breakfast in it when you eat your lunch. This means it didn’t get needed rest and recuperation time to properly prepare for lunch. When this happens over and over, the effect is that the stomach loses it effectiveness and poor digestion can become the norm. Overwork of any body organ always contributes to break down over time. There may not be symptoms right away, but the damage is still occurring.
Speaking of breakfast, if you are on a normal day/night schedule, your body works best if you start the day with a hearty breakfast, follow it with a substantial lunch and then either skip the evening meal or make it a very light, easy to digest one that is at least 3 hours before you plan to be in bed. As the old saying goes, “Breakfast like a king, Lunch like a queen, and Supper like a pauper”.
In this day and age, many people wonder if everything they eat should be organic and how bad is genetically modified food. Although there are not as many studies in America on this subject as there should be, there are good studies coming out of Europe and studies in animals that strongly suggest genetic modification is likely becoming a real food hazard with many effects that are negative but not all evident at this point. Avoiding the big four GMO foods of soybeans, corn, canola [oil], and cottonseed [oil] will go a long ways for better health. Newer gene modification products are also being tested and will likely be introduced into the food supply such as non-browning apples. Zucchini and papaya in American markets are the produce items most likely to be genetically modified. Organic foods have the advantage of not only being GMO free, but also much less likely to have dangerous levels of herbicides such as glyphosphate (Round-Up) that are linked to a myriad of health problems. If you can’t afford to buy all organic foods, do not let that stop you from eating lots of produce and other kinds of food as it is still healthier than eating animal products or not getting enough of the important vitamins and minerals your body craves.
So start right by implementing the “N” of Nutrition in NEWSTART!
Proof Positive, by Dr. Neil Nedley