Dietary Recommendations To Promote Health
Dietary fads may come and go, but this discussion includes recommendations supported by scientific studies and those that have stood the test of time. The dietary recommendations that follow support an overall optimal level of health & body weight, and along with a healthy lifestyle (exercise, sleep, stress management, etc.), will play an important role in preventing most of the major chronic degenerative diseases including: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and stroke. In addition, these recommendations provide an overall anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which aids in injury healing and decreasing levels of chronic pain. Finally, as your overall state of health improves, your immune system function, energy, mood, and sleep also tend to improve.
Many chronic health problems stem from pro-inflammatory foods, or foods that tend to encourage inflammation. Pro-inflammatory foods can vary from person to person, depending on your unique constitution. These foods can trigger or worsen many conditions including chronic pain, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, allergies, recurring infections, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, ADHD, skin problems, and can generally interfere with the body’s healing and self-regulating processes. Another important factor to consider is the glycemic index of foods. Foods with a higher glycemic index, such as simple or refined carbohydrates, are harmful because they cause more dramatic spikes in blood sugar, leading to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems. For detailed information about glycemic index click here: http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm
Because no single diet is best for everyone, several approaches have been developed in an attempt to predict which foods will be more beneficial or harmful to a specific individual. These approaches are not as scientifically proven as other aspects of nutritional science, but warrant mentioning as they do show promise based upon significant clinical and anecdotal evidence. These approaches include nutritional typing, as advocated by Dr. Mercola at: http://products.mercola.com/nutritional-typing/. Another similar approach is described in book “Eat Right For Your Type”, by Peter D’Adamo: http://www.dadamo.com/ , who utilizes blood typing to predict which foods are beneficial or harmful. A more scientifically accepted method (but still not always entirely accurate) used to determine which foods you may be sensitive to include blood tests to identify food allergy and/or food sensitivity. The elimination is an especially reliable method, but also is the most difficult and time-consuming to implement.
The elimination diet works by first avoiding all the common foods that humans are known to be sensitive to, for about one month. These foods include (in order of most commonly problematic to least): wheat, gluten, dairy, nightshade vegetables (bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant), corn, soy, citrus fruits, eggs, chicken, nuts, and fish. It is worth mentioning that wheat, gluten, and dairy are so commonly problematic, that most people suffering with chronic conditions of any kind tend to improve when eliminating these foods from the diet. After you notice that you are feeling better, you can add the foods listed above back into your diet, one food at a time. Evaluate how you feel with each new food addition for about 2 weeks before adding the next food. Any food that causes you to feel worse should be eliminated. When you have finished going through the list of foods, you should have a pretty clear idea of which foods you are sensitive to and therefore should avoid.
Regardless of what method you use, be sure to evaluate how you feel to determine which foods are best for you. Any food that makes you feel depleted of energy after eating it, or leads to weight gain or increased pain levels should probably be avoided. Whether you choose to experiment with these approaches or not, there are many foods that are harmful or beneficial to almost all individuals, regardless of any type of nutritional typing. These are the facts that we will emphasize in this discussion.
In general, most people would be far healthier by avoiding processed foods, soda (especially diet soda), sugars, simple carbohydrates (wheat, whole wheat, white bread, crackers, pasta, etc.), chemical additives & synthetic preservatives, fatty meats, smoked meat, heavily charred & grilled meat, and most dairy products. Most of these tend to have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body. Conversely, foods that tend to reduce levels of inflammation and promote improved health include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes/beans, and most fish. A strict vegetarian diet may not be necessary, but a diet emphasizing more whole & natural foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is certainly more healthy than the typical American diet.
Although many people may be aware of this information, you may find it challenging to integrate these healthier choices into your lifestyle. However, most people find that with a bit of advance planning and a willingness to replace some old habits with new ones, it’s really not that difficult to eat healthy. Making an effort to buy most of your food for the week in advance, and making healthy choices when doing so, will go a long way. The challenge of eating a healthy breakfast “on the run” can be overcome by preparing a fresh smoothie. Lunch can be a green salad that you prepare at home in advance, or a store-bought prepared salad. Vary the ingredients, and include the amount and types of protein that you find provides you with the optimal amount of energy. Healthy protein sources may include eggs, nuts, seeds, lean meat such as turkey or chicken, fish, beans, and vegetarian meat substitutes like tempeh. Dinner may also include a lean, healthy source of protein, but make sure to include vegetables again. Grains and starches should be consumed sparingly, but healthier options include brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, barley, millet, and wheat berries.
If your goal is weight loss, follow all of the above advice, but also keep in mind that the most important factor in weight loss is calories consumed versus calories burned. Simply put, you need to burn more calories than you consume. The most reliable way to do this is to eat less and exercise more. By engaging in a cardiovascular workout 3 or more times per week, you will not only burn calories, but achieve a sustained increased metabolic rate, which will burn more calories, 24/7. Longer exercise times of greater than 30-45 minutes are especially effective. Interval training, where your heart rate fluctuates from higher to lower during the course of your exercise (as in walk/run type of exercise), is also especially effective. However, the most common pitfall for most people is portion control. We have become conditioned to eat way more than we should, especially if you are accustomed to dining out in restaurants, where portions are often 2-3 times larger than they should be to maintain an ideal body weight of a healthy adult. Many people find that they need to consume roughly half the amount of food that they are used to eating in order to achieve ideal body weight. As you consume less, it is normal to feel hungry. If you feel especially hungry between meals, try just eating a small piece of fruit and/or a small handful of nuts, seeds, or trail mix just to hold you over until you are ready for your next (small) meal. After a few weeks, your body tends to adjust to the reduced amount of food, and you will likely tend to become uncomfortably full if you return to your old ways of overeating.
One final suggestion is that fasting can be a very effective way to achieve better health and weight loss. Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a leading authority on fasting, which he explains in his highly recommended book: Fasting & Eating For Health. The most effective type of fast is the water-only fast, to be done for at least 2-3 days. Please consult the book and your healthcare provider before considering a prolonged water-only fast. A modified version of the fast is also considerably effective. For the modified fast, start out by consuming fruits and vegetables only for 2 days, then 2 days of freshly juiced vegetable juice, then 1 day of only water, then 2 days of freshly juiced vegetable juice, and then fruits and vegetables only for 2 days.
For healthy dietary tips and recipes, check out the following:
- The Health Promoting Cookbook, by Alan Goldhamer, D.C.: www.healthpromoting.com
- All books by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, including Eat To Live, The Pleasure Trap, and Fasting & Eating For Health: http://www.drfuhrman.com/shop/books.aspx
- Recipes by Dr. Andrew Weil: http://www.drweil.com/drw/ecs/common/recipe.html