Eating for Health and Nutrition is Using Food As Medicine
I frequently hear this question often from patients, friends and family… “How do I learn to eat better?” There is so much conflicting information coming out every day from studies that only tell part of the food story.
What I tell people about eating for health and nutrition instead of eating for taste is:
#1: If you have any chronic inflammatory condition (sinus, GERD, arthritis, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmune disease etc.) you may need professional nutritional guidance in choosing YOUR healthy foods or digestive support supplementation. Not everyone should be eating the same things in a balanced daily diet.
#2: Eating “better” is more a mental exercise than the physical act of getting nutrients into your system. To eat better, keep these three things in mind:
What are the highest nutrient foods I can eat? What are the lowest nutrient foods I should limit? What am I actually absorbing?
Let’s start with that last point about absorption first:
In the US, we are all physically, environmentally, chemically, and emotionally stressed for so many reasons. Many of my patients don’t factor in how stress and aging affects how we digest and absorb nutrients. It’s not their fault — only recently has important data come into play. How does your age affect optimal digestion and absorption?
From age 20 and onward, we gradually lose our ability to produce the digestive enzymes that are essential for extracting nutrients from our food. If we are dealing with any level of adrenal dysfunction (our stress organ) our ability to make those important digestive enzymes further declines. By age 60, it’s estimated that as much as 50% of those enzymes are gone even without the stress factor. That means that at least half of every food-based vitamin, mineral, protein, and carb you swallow may go undigested and just pass through your system unused.
What to do about that? Assuming you’re eating what’s great to eat, then change HOW you eat:
I know, this is like telling someone dying of thirst to just take little sips of water, but you can energize your remaining enzymes by thinking smaller and slower:
1. Use smaller plates and use smaller portions to allow the enzymes to be more concentrated.
3. Take smaller bites, more slowly to allow the food breakdown to happen more efficiently.
4. Chew each bite longer than you’re used to (20-30 times per mouthful) to help release those important enzymes.
It’s amazing how a serving size has a powerful effect on satiety. A big plate, full of food, sends a message to your brain that says, “To be satisfied, eat all of me.” A smaller plate, full of food, says the same thing — but you end up eating less.
Do you chew 20-30 times per mouthful? It may feel weird at first to be chewing, for what seems like forever. Remember as we age, we are at a disadvantage with those digestive enzymes. As we chew, enzymes are released so the longer you chew, the more of every active food-processing enzyme left in your system goes into maximum-efficiency mode, from your mouth to the final passing of waste.
What’s great to eat (and drink)?
My suggested general food list would include fresh (or fresh-frozen) foods: lean organic grass-fed meats and poultry, organic fruits and vegetables, unsalted sprouted nuts and seeds, minimal beans and legumes. Again, adjustments to this list would need to be made for those with inflammatory conditions. (Notice I don’t include dairy or grains):
– Wild-caught omega-3-rich fish like salmon (but due to heavy metals in fish, no more than twice a week)
– 4-6 cups organic vegetables (minimum) and no more than 1 cup of lower sugar fruit (berries) per day
– Good fats like avocado and avocado oil, coconut oil and unsweetened alternative milks, olive oils
– Filtered Water: Half an ounce per pound of body weight per day. If you are 140 pounds, then 70 ounces of water spaced throughout the day.
– Celtic or Himalayan Sea Salt (grey or pink are best- not ordinary table salt)
And what’s terrible to eat?
That would be the Standard American Diet, which is damaging, and yes, killing, Americans in record numbers, by encouraging heart disease, strokes, obesity, diabetes, neuro-degenerative disease – the list goes on.
This is your bottom line:
Seek out real foods and avoid boxed, chemical laded, high-sodium (table salt, not Sea Salt) processed fast foods and high sugars (more than 10-12g per meal). We need to get back to cooking more so we know what type of nutrients we are (or are not) putting into our bodies.
As a Clinical Nutritionist, I’m trained in the nutritional needs of many health conditions. Of all the food plans out there to choose from, I’d say that in general, the Mediterranean Diet or the “Whole 30 Diet” are both great places to start for guidance.
Food is key for health. Here’s to your health!