“If We Could Give Every Individual The Right Amount Of Nourishment And Exercise – Not Too Much And Not Too Little – We Would Have Found The Safest Way To Health,”Hippocrates.
Two thousand four hundred years ago and it is still the best advice.
Your agenda is health and longevity. This means most of us have to modify our lifestyles. That is the goal. If lifestyles are changed to include appropriate eating patterns and appropriate food intake along with exercise, better sleep, no tobacco and less stress, then health and wellness will follow and persist. This means many fewer chronic illnesses and a longer lifespan. But it is very important to modify lifestyles for the long term, not just a few weeks or months.
A good place to begin is with nutrition and for that a good starting point is to understand and follow the Mediterranean Diet. It consists of extensive fresh vegetables and fruit each day plus regular servings of nuts, seeds and beans along with whole grains such as whole wheat, oats and brown rice, olive oil and fish with a topping of wine but limited meat and very little added sugar. This is widely considered to be a sound, healthy diet. As a general rule it is food prepared “from scratch” in the kitchen, not processed food from the manufacturers nor prepared foods from the corner deli or fast food place.
There are some specifics that should be noted.
Cover your plate with two thirds vegetables and only one third with meat or fish. Make the veggies the major part of the meal. Fresh and local when possible and organic whenever available. Fix them simply such as steaming, stir frying or baking. Fresh vegetables need little seasonings although some herbs are both flavorful and healthy additions. Dark greens should be a frequent part of the meal – spinach, kale, collards, dandelion greens, arugula and Swiss chard are good examples. Spinach, arugula and dandelion make a wonderful salad; toss it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and perhaps top it with a few slivers of carrot plus some cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. Consider steaming or stir frying the others.
Fruits are important. Eat a wide variety of types and colors, preferably local and fresh although frozen is fine. Avoid canned fruits as they invariably have added sugar. Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cherries are high in polyphenols that are valuable for many metabolic processes and especially good for the brain.
Whole grains means just that and not refined white flour as found in most breads, packaged foods such as most cereals, pasta, cakes, pies, cookies, and yes even pizza. Refined white flour has essentially no nutritional value so it is essential to avoid all of these, with perhaps a rare treat or two. It follows that trips to the fast food outlet are verboten. Fats are fine in moderation and indeed are essential. Get them from olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds and from fin fish. Avoid trans fats. Keep omega 6 fatty acids to a minimum; they are found in many commercially baked goods.
It is critical to avoid sugar. This is difficult since we have been trained to desire sweet tastes and sugar of various types is added to many packaged foods, sodas, yogurts and of course ice cream. The limit per day is 25 grams for women and 37 grams for men. To put this in perspective, a can of soda has the full complement of sugar for a man and is well over that for a woman. One more reason to avoid fast foods. When you buy cheese avoid ones with food colors; real cheese has natural color. Yogurt is very healthy but most brands add fruit, flavoring and a lot of sugar. Look to also see that the cultures are “live;” many are not and essentially all flavored yogurts and those with sugar added have no live cultures.
Fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids – the good fats. You need them and can’t create them in your body so it must come from your foods. Most beef comes from animals that have been placed in small pens for months and fed a diet of grains like corn and soybeans so as to fatten them up. But this fat is mostly omega 6 fatty acids which is pro inflammatory. Unfortunately, the USDA labels the fattest beef as “prime.” Beef from cattle that have been grazed their entire life have minimal omega 6s and do have omega 3 fatty acids but the amount pales compared that found in salmon, mackerel or sardines. Another important point – find meats that do not have additives, either on the range, the feed lots or added after butchering. Antibiotics, growth hormone, nitrites and other additives are likely adverse to your gut health.
Chickens are usually raised in buildings so that they never see the light of day before slaughter but do have antibiotics in their feed and may be stimulated with hormones to grow larger. Look instead for poultry from farms that use no additives and let the chickens fun free. And with all meats avoid these that have added liquid “to retain moisture.” Get real chicken and real beef, lamb or pork, additive free and pasture grazed.
Buying organic vegetables and fruits and grass-fed meats are more expensive for sure. But the health benefits outweigh the costs.
Is there anything that you can eat? Yes, dark chocolate, preferably 85% cocoa or more. It is inherently healthy. So is coffee. It is not only OK but healthy to have alcohol in moderation.
You are eating not just for yourself but also for the bacteria in your intestines – the gut microbiota (microbiome.) The 100 trillion of them need nourishment so that they can help maintain your immune system, your intestinal lining cells and so that they can produce various nutrients that your cells in various organs use for energy. Their “food” is the fiber that your intestinal enzymes cannot digest but which the bacteria love. The best sources are in vegetables and fruits. Consume inadequate fiber and the “good” bacteria are starved. If meanwhile, you eat sugar, refined white flour or too much alcohol, you will be feeding the “bad” bacteria with detrimental results. That, of course, is a common combination in the standard American diet but it leads to increased intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”), local and systemic inflammation, passage of toxins into the bloodstream and the induction of a variety of complex chronic illnesses. So, treat those bacteria well. The foods like veggies with their high fiber content that benefit the gut microbiota are called prebiotics. Foods that include bacteria and yeasts that are known to be healthy are called probiotics and are found in many foods like live culture yogurts, live culture Kefir, non-pasteurized sauerkraut, kim chi and other fermented foods. Have some regularly.
To recapitulate – aggressively avoid added sugars; eat lots of veggies of a wide range of colors including dark green leafies; include only whole grains and not too much. You need good fats as found in olive oil, nuts and seed, and lots of fish. Dairy, eggs and poultry are best if it comes from grass fed animals. Same for beef, pork and lamb in limited quantities. Include some wine and plenty of water. Be sure to include plenty of fiber foods and probiotic foods as well. Local, fresh and organic are preferable.
This combination will keep you healthy and keep your intestinal bacteria happy as well. When they are happy, you will be healthier
A final word comes again from Hippocrates; “All disease begins in the gut.”
Still the best advice only now we begin to understand just why he was correct.
Next post – Keep moving!