When I was younger, I used to be able to eat anything and not worry about unwanted weight gain, digestive problems, or whether or not I was increasing my risk for cancer or heart disease. Oh, those were the days!
For some of us, we still eat almost everything or we simply do not think about it that much. It’s understood that we seek sometimes things that are convenient for us, packed by a well known food producing company. These are the products that have the beautiful photos on the boxes and containers. Its all about not having enough time in the day. We simply eat on the run.
Most of what you will read in this article is generic and comes as no surprise. My wish for you today, for perhaps a brief moment, you will at least think about your nutritional health.
But getting older brings with it a much more profound sense of my mortality – and with that, an increased awareness that what I put into my body today directly impacts my longevity (or lack thereof). I don’t know about you, but I hope to be around for several more decades! So, paying attention to nutrition is more important than ever.
The Key to Good Health
Hippocrates said it well when he said, “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food”. Smart man – and definitely way ahead of his time! If there’s a major flaw in Western medicine, it’s the emphasis on treating health problems with pills and surgery, rather than preventing them in the first place with a truly healthy diet. Some experts state that when it comes to our overall health, nutrition has far more impact than anything else (and everything else combined) – as much as 70% or more.
According to Robb Wolf, one of the foremost experts on Paleolithic nutrition and a former biochemist, our modern diet is the underlying cause of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and of course, obesity, and many other serious health conditions. By the way, the standard American diet (to which he is referring) is often called the “SAD” diet – and appropriately so.
That should actually come as good news, if you really think about it. Why? Because, as adults, we all have a choice when it comes to what we eat. And even at 50 (or older) we can significantly improve our health and avoid many if not most medical problems with proper nutrition.
So, what is proper nutrition?
That’s a really good question, because everyone seems to have a different theory. You’ve got the hardcore vegans who preach against eating anything that comes from an animal. Then you’ve got the vegetarians who are okay with animal products like eggs and dairy, but shun meat, poultry, and seafood. The raw food enthusiasts (also mostly vegans) eat only “living food” (i.e. nothing processed or heated beyond 115 degrees F). And then there are the “healthy” omnivores who follow the traditional food pyramid with its emphasis on lots of whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
Pretty confusing, if you’re trying to figure out what you should eat!
Regardless of whether you’re a vegan or hard-core meat-eater, following are some basic guidelines when it comes to nutrition that will help you stay healthy for years to come:
Before I get started on sharing what I think will keep you healthy, keep abreast of your drinking habits in terms of alcohol. Wine seems to be most popular these days with so many wine tastings scheduled during the week. Too much of anything can harm your plans and goals to stay healthy.
You must drink a substantial amount of water each day. Sorry that you have to run to the bathroom, however this is necessary.
Avoid Processed Foods
First, you’re simply not going to be healthy if you eat a lot of processed foods. Just about every type of lifestyle diet (such as those listed above) shares the premise that processed foods are unhealthy and should be avoided. Yes, many of them taste really good and their convenience saves you a lot of time and energy. But the long-term cost can be steep.
If you haven’t gotten into the habit of reading food labels, now is a very good time to start. The vast majority of processed foods – ranging from your breakfast cereal to your so-called healthy, probiotic-enriched yogurt – are loaded with a ridiculously long list of ingredients that no one can even pronounce. Pretty scary!
Processed foods are generally very high in:
- Sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup)
- Unhealthy fats (e.g. “partially hydrogenated” oils)
- Preservatives (so your food will still be “safe” to eat 2 to 5 years from now…)
- Artificial ingredients (e.g. sweeteners, dyes, “flavors”, etc.)
Do you really want to be putting any of those things in your body on a regular basis?
It’s hard to do justice to the dangers of sugar in a few sentences. Many nutritional experts advocate avoiding it altogether – and for good reason. Sadly, that’s easier said than done because it’s hidden in one form or another in so many foods – even in foods you’d never suspect.
If you really care about your health, you should seriously consider getting sugar out of your diet (except, perhaps, for a rare treat on special occasions). It doesn’t have any nutritional value, and it wreaks havoc in your body. Giving it up can be hard for some, because studies show that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. But most people find that once they cut it out completely (including artificial sweeteners) for 3 weeks, their desire for it goes away. They also typically lose weight, have more energy, and feel a lot better. If you give up sugar, trust me, you won’t look back. You’ll also greatly reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes.
One other thing about sugar – cancer cells thrive on it.
Steer Clear of “Diet” Foods
Walk down any aisle of the grocery store and you’ll see countless “diet”, “low-fat”, “fat-free”, and / or “low-calorie” versions of just about every food you can imagine. Considering over two-thirds of the adult population in the U.S. is either overweight (33.3%) or obese (35.9%), manufacturers of so-called diet foods have a large group to target (no pun intended!).
The problem with most of these foods is that they are highly processed, often high in sugar (or artificial sweeteners like aspartame), high in sodium, and about as far from “real” food as possible. You might cut a few calories here and there by eating them, but you’ll also be depriving your body of much better nutritional choices.
Eat Whole, Real Food
The bottom line when it comes to nutrition always comes back to eating whole, real food. By “real” food, I mean food that your grandparents and great grandparents ate – and food that has ingredients they would recognize. To find whole, real foods, stick to the outer aisles of your grocery store – where you’ll find fresh produce, unprocessed meat, fish, and poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Another good (and often better) place for fresh, whole, nutritious food is your local farmer’s market.
Choose Mostly Organic
As a general rule, organic food is always a better choice than non-organic. Not only are organic practices better for the planet and the health of farm workers, they’re also better for your health. Organic dairy comes from cows that haven’t been given antibiotics or growth hormones (which end up in your body as well), and are given only organic feed. Organic produce is grown without the use of highly toxic pesticides and other chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancer.
Be Wary of GMOs
GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms”. There is a lot of controversy about genetic modification of food, but the long-term effects are not yet known. It’s also worth noting that Europe has banned this practice. One of the best ways to avoid GMOs is to buy organic foods.
Stock Up on Fresh Produce
You can’t go wrong if a significant portion of your diet includes fresh local produce. Frozen produce (without added sugar or other ingredients) is a good second choice. Vegetables and fruit are high in a variety of nutrients, including fiber and enzymes, both of which aid digestion. Dark leafy greens and brightly colored produce are especially nutritious.
Try an Elimination Diet
If you have a lot of symptoms – particularly digestive symptoms or skin problems like eczema – it’s definitely worth trying an elimination diet. Two food groups to consider eliminating for a 30 day period (together or one at a time) are grains and pasteurized dairy. After 30 days, try reintroducing them and see how you feel. Many people report significant benefits by removing one or both of these food groups. With dairy, many people find that they tolerate raw dairy just fine even though pasteurized dairy gives them problems.
Supplement Your Diet
It’s difficult to get sufficient amounts of some nutrients from food alone. A few key supplements to consider include:
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D3 (have your Vitamin D levels tested first and then periodically)
- Vitamin K2 (important if you take vitamin D3 supplements)
- Vitamin B-12
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought (pun intended!) when it comes to nutrition. If you want to live another 3, 4, or 5 decades, then eating a healthy diet and really paying attention to what you put into your body are essential. I know I have left some things out and I hope that you will mention those in my comments section on my blog after reading this article.
Simply, I want you healthy! And Boys! Don’t forget your nuts and berries.
Curt Canada coaches and consult clients at Adapting2Change in Washington DC.