The food we eat affects our health and it would not be wrong to say that the majority of our illnesses are the result of what we put into our mouth.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is characterized by a high intake of red meat, processed meats, fried foods, refined grains, high sugar drinks and the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup. Fast food is a typical example of this. It is known to promote inflammation possibly the root cause of all major illnesses including heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia and cancer.
The alternative, “non fast” food is considered too confusing and a chore to prepare. Some complain that it is not tasty. Lets understand what makes a healthy diet and then we can talk about meal plans and recipes!
The food that we eat contains macronutrients and micronutrients. As the names suggest, macronutrients are needed in relative large amounts compared to the micronutrients.
The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats and protein.
Carbohydrates provide the body with energy (4 calories/gram) and include starchy foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. They also includes fruit, legumes, juices, sugar and some dairy products.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body and also provide energy (4 calories/gram). Main sources of protein include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes and vegetarian alternatives like tofu.
Fats provide our body with energy and supports cell growth (9 calories/gram). It help our body to absorb vitamins and to manufacture essential hormones. Main sources of fat include nuts, seeds, oils, butter, cheese, oily fish and fatty meat.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals and are required in smaller amounts. They are “essential”, in that we must get them from the diet in order to survive.
Some of the most common micronutrients include:
Magnesium: Involved in over 600 cellular processes, including energy production, nervous system function and muscle contraction.
Potassium: This mineral is important for blood pressure control, fluid balance and the function of your muscles and nerves.
Iron: Primarily needed for making hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood.
Calcium: An important structural component of bones and teeth, and also a key mineral for our heart, muscles and nervous system.
All vitamins from A to K, play important roles in every organ and cell in our body.
If we eat “real” (unprocessed) food that includes plants and animals, then we should technically get all the micronutrients without needing to take a supplement.
Why whole food?
“Whole food” is any natural substance that has not been processed or refined and is free from additives or other artificial substances.
If the product looks like it was made in a factory, then it’s probably not a whole food.
Whole foods tend to have fewer calories and more nutrients per serving than processed foods.
Foods to Eat
Plan your diet around these healthy food groups:
Vegetables: Should be included at most meals. They are low in calories yet full of important micronutrients and fiber.
Fruits: Naturally sweet, they provides micronutrients and antioxidants needed for repair and growth.
Meat and fish: The major sources of protein in non vegetarian or vegan diets.
Nuts and seeds: One of the best fat sources available and also contain important micronutrients.
Eggs: An all rounder eggs present a combination of protein, beneficial fats and micronutrients.
Dairy: Dairy products such as natural yogurt and milk are good sources of protein and calcium.
Healthy starches: Include whole food starchy foods like potatoes, quinoa, whole wheat bread and rice.
Beans and legumes: These are a great source of fiber, protein and micronutrients.
Beverages: Water should make up the majority of our fluid intake
Herbs and spices: These are often very high in nutrients and have “medicinal” properties
Why plant based?: Plants can neither fly nor flee under stress. To survive they adapt by producing phytochemical compounds with antimicrobial, anti fungal and antioxidant properties. More whole, plant-based foods means more antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Foods to Avoid
Sugar-based products: Foods high in sugar, especially sugary drinks with high fructose corn syrup, are linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats: Also known as partially hydrogenated fats, they have been linked to serious diseases, such as heart disease.
Refined carbs: Foods such as white bread, are linked to overeating, obesity and metabolic syndrome. For some it is linked with gluten intolerance.
Processed low-fat products: Often disguised as healthy alternatives, low-fat products usually contain a lot of sugar to make them taste better.
There is no need to eliminate your favorite food forever. Limiting the intake of unhealthy food or saving it for special occasions may be all that is needed.
By controlling our portions, we are better able to avoid consuming too many calories.
While whole foods are certainly a lot harder to overeat than processed foods, they can still be eaten in excess.
It is best to get most of our nutrients from whole foods. However, some supplements may be needed in certain conditions.
Simple Meal Ideas:
Oatmeal with berries or other fruit and walnuts
Whole wheat bread, gluten free bread with nut butter
Whole grain cold cereal with almond, soy or other non dairy milk
Midmorning mid afternoon snack
Lunch (I am thinking at work in the cafeteria)
Meat or fish with vegetables
Hummus with vegetables or fruit
Whole grain pasta with home made tomato/meat sauce and vegetables
Meat or fish with vegetables (Tofu for vegetarians)
Tacos with fish/seafood/meat and slaw (jackfruit for vegetarians)
Websites for delicious healthy recipes abound!
Take charge. Be creative. It is your body and your health. Do not take it for granted. Ultimately it is your choice.