“Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.”
This quote, attributed to Heather Morgan, MS, NLC sums up how I feel about nutrition and the role it plays in our health. As a doctor who adheres closely to holistic and functional principles of healing and truly believes that my role is one of a teacher of health, I spend a great deal of time counseling and educating my patients on the importance of diet, nutrition and lifestyle factors. when questioned about ‘diet’ however, it is term I use with a certain degree of trepidation. The majority of the population who is looking to lose weight and become healthier is also in pursuit of the latest and greatest “Diet”. Whether we’re talking Paleo, Vegan, DASH, or Mediterranean, we’re all trying to latch onto the diet of the day that has all the answers. Well, guess what? This pursuit is futile. All of the “Diets” that I mentioned have their merits, however strict adherence to any one approach is accomplished by the very few. And in many ways this is a good thing, because we’re all unique and thus we need to take a more pragmatic approach when thinking of food.
So, what is one to do when attempting to lose weight by going on a diet, especially after coming off of National Healthy Weight Awareness Month? As I explain to each and every one of my patients, as well as groups and organizations to whom I lecture, that going on a diet is a misguided expenditure of energy. To go on a diet usually means that at some point you will come off of it and revert back to old habits. Our goal should not be to lose weight, but instead to eat foods that will allow us to become healthier and with some moderate exercise thrown in, the weight loss component will take care of itself. When hearing this advice most are relieved but a little confused. They ask, what specific foods do I eat? What’s the answer to achieve health, wellness and vibrancy? Well, drum roll please. Eat real one ingredient foods. That’s it end of story, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier existence. Eat foods that come in nature’s wrapping without any ingredients. Perhaps, Michael Pollan said it best when he exclaimed, “Eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables.”
When you take this approach you’ll simplify your life. No more counting calories or laboring over lists. You’ll actually be eating in a fashion that nature intended. You’ll notice an overall improvement in how your body functions. 0n a cellular and biochemical level, you’ll decrease low grade systemic inflammation which is the driver of all disease. (Systemic low grade inflammation is an interesting subject that requires more attention and time than allocated for this blog. So, we’ll look to tackle this in a future blog.)
There are some points and details that I feel I must clarify. First, remember that variety is the spice of life so you need to open up your horizons. You can’t just eat the same foods over and over again regardless how healthy they may be. By broadening your scope you’ll fully benefit from the vast nutrient density you get from eating an assortment of different veggies, fruits and proteins. Second, when it comes to proteins or animal products, try to select those items that are raised humanely and sustainable. This means beef that is pastured fed, chicken and eggs that are sourced from a free ranging environment and fish that is wild caught. Because you’re going to be eating lots of veggies, you can invest in these higher quality proteins without breaking the budget. Any animal product that you decide to eat should only take up about a quarter of your plate, or a palm sized portion. Third, don’t forget the fat, and yes you heard me correctly! Fat is not the enemy that we’ve been falsely lead to believe is deleterious to our health. Healthy fats, like those sustainable proteins that I just mentioned, as well as fats from avocados, nuts, seeds and oils like olive and coconut are necessary for good health. They aid in curbing hunger, allow the proper assimilation of nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K, help to modulate hormonal activity and enhance cognition or brain function. Finally, please watch the sugar, if you only can focus on one issue, this is it. Sugar is public enemy number one and we now know it’s largely to blame for our current health care crisis as it pertains to chronic ailments like diabetes, heart disease and perhaps some cancers. Most people know that the sugar we find in processed baked goods, candy and beverages is damaging. However, most tend to overlook the sugars that are in carbohydrates like bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and other wheat or grain based products. These foods cause an immediate spike in blood sugar which sets into motion a metabolic cascade that stimulates our appetite, increases inflammation and leads to the storage of unwanted body fat. When reading labels remember that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon. According to the American Heart Association, women and children should have no more than 24 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men no more than 36 grams or 9 teaspoons. Also, keep in mind that you don’t want to overdo your fruit consumption because the fruit sugar content can contribute to the above mentioned effects. When thinking about vegetables and fruit try to keep your consumption to an 80-20 split respectively.
One final point before I conclude. Make sure you stay away from artificial sweeteners. These products adversely affect our brain chemistry and end up stimulating our cravings for unhealthy foods. They also do a number on our gut microbiome (Another interesting subject for another day).
Dr. Robert Reier currently serves on the Healthy Harford Board of Directors, The UMUC Integrative Medicine Board, He is the former Mayor of Bel Air where he helped champion the HEAL(Healthy Eating Active Living) initiative and still serves as a citizen liaison to the Town of Bel Air’s wellness committee. He also maintains a private practice where he focuses on the person, and not the condition or complaint when helping to restore health. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org