“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
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
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
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
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!