We are what we eat, right? We’ve all heard the saying, but the statement is true. Just think about it.
Everything that we ingest gets absorbed into our bloodstream and serves as the basis for nourishing our cells, building our tissues, boosting our immune system, and maintaining a healthy metabolism. So, it just stands to reason that our food choices can make all the difference when it comes to defining our health. But, unfortunately, making healthy choices has become an increasingly difficult task in today’s world. It seems we are assaulted on all sides by the temptation and convenience of highly processed foods that are largely devoid of nutritional value and saturated with unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, and a chemical cocktail of artificial dyes, flavors, and preservatives. In truth, the Standard American Diet (aptly known by its acronym “SAD”) is slowly, but surely, killing us. In the last 30 years, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases are also on the rise, as are neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. And much of this can be blamed on our diet.
The multi-million-dollar diet industry certainly capitalizes on this national dysfunction. As more Americans have become obese and disease-ridden, quick-fix diets and self-help books have become all the rage. So many of us are looking for that “silver bullet” panacea that we hope will resolve all our problems. But there are so many conflicting options to choose from. Do we eat low-carb, low-fat, paleo, ketogenic, do intermittent fasting, or follow some other program of pharmaceutical or herbal intervention? It’s enough to make your head spin. It’s true that some of these programs do work for certain individuals, but most often, people try something out for a short period of time, but then resort back to their old eating habits. And in the process, they often regain whatever weight they might have lost, returning to an unhealthy physical state.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
It’s quite simple — we get back to the basics. Author and food expert Michael Pollan probably stated it best when he advised us to, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What this means is that we need to get back to eating whole foods that look and taste the way nature intended. Or as Pollan puts it, only eat foods your great-grandmother would recognize. That’s it. Our fruits and vegetables should come fresh from the farm, orchard, or garden. Our food animals should be raised without stress and unreasonable confinement, and they should be fed natural diets without added antibiotics, chemicals, or hormones. Similarly, our grains and legumes should be unrefined, and not subjected to genetic alteration and toxic applications of pesticides and herbicides. If we follow these simple guidelines, chances are that our bodies will soon heal themselves, our weight will naturally regulate, and our systems will return to a healthy condition of homeostasis.
SOME BASIC GUIDELINES
Here are some general suggestions for optimizing our diet and health:
- Eat a variety of produce in its natural form, direct from the farm or garden.
- Choose foods that are organic and locally grown, whenever possible.
- Avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s).
- Eliminate refined sugar and flours, as well as excess sodium.
- Eat grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, but keep meat consumption to a minimum.
- Eat fish that are wild caught, opting for smaller varieties that are less susceptible to mercury contamination.
- Include modest amounts of healthy, plant-based fats in your diet, such as those derived from nuts, olives, and avocados.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Cook your own food and experiment in the kitchen. It’s a wonderfully creative activity, and you’ll have the added benefit of knowing what’s in your food.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your body well hydrated.
This is not to say that you can’t partake in a favorite food indulgence from time to time. In fact, I would encourage that. Occasional treats are part of what makes life enjoyable and keeps you from feeling deprived. But I prefer to follow the “90/10 Rule”, striving to eat clean and healthy 90 percent of the time, with 10 percent left to delicious discretion. No guilt, and no obsession. It’s all about moderation.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” He believed that correcting imbalances or dis-ease in the body could primarily be accomplished through diet. In truth, I believe that Hippocrates had it right. Achieving good health is not rocket science. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about getting back to the basics and tuning in to what our bodies have been telling us all along. Let’s return to some ancient wisdom. Let’s get back to our roots — quite literally. We will all be healthier for it.