This topic is tough to tackle because if you ask most people, and in my office I ask every single patient I see, almost everyone says, “I eat healthy”. So, what does eating a healthy diet mean?
In very simplistic terms, it means that you get enough fuel and micronutrients to support your body’s functions. To the population at large, eating healthy means they eat three square meals, maybe a snack, or two. It means that they eat a vegetable every day, maybe even two or three, maybe a fruit, grains, and protein. However, most Americans also eat a large portion of processed food, a large amount of dairy and sugar, and almost always and unknowingly, additives, pesticides and endocrine disrupters.
So what do I eat?
There are so many quote on quote - diets - out there. There’s Vegetarian, Vegan, Pescatarian, Paleo, Ketogenic, Atkins, The Whole Thirty, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Mediterranean, Raw, and so on. It can be confusing to navigate through the pros/cons of each as well as the validity of the information on a particular diet. Though I have opinions on many of them, I won’t argue which one is the best. However, I will say that not one way of eating is right for everyone. And even that one way of eating might not suit one person all the time or for their full life time. There are some general rules or themes that will greatly enhance the quality of your diet and up-regulate your body’s ability to fight inflammatory processes, modulate oxidative stress reactions and support immune function. Before I go over some good rules of thumb, I will define a truly healthy diet by years of research and observation:
To me, a healthy diet means that our food must support our detoxification pathways, muscle/tissue/cellular repair, as well as assist in hormone production and building a healthy microbiome. Doesn’t that sound simple? Actually, the great part is that we don’t even have to think about it, our bodies really do all of the heavy lifting. Our job is to consider what we are putting in to our mouths and whether or not our body will recognize the substance and have the ability to break it down for use.
We currently live in a time where our food supply is being tampered with as never before and our bodies have not evolved - our DNA has not changed to deal with any of it. This means that over time, we are asking our systems to take on this huge volume of unknowns/toxins/pesticides/etc.
To break this down even further, we have to look at the food groups that are some of our options:
1 - Carbohydrates - these have gotten a bad rap in the last 30 years. Low carb diets need to be clarified to high vegetable and low processed carbohydrate diet. It’s important that we are getting enough vegetables to assist in the detoxification process and to afford our bodies enough fuel to support our lifestyles. Whole grains are also heavily sprayed and modified so should be taken in very limited amounts.
2 - Dairy - Modern commercial dairy is laden with hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics. It has very low health benefits and is not nutrient dense. It’s important to know that the dairy industry has become heavily commercialized. Dairy is also a relatively ‘new’ product, within the last 60 years. Milk was taken in raw form and cheese was fermented. Yogurts were sour and not filled with sugar and other ‘goodies’.
3 - Sugar - Avoid fake sugars like the plague, they cause so much toxic build up and set us up for long term health issues. Even if they say natural, they’re not! I’m here to tell you that there are NO sugar substitutes, none! Real sugar, if it’s white or brown, eat very very very sparingly. Sugars disrupt the little bugs in your gut and wreak havoc on your system. As you know, sugar is very addictive and you are probably eating more than you know. The average person consumes 150 lbs of sugar per year versus 7 lbs per year in 1700 which is 20 times as much!
Natural concentrated sugars like honey, maple syrup, and stevia are your best bet but still watch it. Other natural sugars like fruit also contain quite a bit of sugar, an orange has 12 grams of sugar! However, juice is a no no in my book. There is often added sugar in juice and even if there isn’t, you aren't getting the fiber to help break down the sugars if you are drinking it. So eat fruit but stick to berries, seasonal fruit and limit to 3 servings per day.
Good rules to live by:
1 - Eat as much local, organic and seasonal food as possible. Check out the Environmental Working Group for their updated list of the ‘Clean 15’ and ‘Dirty Dozen’ to keep with you when you shop, EWG.org.
2 - Eat your veggies - seriously, eat vegetables as much as possible. We should be getting around 6-9 servings per day with 2-3 servings being from the brassica or cruciferous group (cabbage/brussels sprouts/kale/kohlrabi/broccoli/cauliflower/turnip/rutabaga/etc.) According to the latest research from Terry Wahls MD, including this about of high servings greatly reduces the amount of inflammation produced and helps the body heal more efficiently.
3 - Avoid or reduce dairy products. Commercial dairy products are high in sugar, yes sugar!They also contain hormones and antibiotics, and are generally congesting to our system and difficult to digest.
4 - Avoid or reduce the amount of food you eat from a package. All of these food contain additives, preservatives, salt, sugar, and many other ‘extras’ that are unnecessary and potentially toxic. Eat real food. If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it!
5 - Good quality fat is great fuel. Nuts, seeds, nut-butters, avocados, real butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. Get rid of the poly-unsaturated fats - just throw them out, super toxic! And don’t be afraid of the good fat, they nourish our skin, brain and other connective tissues.
6 - Watch the sugar - be very thoughtful about what and why you are eating for sugar. Are you eating a dessert after dinner every night? Do you need to have something sweet after each meal? Maybe you can try replacing the sugar with a cup of tea, going for a walk, taking a bath.
7 - Consider an elimination trial - An elimination trial is typically 30 days and pulls all inflammatories out of the diet - sugar, caffeine, dairy, soy, alcohol, eggs, gluten, and corn. The 30 days allows for the antibodies to stop being released, this way we can really know when we do eat something that bothers our system when we re-introduce these things one at a time. It’s not as hard as it sounds and can really give the Liver a break and most people end up feeling quite good after the body has detoxed a bit.
8 - Hydrate - Begin your day with a large glass of water (room temperature or warm). You can add a slice of organic lemon and a splash of good quality apple cider vinegar to it as well. This will flush and detoxify your organs. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This is super important to keep all of the other vital functions of your body working properly. Good rule: drink one half of your body’s weight in ounces daily. More if you are drinking coffee or alcohol (both are diuretics) and if you are exercising moderate to heavy amounts.
9 - Enjoy your food. Food is very psychologically impactful. If we are eating that decadent chocolate mousse cake to celebrate an anniversary but thinking ‘I’m never going to be able to burn this off’, or ‘I’m so bad for eating this’, or ‘this is not good for me’. All of these negative thoughts release chemicals from our brain to our digestive system that does not allow us to break down food and nutrients efficiently. However, if this is something we can enjoy, really savor, the digestive juices released will break down what is needed and get rid of the rest. And just note, that if we enjoy every piece of food, chew it well, breathe in the aromas, find every morsel delicious, we will be better nourished overall.
Best of health,
Dalite Sancic, L.Ac., MS