“What should I eat,” is a question my patients ask on an almost daily basis. With information overload on the internet and ‘public opinion’ invading evidence-based medicine, I thought it would be helpful for you to have some evidence-based suggestions that would make conscious eating more enjoyable and fulfilling while knowing you are also supporting your health and well-being.
Diets have a 98% failure rate and are public opinion, not evidence-based. In my practice, I do not encourage my patients to go on diets. They are embedded with performance anxiety, shame, and the fear of failure. Instead, I educate them about how to freely eat foods that support their health. When they choose this approach over-restrictive dieting, they are happier, healthier, and more successful at preventing and reversing disease and lose weight as an added benefit. In addition, they enjoy being an active participant in reclaiming their health!
It is always safer to align with scientific evidence than public opinions and beliefs. The (scientific) evidence that has demonstrated the health benefits of various foods over time is always the best practice we should align with. Dieting to lose weight as our short-term goal is often at the cost of our health in the long run. Besides, fast weight loss is often followed by rebounding weight gain, evidence of a failed attempt at health. We currently have plenty of evidence that demonstrates the negative health effects of carbohydrate restrictive, animal-based diets, which are the rage today. They have exponentially exploded our incidence of kidney disease, heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, and dementia. They may work in the short run for specific results people are seeking, but in the long run, they are unsustainable and unhealthy.
Gaining even a little knowledge about how our body works and what foods assist it, offers us the ability to make more conscious choices and enjoy countless benefits while putting the pleasure back into eating. After all, eating is one of the most instinctual, necessary functions we have. Why not approach it as our ‘medicine’ in addition to a joyful and sacred act of self-nourishment.
My intention is to provide you with some basic principles that can ease your understanding of what foods to choose to increase your vitality, assist your organ systems to function more efficiently, and also prevent and reverse disease. What could be more important than this!
1. Eat color
Color is a sign that a food is rich in anti-oxidants. The deeper the color of your food, the more antioxidants it contains. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are toxic/carcinogenic by-products of normal body reactions, and environmental toxins like alcohol, pollutants, pesticides, preservatives, BPA in plastics and canned goods, petroleum-like products common in processed foods ( e.g. propylene glycol), and deep-fried foods. They damage our DNA and create cancer cells. It is no wonder that people who frequently eat or apply these toxins to their skin as they are commonly present in soaps, shampoos, lotions, and makeup, are more at risk for chronic diseases and cancer. When free radicals are generated, our liver produces antioxidants to neutralize them so they do not harm us. When we overload our liver with additional free radicals laden in our food, alcohol, and the environment, it has to work overtime and becomes overwhelmed. For example, if the liver is busy breaking down alcohol or is heavy with saturated fat, it is not able to perform its many functions optimally. Then, free radicals that alter our DNA, go unchecked and promote inflammation and cancer as well as many of the chronic diseases so common in our society today.
Our liver is also our first defense against viruses and cancer cells. The two billion natural killer cells, (among other immune cells) it houses to protect us from invaders that can overwhelm our body viruses (like COVID19) and bacteria. The healthier our liver is, due to our lifestyle choices, the better it can assist us in staying healthy and protect us from infections and cancer.
Deep dark-colored foods are only present in the fruit and vegetable family. Aronia or chokeberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, rhubarb, eggplant (with peel), beets, tomatoes, red peppers, dark leafy greens, and dark-colored vegetables, broccoli, carrots, arugula, radicchio, are all examples of foods that are deep in color.
Color is a sign that antioxidants are present. When you eat colored foods, you can be certain that you are helping your body neutralize free radicals to prevent and destroy viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells.
The ORAC score is the total antioxidant capacity in foods. The higher the score, the more antioxidant effect your food has. Print out a list of foods with a high ORAC score and take it grocery shopping with you. Select plenty of these as a regular part of your daily diet.
2. Eat the correct kind of carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates have been vilified by public opinion as bad for us. In the 1970s, we ate carbohydrates in lieu of fat. We were fat averse. But what this did is caused us to gain weight and accumulate ‘toxic’ fat, from carbohydrate overload, which is inflammatory, and a storage house for hormone disruptors. Then we became carbohydrate averse. This yo-yo belief has not supported our health. Gaining basic knowledge about healthy carbohydrates is the best way to make healthy choices from this food group.
Carbohydrates provide fuel for our body’s functions. But the quality of carbohydrates we eat does matter. Processed carbohydrates easily convert into sugar and are stored as fat. They cause insulin resistance, inflammation, and weight gain. Examples are white flour, white sugar, and white rice. But complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grains, lentils, beans, and plant fiber, are excellent sources of energy for the body’s functions. Eat foods that have a low glycemic index. They are less likely to break down quickly into sugar which is then converted to fat and also one of the causes of insulin resistance. Instead, they provide sustained energy for our body functions for longer periods of time than those with a high glycemic index.
3. Eat natural fiber
Fiber scrubs the intestines clean and binds toxins and excess cholesterol to be eliminated by the bowel. A high fiber diet is one that contains plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber contained in green vegetables, lentils, grains, and fruit. It helps form bulkier stool and passes through the bowel more quickly, aiding detoxification and also assisting bowel motility. Fiber alone can sometimes improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome when it is caused by unhealthy food choices.
4. Don’t go overboard on protein
We have become ‘protein crazy’ in the U.S. People are terrified that they are not getting enough protein so they overdo its intake. Protein is a macronutrient that is required to build our cells and muscles and provide enzymes for our body’s functions. An adequate amount of protein is good but too much creates disease. All we need is an average of 50 to 60 grams of protein per day in a healthy diet. The quality of protein does matter. Animal protein accelerates the formation of cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, arthritis, kidney disease, and dementia. Plant-based protein does the opposite. In fact, it reverses the above-listed diseases that are so common in our society. I suggest that my patients try a combination of lentils, beans, nuts and seeds, and organic soy as healthy sources of protein, on a daily basis. This provides structural vitality, supports digestion, and offers adequate protein content to assist our body’s functions without creating disease risk. It is also an alkaline source of nutrition that wards off cancer and chronic diseases.
5. Eat healthy fats
Deep-fried, trans, saturated, and animal fat is toxic to our body. Fat found in a Whole Food Plant-based diet provides more omega 3 and support to our nervous system as well as energy storage that we can access when needed. If too much fat accumulates in our body, it becomes toxic for us. It emanates inflammatory toxic breakdown products and its own set of free radicals while disrupting our endocrine system. Fat found in nuts, avocados, olive oil, are the best kind of fat. They have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties in contrast to animal-based fats which are toxic and contribute to the previously mentioned diseases including dementia. The quality of olive oil you use matters. Spend time researching high antioxidant extra virgin olive oils and use those that are processed correctly and stored in dark-colored, glass containers to prevent denaturing.
6. Read labels
If you are buying boxed or prepared foods, ALWAYS read the ingredients on the food label. What it says on the label is what you are putting in your body. Know your ingredients and keep them as simple, natural, and organic as possible.
7. Cook your food from fresh ingredients
Cooking our food is always the best way to ensure that we are putting pure ingredients in our bodies. It is more time-consuming but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. Make it a normal part of your day and organize your time so you create time to cook if even a few days a week and prepare meals for a few days at a time if you are too busy to cook every day.
8. Choose organic
Pesticide residues dysregulate our bowel flora, the trillions of organisms that are essential to a healthy body and brain. Whatever we eat feeds our flora so if we want to make healthy choices we support healthy flora, which assists in ALL of our body’s functions. Organic produce is grown with methods that support healthy bacteria (flora) in the soil. Healthy soil means more nutrients in the food grown in it. The seeds used in organic farming are not genetically modified and toxic pesticides are not used in assisting the plants to grow. This adds up to no pesticide residues and healthier, more nutritionally rich food.
9. Intermittent fast
Intermittent fasting is an easy and effective way to break down fat and thereby increase ketone concentrations in your blood, the breakdown products of fat. Try not to graze at night. Eat early in the evening, and leave 12 to 16 hours between your last meal of the day and your first meal the next day. This stimulates the liver to break down fat into ketones, a powerful energy source for your body and brain. It is also the easiest way to burn toxic fat and lose weight!
10. Eat a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet
Overwhelming evidence over the past four decades supports the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet. This kind of diet is not really a diet but a variety of food choices that nourish your body. The advantage of this kind of lifestyle is not just the disease-preventing and reversing the power of the foods included, but you don’t have to count calories or restrict your intake of the amount of food you eat! It is impossible to gain weight on a whole food plant-based diet!
If you would like more information on how the body works and how to feed yourself for the most health and vitality, please see my latest webinar What To Eat to Prevent and Reverse Disease
If you need assistance in changing your lifestyle to one that is Whole Food, Plant-Based, disease-preventing, and reversing, please contact us. We are here to educate you on how to advocate for your health backed by scientific evidence-based advice. Now more than ever, this needs to be an essential part of your value system and a priority in your self-care program.
©November (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: ReclaimingYour Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment. During this time of the COVID19 pandemic, she is offering both telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms.