Whether you believe in creation, or evolution or are undecided, most of us would agree that our bodies (that is our anatomy and physiology and biochemistry - which is really just how we process food and what we do with it) is substantially the same as that of our recent ancestors. So if we have the same body types and we process our food the same way as our great grandparents and great-great grandparents, can we expect dramatic consequences from eating the processed, irradiated, genetically engineered, refined and synthetic "foods" that our ancestors never had access to and never ate?
Indeed we can expect those consequences! Let's consider what happens if you substitute soda or Kool-Aid in your washing machine instead of water. How much longer would it work? What happens if you feed mayonnaise to a goldfish, french fries to a cow, donuts to a horse, assorted chemicals to a human? What happens when we substitute synthetic products for the water and many different nutrients that our cells and our children's cells and internal organs need simply to function well? In fact, the very sad consequences of the latest generations' food choices is becoming more apparent everyday as we are now seeing chronic diseases become epidemic in our society. The United States has the worst health status (life expectancy, morbidity, obesity and infant mortality) of any of the industrialized nations, yet we spend the most money on "healthcare" and take the most pharmaceuticals. Why are Americans getting sicker and sicker while drugging ourselves more and more?
The great expense of poor food choices is charged to both our bodies and the future, as well as to our wallets. A recent experimental trip to a large fast food chain cost $17.26 for four sandwiches and four "regular fries." For my $17.26, I got 2.80 pounds, net weight, of "food," once I had thrown out all the packaging. This amounted to over six dollars per pound, which is triple the average price of organic foods in a typical health food store. And most people think that fast food is cheap, and organic food is expensive!
Forget what you ate until today. What you eat from now on is vitally important to your continued well-being.
Until just a few generations ago, our ancestors were wonderfully fit and healthy compared with present-day generations. The majority lived good, active, healthy lives and ultimately died peacefully in their sleep. Today that is a rarity. Whereas chronic disease, chronic pain, and prolonged end-of-life care were rare for our ancestors, it is becoming much more the expected outcome for us. What single difference between these two centuries impacts our bodies the strongest? The overwhelmingly different factor in our lives is the refined, processed, chemical products that we eat, that our ancestors simply did not eat.
Do we really want to live this way? Let's apply some good, plain common sense to food choices.
Naturopathic physicians have come to understand that, just as you cannot pour soft drinks into your car and expect good performance, you cannot put synthetic and poor quality solids and liquids into your body and expect continued good health. Also, if our species, for better or worse, whether created, evolved or in-between, performs best on whole foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, meats, etc.), then we can understand that putting synthetic liquid or solid wastes in your body will simply trash your most valuable possession: your own good health.
What's so great about good health?
Neighbors, co-workers, teachers, mentors and even friends can come and go. Money comes and goes. Material possessions can only be enjoyed by people who are comfortable in their own bodies. On the other hand, your good healthy body, as you preserve and care for it now, is your most valuable financial asset and your very best assurance of a strong youth full of opportunities, as well as a secure, successful middle age and retirement years. There is a lot about naturopathic medicine that is just good plain common sense. As Henry Lindlahr, one of the founding fathers of naturopathic medicine, said in Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics - "Medicines are in conformity with the constructive principle in nature insofar as they, in themselves, are not injurious or destructive to the human organism and insofar as they act as tissue foods and promote the neutralization and elimination of morbid matters and poisons."
In fact, this is exactly the goal of naturopathic medicine: to point out the foods that the patient needs, to promote the elimination of toxins, and above all to follow Hippocrates' instruction to First Do No Harm. In fact, First Do No Harm is the first of the naturopathic principles.
Lindlahr instructed doctors to give patients what they need, take away the toxins that destroy health, and to know when to refrain from doing too much. What could be more important or helpful for a doctor to do for his or her patients than that?
Food choices are a fork in the road that is always in front of you, where one way leads to discomfort and disease, and the other leads to enjoyable life.
It is never too late to improve your health. Food choices are always right there in front of you, with every supermarket item you either stop at or walk past, every restaurant that you either stop at or drive past, allowing you a better choice than what you may have made before.
But can we just turn 180 degrees from soda and fries on the one hand to whole foods on the other hand? How easy is it to start eating collard greens or squash or walnuts? Many people cringe at the idea of eating unfamiliar vegetables, such as arugula, mustard greens, turnip, etc. This is a result of never having eaten these foods prepared in an appetizing and satisfying way. I, along with the rest of my family, also had unthinkingly avoided mustard greens, out of a mistaken assumption of what they might taste like. Then I noticed the fine print on the label of the organic mustard greens from Cal-Organic Farms suggested a recipe, which I have modified as follows: fry some turkey bacon or regular (pork) bacon in a large pot and chop it in small pieces. Add washed, chopped mustard greens and enough water to cover. Boil the mustard greens, but only until slightly wilted. Too many people make the mistake of cooking greens to death, and then being displeased by both the color and the texture of the severely disintegrated leaves that result. What you are looking for is a little wilting, but with the color still bright, and still a succulent, pleasant (believe it or not) flavor. Cynthia Lair ND has written a wonderful cookbook with similar recipes titled Feeding the Whole Family.
So in general, what should we eat, ideally? In addition to the above cookbook, there are two other books that may be considered as good general nutritional guides, one a best-selling paperback, and the other a nutrition textbook. The first is Age Defying Diet, by the well-known but often misinterpreted Dr. Robert Atkins. If we manage to put out of our minds for a moment the triple bacon cheeseburgers and candy bars bearing his name that we have come to associate with Dr. Atkins, then there is a lot to be gained from Age-Defying Diet. Quite surprisingly, Atkins encourages much vegetables and fruits along with the meat, dairy, eggs and nuts in his book. In fact, at one point he suggests eating six cups of green vegetables per day. Dr. Atkins' arguments for a whole foods diet are very well documented from hundreds of research article citations. This is in addition to the experiences of approximately 30,000 patients who came through the Atkins Center during his lifetime. In fact, he says, "I know from my own experience with thousands of patients and from avidly reading numerous studies from Europe and the United States that those who consume a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables have significantly better health profile than those who eat other carbohydrates..." Robert Atkins MD, Age-Defying Diet. The reason that many people think of meat-only diets in connection with Dr. Atkins is because his weight-loss regimen is considerably more protein-heavy than his maintenance diet, which he describes in Age-Defying Diet. It is the maintenance diet that you want to begin and make peace with, and stay with, in order to successfully and contentedly live on all the foods you need and only the foods you need.
Even better is Dr. Joseph Mercola's book Total Health Cookbook and Program. Dr. Mercola appreciates the differences among the various metabolic types. Some individuals should have a diet that somewhat favors meat while others should have a diet that somewhat favors vegetables. Of course everyone should include some of both in their daily diet. Included in the book is a section on determining your metabolic type.
Another wonderful and well-referenced book on nutrition, that is more oriented toward the health care professions, is Medical Nutrition from Marz, by Russell Marz, ND. Dr. Marz does a wonderful job of bringing the biochemistry to life and relating nutritional strategies to various disease states. However, a companion primer on biochemistry may be necessary for the uninitiated reader.
Here are the best foods in a nutshell, including the nut: your body already truly and deeply loves vegetables, even if your taste buds don't love them yet.
Maximize whole vegetables. These are best organic and either raw or minimally cooked. In fact, fill up on vegetables all you like. That way you'll have less room for junk. If this sounds too simple to be true, remember that this ridiculously simple rule is the food maxim of healthy, slim adults. Try it, even if you only do it late in the day or every other day. If you can't find much fresh organic food in your area, try looking into the new movement called Community Supported Agriculture. This is a fast growing movement of small local farms throughout the United States that sell fresh seasonal food, usually organic, by subscription. You either pick it up at the farm or at an intermediate location, or they deliver to you. See www.csacenter.org. Once you try organic food right from the field, that has not been trucked hundreds or thousands of miles, you'll love the freshness of the produce so much, it would be hard to go back to supermarket food that has either been sitting around two weeks before you buy it, or worse, that came off an assembly line overlooking the industrial landscape surrounding the New Jersey turnpike. (That is where your processed food additives and flavorings and colorings come from, you know.) You think junk food can be addicting? Try healthy food! Freshness and taste and the deepest satisfaction of your body's basic metabolic needs are food addictions too! Once you are hooked, let them be your vices.
A rainbow of vegetables and fruits
Make your meal a rainbow. Green vegetables are such a staple of a healthy diet that they should be eaten every day. However, wonderful as green vegetables are, they do not provide the full spectrum of nutrients. Remember also the orange vegetables, such as sweet potato, squash, pumpkin and orange bell pepper, which provide the very important flavonoids. Red vegetables, such as tomatoes, are also important for lycopene. The liver alone has several hundred functions. These many jobs require the fuel of each of the different beneficial molecules found in a rich variety of healthy foods. In contrast, such nutrients are not available in junk food, even if they may have been added back in the factory.
Fruits are excellent, but avoid them in any concentrated form. Jams, jellies, fruit juice and other fruit-based processed foods are so concentrated that they produce high insulin responses. Insulin rushes are the very most important thing you need to avoid in order to maintain good health and appropriate weight. If you find yourself able to spend an hour in the kitchen a few times a year, try this simple recipe for unsweetened preserves.
Have a rainbow of whole fruits for the same reason as having a rainbow of vegetables. You need the nutrients that are represented in the various colors.
Meats, dairy, nuts, legumes and seeds
If you seem to do well eating meat, then go for high quality meat. Your best choices are organic, free-range meats. The more people ask for these in supermarkets, the more supermarkets will begin to carry them. In addition to the usual meats - buffalo, ostrich and venison are all nutritious and quite good. Roasting is better than frying. Organ meats such as liver are more highly nutritious than muscle meats, but both are good. Eggs and organic and raw cheese and milk will be beneficial to some and allergenic to others. It is best to pay attention to your body and watch for symptoms after eating dairy and eggs. The most highly allergenic foods are dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, citrus, peanuts and corn. That doesn't mean that you should avoid all of them, but these 7 foods are less digestible than others, so watch for feelings of fatigue or discomfort after eating them, even 12-24 hours later.
Snack on nuts and seeds. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, as well as butters made from seeds and nuts are very highly nutritious and should be eaten frequently, unless one is allergic. Walnuts, high in omega-3 fatty acids, are a very important brain food for everyone, especially children. Other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, grass-fed beef and salmon. Legumes are an important source of protein and other nutrients, especially when combined with rice or other whole grains.
Leave the refined carbs behind at the supermarket
Minimize, or better yet get rid of, refined grains and refined sugar of all kinds. These contribute nothing to your health, as all nutrition has been extracted from them. Worse, they actively deplete good health, because they cause excessive insulin release, which is the worst factor in arterial plaque, as well as countless other health problems. Try to eliminate as much as possible breads, cookies, bagels, pretzels, donuts, candy and sodas. But how do you do this when daily life is so full of these items? The battle over junk food is won or lost at the supermarket, not at home. In other words, if you come home with a box of cookies, you will probably eat them, because after all, being only human, it is nearly impossible to let them simply sit there in the cabinet a few feet away from you the same way the whole wheat pasta has been sitting there for six months. Rather, fighting the willpower battle at the supermarket is made much easier by simply walking on past the unhealthy food. Or better, not even walking down those aisles. In fact, some naturopaths advise to simply shop the periphery of the supermarket and nothing more. That way, you pick up the whole fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy, and come home with a much healthier, and less expensive, set of grocery items than if you had gone up and down the interior aisles where all the processed foods are.
The only kind of diet that will do you any good is one that you can be comfortable with long-term and features the above criteria.
Don't count calories. You could drive yourself up a wall trying to figure out how many calories you are eating or should eat. Counting calories is almost certain to end up making you feel deprived of food while wasting your time with meaningless numbers.
Above all, make a kind of peace with this way of eating. Find a quantity and variety of vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy and nuts and legumes that is so comfortable and so easy for you that you stay with these foods long term. The goal is to have such a well balanced and therefore satisfying diet, that there is nothing wanting and thus no need to cheat. You will find that some of these foods are so tasty that they become comfort foods for you. Rely on these when you feel the need for a comfort food. Give it at least sixteen weeks. If you are not feeling considerably better in that time and much thinner (if you are already overweight), then you need to modify this diet, so that it is something that you don't feel the need to cheat on. Cheating, as every dieter knows, costs so much that you may as well glue cookies on your thighs and tummy rather than eating them. Enrich your whole foods diet with so many different whole foods of your liking that you feel no need to cheat. Keep enough healthy convenience foods (i.e. fruits and nuts) on hand that you reach for those when you need to snack, because they are so visually appealing, fragrant, tasty, seasonally fresh and in great variety in your colorful and overflowing fruit bowl. If you feel you need something more filling with your fruit snack or fruit and nut snack, have some organic cheese with it. These items also pack and keep very nicely in a bag to take to work.
What do you do if eating whole foods seems to be too much of a change?
Start very slow and very easy. Dr. Steven Ehrlich of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine is sensitive to people trying to change their diet, and the frustration that they may feel. Dr. Ehrlich instructs his students, "Have your patients add something rather than subtract from their diet To start, have them eat one apple a day." Here is an almost free change that one can make, a good tasting, easy to store, easy to carry, highly nutritious convenience food that is available year round. (Not to mention that it's probably the least messy thing you can eat on the go). Of course, after the patient masters this, Dr. Ehrlich gradually challenges his patients further with more and more good foods, but always gently, at the patient's own pace, considering individual appetites, and with great compassion. Surreptitiously (and insidiously!) the unhealthy items in the diet start falling away as patients fill up more and more on apples and later other whole fruits and vegetables. Let us all live up to such wonderful compassion as Dr Ehrlich teaches, as we ever so gently redirect others away from the plethora of processed foods that surround us in the supermarkets and the highway fast food outlets toward something more tasty, more nutritious, more aligned with our genetically acquired needs, and . . . more natural!