When you decide to embark on creating or enhancing your healthy lifestyle – it can seem very confusing. Where do you start? There is a lot of information out there – almost too much and not all of it is accurate.
Originally – I learned much of what I know from a now-retired biochemist. I also studied and received a health coaching certificate in 2012 for the Institute For Integrative Nutrition. And since my cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2015 – I have entered a whole new world of reading, learning, practicing and working with a range of credentialed professionals on how to best optimize health and longevity. As a result – I have more information to share with others who are just beginning a journey to a healthy lifestyle.
The biggest, but not only component of a healthy lifestyle, is what you eat. The saying “you are what you eat” is the absolute truth. Your body needs a certain level of nutrients just to function. Without this basic level of nutrients, your body won’t have the energy it needs to sustain itself and it will fall into disease or disability. Some examples of this would be scurvy, rickets, osteoporosis and iron-deficiency anemia. This basic level of nutrition is called the RDA – The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy individuals in a particular gender and life stage group (life stage considers age and, when applicable, pregnancy or lactation). You can read more here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45182/
By eating a variety of minimally processed whole foods (mostly or all-plant based) you can usually avoid the most basic of nutritional deficiencies. Vegans need to watch their Vitamin B-12 levels (get them checked by your doctor through blood work) and you might be advised to take a B-12 supplement. Blood work and other testing can also show other deficiencies.
But – is sustaining basic function enough? Is meeting the RDA enough? How do you know what you are eating is enough/too much/being digested and absorbed properly? And how do you know whether or not you are allergic to or sensitive to a particular food – even if it is considered “healthy”? Today there are many ways to learn more about your biochemistry, what your nutrient levels are, how you are digesting and absorbing food, and what allergies or sensitivities you may have where you may need to back off of certain foods? I’ll address these issues in subsequent blogs. Fortunately there are many more resources in these areas than even 10 years ago.
The first step is to evaluate your diet. In evaluating your diet there are certain common points where many experts agree upon:
– Avoid highly processed foods
– Avoid trans fats
– Choose lower sodium foods
– Emphasize fruits and vegetables – 50% of your calories
– Choose whole grains
– Choose lean protein foods
– Choose water instead of soft drinks or other sugary drinks
– Eat more seafood
– Switch to fat free or low fat (1%) milk
The above is a start – especially if you are coming from a traditional SAD (Standard American Diet). This list was taken from https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/eat-healthy/how-to-eat-healthy/index.html
In my own life – I have taken things to more significant level because I don’t think what the government is telling us is enough for me. Here is what I do personally to maximize the nutrition going into my body to ensure it has the optimal energy to function properly and mitigate the effects of chronic disease and deficiency:
– Eat a mostly whole foods plant-based diet
– Avoid fast food
– Eat in restaurants infrequently
– Eat most of my meals at home/bring food with me to work
– Read every label of everything I buy in a store
– Avoid consuming anything with any artificial ingredients – including sweeteners, flavoring, preservatives, hormones and coloring
– Minimize processed foods
– Avoid almost all dairy except for goat cheese, butter/ghee and a very occasional yogurt
– Eat an egg occasionally
– Only drink water, coffee, tea, vegetable juices (with fruit juice sometimes added), fruit/vegetable smoothies
– Minimize consuming products containing gluten (I had some intestinal inflammation)
– Do not eat beef, poultry, seafood of any kind
– Minimize use of cooking oils except for EVOO, coconut oil and avocado oil (and use these sparingly)
– Minimize products containing soy
– Watch my sugar intake
– Don’t drink alcoholic beverages
– If you can’t make it in your own kitchen – don’t eat it
– Every so often I intermittent fast or do the ProLon Fasting Mimicking Diet
I came to my plan through my own research and working with professionals where I had significant testing done to see where I had deficiencies, problems with nutrient absorption, and to give my body and immune system the best chance to regenerate after chemo and create the best environment to not allow cancer to grow. I look at my diet and healthy lifestyle as an “insurance” policy – it helps me feel in control of my health and give me a better chance of not falling into disease. I check my bloodwork often and if I need to adjust something – I do. And I am not perfect – I eat that dessert or piece of cheese but I follow my rules above.
Eating the way I do sounds restrictive but having stage 4 cancer, chemotherapy and almost dying is even more restrictive! Where I am today vs. 5 years ago is like night and day. I will do whatever it takes to not go back to that place again. And my bloodwork today is near perfect in almost every respect (still need to get my antibodies up). I feel well and I have energy to do what I need to do.
I am lucky to have a supportive spouse who embraces this way of eating as well and does most of the cooking. We make lots of time to shop for healthy ingredients, look up recipes, and cook – where we make several meals so that we have dinner most days during the week already prepared. Once you get used to changing the way you think about food – as something to nourish your body and optimize your health – you get into a routine. And when you start to feel better and your doctor commends you on your blood work and weight – it enforces that routine and you look forward to keeping it up.
Healthy eating can be delicious! And spices are another way to add flavor while potentially deriving further health benefits (turmeric anyone?). Many international cuisines have a significant amount of plant-based recipes: Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, certain African and South American cuisines. Once you know where to look – you will be amazed at how many recipes there are for delicious and healthy meals that go way beyond basic salads and steamed vegetables.
Below are some websites that have delicious and (mostly) healthy recipes to start and are also a place to learn more about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle:
Some of the recipes from some of the sites above may contain animal products, sugar, soy or gluten so you can filter out what you want or don’t want. And the last 6 sites give great background on nutrition and how it can impact your health.
If you need actual counseling/in person direction you can speak to a credentialed health care professional who can guide you through adjusting your diet to a healthier one.
Even small positive changes in your diet can make a big impact! Give it a month and see.