Nutritional Math II
In last month’s newsletter I addressed some of the basic starting points for excellent nutrition. I mentioned that nutritional change should begin with adding things, not taking them away. The likelihood for compliance is greater when you don’t immediately deprive a person of something. In this installment we are going to talk about subtraction. At some point along your quest for health you are going to have to take a hard look at what has to go.
I had a somewhat misspent youth. I was not hustling pool or whiling my hours in taverns but I experienced a lot of time unsupervised. I found companionship in candy. Let’s just say I developed a lot of dear friendships; Snickers, Twix, and Twizzlers were among my closest. For many years, ignorant to the damage that was being caused with regard to metabolism, insulin resistance, and immune function; I happily consumed what I had become addicted to oblivious, of the consequences. Years later I found myself in college approaching 225 pounds and diagnosed with an inflammatory arthritic condition that was progressive and irreversible. I was fatigued, anemic and in chronic pain. I am completely convinced that my diet had the largest role to play in landing me in a state of gross ill-health.
When I discuss nutrition with patients I often hear flippant remarks regarding eating consciously. “It is too hard” or “too time consuming” they complain. I find myself often defeated because I know the dramatic effects nutritional choices can make on the human condition. Many do not believe there is truly a deep connection between what they eat and any resulting health issues they may suffer. The science is concrete and unequivocal. Nutrition plays the greatest role in our physical wellbeing. So where does one start when presented with their disappointing state of diet and nutrition? We start with baby steps. Here are a few suggestions.
I love the four ingredient rule. When shopping, challenge yourself to keep your cart filled with items containing four ingredients or less. The reality is most foods with four ingredients or less are less processed and closer to whole nutrition then higher ingredient food items. Here is a simple trick. Stick to the outside lap of the grocery store. Start in fruit and veggies, then around to lean grass-fed-organic meats and fish, then to the dairy and then around to breads. What did I avoid? All processed canned, boxed and bagged items that have enough ingredients to provide serious points on the scrabble board.
Give up emotional eating. Somewhere along the line food became “friend” instead of fuel. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are essential for the optimal functioning of our body. We are wired to enjoy food but not to love it. If you are in a “love relationship” with food there may be a problem. Do you crave certain food items? Do you eat to feel sedated? Do you cover emotions with food? And finally, do you knowingly eat or overeat because of boredom sadness, loneliness or anger? These behaviors are common and require attention. There are groups like Overeaters Anonymous www.oa.org and The National Center for Overcoming Overeating www.overcomingovereating.com that can help address inappropriate emotional ties to food. Do not dismiss emotional eating as a serious hindrance to weight management and healthy eating. Examine your behaviors over the next few days and look critically to determine if you have a tendency toward eating emotionally.
Allergies/ Food Sensitivities
For a long time it was thought sneezing, coughing, and hives were the primary indicators of food allergies. Did you know that weight gain, fatigue, depression, arthritis, bronchitis, anxiety, itchy skin, dark circles under eyes are just a few of the many manifestations of lesser food allergies known as food sensitivities? Historically our diets consisted of seasonal foods that we rotated regularly. We ate less and consumed much more variety. Our food was not mass produced, genetically modified or chemically treated. These changes over the last several decades have resulted in the development of widespread food allergies and sensitivities. You should be aware of the most common food allergies: dairy products, eggs, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, wheat, corn, citrus and peanuts. In the book “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain he references several “uncivilized” hunter/gatherer tribes that are untouched by cancer, menopause, diabetes, chronic fatigue, allergies and many other common ailments. Because these tribesmen’s diets consist of only grass fed meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds the theory is that these people are subsequently immune to suffering all the detrimental effects of the Western diet. Consider lowering your intake of the above common allergens. Try to fill your plate with an abundance of organic fruits and vegetables, then add 2-4 ounces of lean grass fed organic meat or unfarmed fish and finally, only if necessary, a complex carbohydrate.
The Nasty List
In the book “In Defense of food” by Michael Polan, the author writes how America has made food widely available and affordable but completely toxic and detrimental to human tissue. Dr. David Servan-Schreiber MD notes in his book “Anti-Cancer” that much of the food consumed by Americans today is “fertilizer for cancer”. He goes on to suggest the Western diet results in body wide inflammation. Inflammation is a precursor to the proliferation of cancer cells. Don’t be cavalier about your food choices. Every decision you make could result in a body that lasts without incident or a body plagued with diseases such as cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue and many others. James Chestnut DC says that every food choice is a potential step toward a “slow suicide” Take your fuel choices seriously and accept that they will determine the status of your future health.
There are several “foods” that make my top ten nasty list. These foods have plenty of data to show that they are detrimental to the human condition. Food production however is politically driven and many of these toxic, dangerous ingredients may never be pulled from our foods. It is up to you to do your best to avoid them. They are in no particular order.
1) Natural Flavors ~ There is no governmental or FDA official definition of “natural”. Labelers can call anything “natural”. Remember that most of what is labeled “natural” is actually made from chemicals in a lab.
2) MSG ~ Monosodium glutamate. Often contained in Asian foods, sauces, Doritos, soups, and dipping sauces.
3) Nitrates/Nitrites ~ Often contained in hot dogs and cured meats like bacon.
4) Modified Food starch ~ Anything “modified” is bad news. Often found in luncheon meats, orange juice, cured meats, fat-free dairy products among many other products.
5) Tartazine (yellow #5) ~ all colors are bad but this one seems to cause more issues.
6) BHT/TBHQ ~ Preservatives “added for freshness”. Anything that needs something added to it to keep it fresh means what your eating is likely not, in fact, fresh at all. (These are primarily added to stop fat from spoiling.)
7) Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners ~ chemically produced and widely recognized as extremely detrimental to one’s health.
8) Maltodextrin ~ Food additive touted to be a good sugar substitute. It is chemically processed and virtually unavoidable if you are traveling down any of the commercial food aisles.
9) Hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils. Just don’t!
10) High Fructose Corn Syrup ~ A highly refined, glycemic impacting, artificial sweetener added to a plethora of foods commonly ingested by the American public. It is now reputed to be one of the major products catalyzing the skyrocketing frequency of obesity in this country.
Assistance in compiling this list was provided by the great Dr. John Nowicki. Read John’s blog at nowickipedia.blogspot.com
Looking at your diet critically is, for many, a kin to poking teeny tiny needles into their nail beds. However once a few small changes are made, and employed consistently, the results can be dramatic. We must passionately be looking for opportunities to combat the effects of the common Western diet. If you take the time to become a more conscious eater by adhering to the recommendations in Nutritional Math I and II you are likely to experience significantly improved health and wellbeing for now and for your future.
Anticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition by David Servan-Schreiber MD.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat by Loren Cordain