There is food, and then there is food for life that provides the fuel for our bodies to function optimally. Your food choices should be balanced.
By Mary Johanna McCurley Family Lawyer & Jyotsna Sahni, M.D.
So, what exactly does eating healthy mean? We are bombarded with “low-fat” diets or “low-carb” diets or “high-protein” diets, but the simple truth is that adhering to any “diet” is being on the wrong track. The truth is that eating to be healthy, or as we should nutritionally, requires a lifestyle change for most of us.
We’ve got to eat to live, but conflicting information from books, magazines, TV, and even your own mother makes it hard to make good decisions about food. Fortunately, good advice about food is simple. It’s about getting back to the basics.
Here are some tips for improving your diet.
Food for Life: Avoid Saturated Fats and Trans Fats
Not only are saturated and trans fats packed with calories, they have no nutritional value. If you take a perfectly good piece of broccoli and deep-fry it, you have taken away all its value.
If there is a devil, there is no doubt that he invented saturated and trans fats. They taste so good and yet are so bad for you! These fats from Satan are linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and, of course, obesity.
Eat Mostly Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are good for your body and good for the earth. Fruits and vegetables are filling and generally low in calories. Plant-based nutrients can fight cancer, heart disease, and prevent the ravages of stress on the body. A general rule of thumb is that the more intense color a food has, the more nutritious it is.
Drink Lots of Water
The first sign of dehydration is fatigue, followed by thirst, dry mouth, headache, and muscle cramps. We often confuse thirst with hunger and reach for a high-sugar treat to give us a boost of energy when what our body really wanted was simply a glass of water. Try non-caloric (and decaffeinated) herbal teas and water with a wedge of lemon or a mint leaf to hydrate you healthily rather than soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, coffee drinks, and sweetened teas, as these can contain shocking amounts of sugar and calories.
Avoid Processed Foods
We want our food to resemble its natural state as much as possible. When you choose the whole food version of the food you love, you will invariably get the high-fibre version. Fibre fills you up, lowers cholesterol, lowers the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar and insulin levels, and fights constipation.
Food for Life: Fiber in Your Diet
The average American gets twelve grams of fiber each day; the (minimum) recommendation is twenty-five grams daily! Processing foods not only depletes nutrients that fight disease but also may add toxic chemicals like hexanes, which impair the nervous system. Food that comes in boxes may be really old, as well as high in sodium and trans fat, among other unhealthy ingredients.
Eat Fresh, Seasonal Food
Fresh food means your food is not frozen, dried, or in a jar or can. Food that’s in season will be fresher, tastier, healthier, and less expensive. There are some wonderful things about living in a global market, but fresh food should come from close to home. Food that has been cultivated for long-distance shipping is often picked green and then chemically ripened. Instead of long-distance imports, explore farmers’ markets in your area. If you can grow it yourself, do it!
Protein can come from beans, soy foods, quinoa, fish, eggs, dairy, and the leanest cuts of poultry and red meat. Again, choose vegetarian options most often. Numerous studies have linked meat consumption with heart disease, blood clots, and breast and colon cancer. Less is more when it comes to meat.
Eat Healthy Fats (Sparingly)
Fats are where the flavor is and they lend a creamy, satisfying mouth-feel to food. But they can be unhealthy if they are saturated. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, like butter, cheese, bacon, ice cream, milk fats, and meat fats. Saturated fats can eventually lead to clogged arteries. Healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and organic coconut and expeller-pressed canola oil. Omega-3 fats are especially good for your health and may reduce heart disease, stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and inflammation. They come from fatty fish like wild salmon, halibut, and sardines, as well as nuts and flax.
Food for Life: Portion Size of Fats
Be especially vigilant of portion size when it comes to fats. Fats are more than twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates, with nine calories per gram versus four calories per gram in proteins and carbohydrates. Half a cup of nuts and half a cup of olive oil, both healthy fats, contain five hundred calories!
Reduce Sugar Intake
According to the USDA, the average American consumes an astonishing 156 pounds of sugar each year. It makes good sense to cut back. Often people use sugar substitutes instead. Studies have shown that these artificial sweeteners increase obesity, heart disease, and other serious illnesses. Instead, you should use honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, agave nectar, fruit juice, and evaporated cane juice, which actually contains trace nutrients that are normally removed from fully refined sugar.
Eat Less Salt
Most Americans get too much salt in their diets. Some comes from the salt shaker, but huge amounts are hidden in processed foods. The trouble is that wherever salt goes, water follows. Fluid retention is more than uncomfortable; it can lead to high blood pressure, which can then lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Salt does enhance the flavor of food, but like many condiments, it is an acquired taste. We can acculturate our taste for less salt and within weeks notice a change in our desire for it. I encourage you to learn to cook with a wide variety of spices and herbs and less salt.
Food for Life: Portion Size in General
Everyone, including professionals, underestimate the size of portions. You may be very surprised to learn how small a serving size truly is. Most of us overeat, and restaurants encourage this unhealthy behavior.
The traditional food pyramid put forth by the USDA in the 1960s has made us sick and fat. Topple it over! Make fruits and vegetables the base, with nine servings a day, followed by only four grains, two servings of low-fat dairy, and three servings of lean protein, and eat oils, salad dressing, mayonnaise, nuts, and sweets stingily.
Avoid Multitasking During Your Meal
You should be sitting at a table while you’re eating. When you can actually pay attention to the food and the effect it’s having as you eat it, you will discover things you don’t know about yourself and the foods you choose. Your taste may have changed over time; a food you thought you liked may not be satisfying to you now. When you pay attention, you will note the subtle differences in the energy of the foods you eat.
Buy Organic When Possible
Avoid pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones, additives, preservatives, pathogens, and genetic modifications. One way to make sure your food is clean and safe is to buy organic. Studies have shown that organic food is also more nutritious. It has more good stuff, less bad stuff, and usually tastes better too.
Food for Life: Avoid Mercury
Mercury toxicity is a health hazard that is becoming increasingly recognized. In March 2004, the FDA and the EPA issued the first ever joint advisory on this topic. The most common dietary source of mercury is large fish. The large predator fish—like tuna, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, and tile fish—are high on the food chain and also high in mercury. Limit the large mercury-rich fish to only two or three times a month.
One word about alcohol: Alcohol requires much caution, because while some studies indicate that drinking in moderation can lower the risk of heart disease, more than that causes many more problems than it can possibly help.
Mary Johanna McCurley is with the firm of McCurley, Orsinger, McCurley, Nelson & Downing in Dallas, Texas. She received her B.A. degree from Centenary College of Louisiana and a J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law. Mrs. McCurley has been a frequent local and national lecturer on family law matters, including stress management.
Dr. Jyotsna Sahni is a sleep specialist and expert in preventive care, women’s health and holistic medicine. Dr. Sahni spent 11 years at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson where she was the leading medical lecturer on Women’s Health, Weight Loss, Sleep Disturbance, Genomics, Preventive Cardiology, Integrative and Ayurvedic medicine. Dr. Sahni is now in private practice in Tucson, Arizona.
This article was adapted with permission by Family Lawyer Magazine from the book A Happy Healthy You : A Woman’s Guide to Happiness, Health & Harmony © 201o By Mary Johanna McCurley J.D., Jyotsna Sahni M.D., Jan Delipsey Ph.D., Lu Jurcova Phillips M.S., and Krisit McIntyre , M.D.