Small Steps, Big Changes
These days making decisions about how to eat in the most healthful manner can be a difficult and confusing task. Each person’s unique constitution requires variation in the types of foods that are eaten, therefore no one diet is right for everyone. The quest for reliable information concerning optimum nutrition reveals one diet guru after another espousing what they believe to be the right way to eat. One day the prescription for finding healthy food includes a diet high in protein, the next day it could be low fat.
We are told to eat an abundance of complex carbohydrates for plentiful energy, yet recent information denounces a high complex carbohydrate diet. What is a poor health seeker to do? Most of us throw up our hands and decide to do the best that we can to stay healthy, never really being sure that we are doing it right.
So what is right?
How can we find our way through this maze of nutritional material and do the very best for both short and long-term good health? The answer lies in these basic and sound guidelines which have been proven helpful to people in their quest for a healthful diet regime. One must start with the understanding that food, along with being a pleasurable experience, is also our best medicine.
Taken in the proper doses and form, food can heal and balance us – yet taken improperly can make us chronically ill.
People need to better understand how the food they consume affects their lives in a profound manner. We have been taught since childhood that eating from the four basic food groups creates a balanced and healthy diet. This supposedly nutritious format for eating has become well known as the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).
Are People Digging Their Own Graves?
A recent analysis of the Standard American Diet, however, has revealed that it contains 40 percent fat, 130 pounds of sugar per year and 3 to 5 times more salt than is actually needed – (How S.A.D. this is!). Is it any wonder that this dietary model contributes to so many of the degenerative diseases which plague our society today?
In the past ten years, research has confirmed that excess fat in our diets is a contributory factor for heart disease. Although, some health practitioners denounce this to be true and insist that hereditary factors are the only determining factor of heart disease. Regardless of this controversy, many people have looked toward modification of their diet for prevention as well as treatment of heart disease.
Food and Heart Disease
Many of these people have been inspired by Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D. whose model for healthy eating has quickly become standard medical protocol for physicians and allied health professionals alike. Dr. Ornish’s book, ‘Reversing Heart Disease’, has helped its readers to understand more clearly how the food that they eat affects their heart.
In this monumental work, Dr. Ornish has revealed that a 10 percent (rather than the prevailing 30 percent) total intake of fat in our diet can actually help even a damaged heart to heal. A program for the treatment of heart disease designed by Dr. Dean Ornish can be found at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City where many people have experienced a total reversal of blocked arteries through diet change, yoga exercise, and stress management.
Of course, the heart is not the only part of the body which is impacted by the food that we eat. Our bones are also a prime example of a body part that is dependent on nutritional requirements We are taught from an early age that dairy products must be consumed throughout our lives to build and protect healthy bones. Yet we and many other health care professionals believe that dairy products may not be healthy for people to consume.
Food and Osteoporosis
Recent research into osteoporosis has found that excess protein consumption leeches calcium from the bones which means that eating too much beef, pork, chicken, and dairy products may be a causative factor in bone loss during the menopausal years. Studies were done of African women who consume small amounts of calcium and minimal amounts of protein in their daily diets found an almost non-existent incidence of osteoporosis.
Eskimo women who have the world’s highest consumption of calcium and also consume the largest amount of protein have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. It can be concluded from these studies that the most important factor for maintaining strong bones during the menopausal years is not just to supplement with calcium, but to decrease animal protein intake in the daily diet.
We suggest that dairy products be limited and eventually eliminated from our diets past the waning years of life. Unfortunately, cow’s milk is not the ideal food as we have been lead to believe. The protein, carbohydrate and fat content in cow’s milk is perfect for a 33 lb. calf who needs to grow into a 2500 lb. animal – just as the content of human breast milk is perfect for human babies. That is what nature intended.
We are the only mammals that feed milk from another species to our children and we are the only mammals that continue to drink milk past weaning.
Let us not forget the recent dairy controversy about bovine growth hormone (BGH) which ends up in the milk we drink. It is also worthy to note that a 1000+ pound horse that runs on four thin, spindled ankles, obtains all of its necessary minerals and nutrients from alfalfa and oats rather than milk. It is important to realize that there are many food sources rich in calcium to help maintain adequate bone structure such as green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, and tofu to name just a few.
Sugar consumption is another aspect of one’s diet that needs to be addressed. We believe that it is acceptable to consume moderate amounts of complex sugars in the form of fruit, maple syrup, and molasses. Foods made with refined sugars need to be limited and eventually almost entirely eliminated from the diet.
The main reasons being that excessive amounts of refined sugars desensitize the body to insulin creating a higher risk for diabetes, weaken the immune system, and create intensive mood swings in many people.
Sugar in and of itself is not the culprit, but it is the refining process that strips it of its nutrients and in turn becomes useless to the body. Our body changes complex carbohydrates into usable glucose (sugar) and has the ability to turn proteins and fats, if needed, into glucose before it can be utilized by the cells for energy.
It is also interesting to note here that in Chinese Medicine sweet foods are traditionally known to nourish the stomach and spleen. Therefore, it is not the sugar that is bad for us, but the denatured form and improper amounts that are consumed that causes the problem.
The issue of salt is similar to that of sugar consumption. Salt is actually good for the body. In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that salt nourishes the kidney and bladder organs. There is a product called Gomashio which is sesame salt and is made up of 14 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt. Gomashio is a delicious condiment on all types of foods and is considered to be good for the heart.
Salt and Our Health
If you must add salt to your food try using sea salt, unrefined salt or tamari which is a naturally fermented soy sauce instead of the salt that has been stripped of its precious nutrients. Chinese Medicine also states that it is important for people to consume all types of flavors which include sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour because each of these flavors nourishes a different organ system.
How to Begin Improving Your Eating Habits
Learning a better way to eat can be a pleasurable experience. Using food as medicine is exciting as one sees results, begins to feel and look better and finds oneself with more energy. So one might ask at this point – how to begin?
Start by making small changes that will have the most impact, for example
- Replace white bread with whole wheat bread, replace white rice with brown rice
- Begin to limit intake of dairy products and consider using soy or rice milk in your cereal
- Limit animal protein consumption in general by only three meat meals per week and eventually move toward a vegetarian regime – remember meat is beef, pork, poultry, and fish.
- Experiment with different kinds of grains. Explore your local health food store and discover spelt, amaranth and quinoa. Lovely hearty grains, that can be made into pasta and bread.
- Eat regular meals in a calm manner as you chew your food well
- Drink liquids when you feel thirsty
- Begin to believe that a meal can be complete without meat. Understand that vegetables, grains, and beans can make a lovely and total meal. By incorporating these few easy changes into your daily regime you can reap the benefits of a healthier life.