Healthy Meals
Special Dietary Recommendations
Profound impact on health and disease
Food addiction
The China Study
AGE's and health
The choices we make
Personalized Diet advice
 
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Dietary Advice

Healthy Meals

Food can bring us increased energy and health, but it can also contribute to fatigue, depression, inflammation and disease. Most of us find pleasure and comfort in the foods we ate growing up, but what if our families had it wrong? What if the foods we've come to like aren't providing the health and vitality that we need to stay healthy?

Nourishing, wholesome food provides nutrients and energy for the body to function, and, perhaps just as important, supplies raw materials the body uses to protect healthy cells, repair damaged cells and replace dead or severely damaged ones. Unhealthy foods can interfere with this process, and clog our arteries, destabilize our blood sugar, depress our immune systems and inflame our joints. Sometimes we don't even realize the impact that certain foods or ways of eating are having on how we feel.

For those looking to branch out into new directions, below are a few dietary guidelines that we've found (through research AND experience) to help our patients heal faster and feel better. While there is no definitive best diet for everyone, there are dietary laws that do apply to us all. Tastes and cultures vary, and constitutions and genetics will differ, and the old adage is true that one man's food may be another's poison. With that said:

The three most important dietary restrictions are to:
  1. eat less sugar
  2. eat less saturated and trans fats
  3. eat less refined flour products
The positive corollaries to these are to eat more foods the way nature has provided:
  1. eat more fresh vegetables and fruits (especially salads)
  2. eat more whole grains
  3. eat more vegetable proteins (beans, nuts and seeds)
Many of us do everything backwards: we eat sugary, starchy foods for breakfast, fast foods for lunch, catching lunch on the run, and eat a big heavy protein-rich meal at dinner, when we're just going to sit around reading or watching TV. Most of us would be much better off eating a substantial breakfast with enough protein to sustain us, a mid-sized lunch that includes some more protein and vegetables, and a light dinner emphasizing salad and a whole grain (see The Circadian Prescription by Sidney Baker, MD).

A great 'smoothie' breakfast for those on the run can be quickly made in a blender by combining:
  1. fresh orange juice and water, or soy yogurt or almond milk; add soy or rice protein powder, ground flaxseeds, with a quarter cup of blueberries.
  2. Alternately, use milk and yogurt (with live cultures) in place of the orange juice, or add walnuts or almonds instead of flaxseeds; add apples or nectarines, and maybe half a banana. Out of season, use frozen blueberries.
  3. For another nutritious change, try scrambling some tofu in a pan with sautéed onions and spinach, and season with tamari and turmeric.
A quick, nutritious dinner can be made by steaming some brown rice or other whole grain with some zucchini, broccoli or spinach; or simply grate some carrots and beets and place them in a bowl with chopped tomato and romaine lettuce, topped with a lemon-tahini dressing.

Special Dietary Recommendations

Those who get tired when they skip as meal, or after eating a big meal, should consider following a 'grazing' diet to help stabilize blood sugar. Instead of the usual three big meals a day, eat five small ones, or three small ones supplemented by healthy protein snacks between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner (think yogurt or soy yogurt, or an apple with a few walnuts).

Those who get indigestion, gas or bloating after meals should also try eating smaller meals, and experiment with minimizing the classes of foods eaten at a given meal. Since proteins and fats require an acid environment to be digested, while starches and fruits need alkalinity in the Small Intestine, try separating these from each other at different meals. Vegetables go with just about everything, and the more you eat, the better.

In modern times, many of us work in offices, and technology has made our home life virtually devoid of physical labor. We no longer wash our clothes by hand, or grind our grains, yet we still eat as if we're out running marathons. Systematic under-eating has been shown to increase the maximum lifespan in laboratory animals, and it can ease our digestive and metabolic burdens while we are recovering from illness (see Maximum Life Span by Roy Walford, MD).

Profound impact on health and disease

There is no longer any doubt that the foods we eat have a profound impact on health and disease. Of the ten leading causes of death in the US, four, including the top three, are directly associated with dietary indiscretions: heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and type-2 diabetes. Together, these conditions account for two-thirds of the deaths occurring each year in the US, in addition to degrading our health and our sense of wellbeing. It's not age that hampers us, but the breakdown of optimum functioning.

We eat very differently today than our great-grandparents did. The Industrial Revolution made refined and processed foods available to the masses for the first time. In the process, fiber and health-promoting nutrients are lost. We now eat 45% of our meals away from home. Nearly half the calories in the average American diet come from nutritionally depleted foods. We eat more and more damaging trans-fats. Less than 10% of us are eating the recommended five servings of vegetables a day, while our soft drink intake has increased a whopping 60%. Per year, the average American consumes over 135 pounds of refined sugar. A couple years ago, the president of Coca-Cola said that his goal was to make Coca-Cola more widely available in the world than drinking water.

The sugar contained in one large soft drink can diminish the activity of immune system cells by up to 50% for several hours. Hydrogenated and trans fats, found in many fried foods, cookies and crackers, can promote inflammation in the body and increase the risk of heart disease. When they get in our brains, they disrupt cellular communication, which promotes a decline in our cognitive functions. These foods make us fat, deplete our vitality, and shorten and degrade our lives. In the past 20 years the U.S. has gone from first in the world for life expectancy to 19th in the world for women, and 29th for men (behind Slovenia).

Every few months we're greeted with a new diet book promoting health and weight loss miracles for the dedicated followers. Some of these are based on sound scientific principles, but unfortunately most are not. If we've been paying even a little attention, most of us already know basic guidelines of how to eat healthy; it's just that our environments don't make it easy. We're too busy to prepare proper meals and it's almost impossible to find healthy food in restaurants. But we must make healthy eating a priority, unless we're willing to pay the price.

Diet-influenced illnesses don't develop over night, and they can't be reversed quickly either. For example, soldiers autopsied after the Korean War revealed that 77% of American soldiers had blood vessels that were already narrowed by fat deposits, while the arteries of the Korean soldiers showed no such deposits.

The antioxidants and phytochemicals found in abundance in the plant kingdom help to purge neurotoxins from our bodies. They also reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and help protect against cancer and diabetes. It's a matter of priorities, and of training ourselves to learn to like the foods that make us healthy.

Food addiction

Once we establish new habits, most of us find refined and processed foods less satisfying. It only takes a commitment in the beginning, as it does with any unhealthy addiction. Researchers at the University of Michigan recently gave a group of 'chocoholics' the drug naloxone, an opiate (and endorphin) blocker that stops the effect of morphine, heroine, and other narcotics on the brain.

Amazingly, the drug knocked out all desire for chocolate. After taking naloxone, the subjects of the experiment found chocolate about as enticing as a crust of dry bread! The same researchers found naloxone to have the same effect on the desire for cheese. Other researchers have found similar effects on both sugar and meat. By the way, acupuncture is known to increase the brain's production of endorphins, imparting a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing, thereby minimizing the need to stimulate these 'pleasure' receptors with 'addictive' foods.

The China Study

T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell and author of "The China Study," details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The New York Times has recognized the study (China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project) as the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” and the “most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” The research project culminated in a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, a survey of diseases and lifestyle factors in rural China and Taiwan. More commonly known as the China Study, “this project eventually produced more than 8000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.”

The findings? “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease . People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. These results could not be ignored,” said Dr. Campbell.

AGE's and health

Recently, a lot of attention and research has been devoted to studying Advanced Glycoxidation Endproducts. AGE's, also known as glycotoxins, are toxic substances that accumulate in body areas and contribute to many of our modern diseases: in joints they contribute to arthritis; in the brain they contribute to Alzheimer's disease. They accumulate in arteries causing high blood pressure and atherosclerosis; in the eye they cause cataracts, in the kidneys, contributing to kidney failure. In fact there's a whole theory (the Maillard Theory) that blames nearly all the complications of aging on the buildup of these toxic compounds.

Where does this AGE stuff come from? Like free radicals, our body naturally produces these toxic AGE's every day. But, also like free radicals, there are a number of external sources we have control over so as to minimize our exposure. Cigarette smoke, for example, is a potent source of these glycotoxins, but we also get them through our diet. Researchers at Mount Sinai recently measured the amount of AGE's in over a hundred common food items. They found that the five most tainted foods (per serving) were broiled hot dogs, oven-fried chicken, oven-fried fish, McDonald's Chicken Nuggets, and broiled chicken breast.

It turns out AGE's are found predominantly in meat. In fact, investigators with the famous Women's Health Study reported this September that the AGE's in meat may be why women who eat meat five or more times a week are at significantly higher risk for developing diabetes. Dry heat, protein and fat seem to conspire to produce these glycotoxins. So while a broiled hot dog has over 10,000 units of AGE's per serving, an apple, or banana, in comparison, has only about 10 units.

“Foods that contain mostly carbohydrates,” the researchers note, “starches, fruits, vegetables.... contain the lowest AGE concentrations.” The researchers offered three suggestions for decreasing one's intake of AGEs: “Firstly, reduce full-fat cheeses, meats and highly processed foods...” Secondly, they recommended using cooking techniques that minimize AGE formation, i.e. boiling and steaming. Frying, roasting and broiling were the worst. “Third,” the investigators conclude, “the importance of selecting unprocessed nutrients when possible cannot be overemphasized.” The pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to find way to somehow counteract AGE's within the body, but perhaps a smarter strategy is for people to just not consume so many of them in the first place. This means centering one's diet on whole plant foods that have ideally not been exposed to temperatures above about 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The choices we make

Ultimately, the choices we make each day, of what we allow to enter the temple of our body, will seriously affect our health, one way or another. Poison is poison, whether we know it or not. People have tried to ignore the impact, often hiding behind some over-publicized, seemingly conflicting research, but each of us has important decisions to make each time we go to a grocery store or restaurant. The corporate and advertising worlds are against us. When was the last time you saw full-page advertisements for spinach or broccoli?

We are surrounded by fast food chain restaurants, and barraged by ads for junk foods. We see ads for weight loss programs, that say you can eat whatever you want, not exercise-and still lose weight. It's easier to find a Snickers bar, a Big Mac, or a Coke, than it is to find an apple. And your kids may eat at a school cafeteria whose idea of a vegetable is the ketchup on the burgers. You go to your doctor for health tips. In the waiting room, you find a glossy 243-page magazine titled “Family Doctor: Your Essential Guide to Health and Wellbeing.” Published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, and sent free to the offices of all 50,000 family doctors in the United States in 2004, it's full of glossy ads for McDonald's, Dr. Pepper, chocolate pudding and Oreo cookies. You pick up an issue of National Geographic Kids, “for ages six and up,” expecting to find wholesome reading for youngsters. The pages, however, are filled with ads for Twinkies, M&Ms, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Hostess Cup Cakes, and Xtreme Jell-O Pudding Sticks.

This is what some scientists and food activists at Yale University call a toxic food environment. It is the environment in which most of us live today. The inescapable fact is that certain people are making an awful lot of money today selling foods that are unhealthy. They want you to keep eating the foods they sell, even though doing so makes you fat, exhausts your vitality, and shortens and degrades your life. They do not want you informed, active, and passionately alive, and they are quite willing to spend billions of dollars annually to accomplish their goals. You can acquiesce to all this, you can succumb to the junk food sellers, or you can find a healthier and more life-affirming relationship to your body and the food you eat. If you want to live with radiant health, feeling alive in your body, you'll need an ally in today's environment.

Personalized Diet advice

We're always more than happy to discuss healthy eating with our patients. We will address foods and diets that are appropriate to your individual constitution and pattern of disease. In some circumstances, we may even arrange for a separate appointment just to discuss these things, as we feel it is that important.

 
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