“Food can be the fastest medicine, or the slowest poison”
You ARE what you eat and drink and you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet! Although there are many ways to improve your health, what you put in your mouth is by far the MOST important lifestyle issue. Poor nutrition contributes more to chronic disease and death than smoking, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption COMBINED! This includes diseases like dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 70 % of deaths worldwide (more than 30 million annually) are from chronic, reversible diseases. Fifty years ago, most people died of under nutrition. Today, most people die of over nutrition. A poor diet alone accounts for 1/3rd of all cancer cases. What you eat has even been shown to turn on and off cancer-causing genes! You can’t blame poor health on genetics. A family history of disease, including high cholesterol (of which only 0.2% is truly genetic), obesity, cancer and even dementia, has more to do with the lifestyle and eating habits we learned from our families growing up than with the genes we inherited. Those habits can be changed. The “Standard American Diet” (appropriately known as SAD), also known as the “Western” diet, consists of: 39% oil and sugar, 30% animal products, 20% grains, 95% of which are highly refined, and only 11% fruits and vegetables. The majority of the vegetables Americans do eat consist of French fries, ketchup, orange juice and rice (as a filler, not true grain)!
Good nutrition is not just about avoiding bad food; it’s also about adding more good food. More whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits! Just adding 1 serving of fruit or vegetables a day, organic or not, will make a significant improvement in your health. Just thinking about what you eat is a start in the right direction.
Doing a 2-week diet diary (Diet Diary and Food Guide) helps to give you a better idea of what and how much you actually eat. Nutritional guidance and information, whether from a doctor, nutritionist or the internet, is confusing and often contradictory. There are many differences in opinion about what is “the best diet”. Despite these differences, there is consistent agreement about a few things like avoiding sugar, processed food, dairy, cutting back on or completely avoiding meat and fish as well as stressing the importance of eating more quality whole foods especially lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Some people do have specific nutritional needs like allergies or sensitivities. You have to find what works for you, makes you feel the best and improves your health in the long-term (not just in the first few weeks or months). Keep in mind that when you eliminate something bad from your diet like sugar or dairy you may feel worse for a few weeks because of withdrawal, just like with drugs, so be patient. These foods bind to and stimulate the same brain receptors as heroin and morphine. You literally are addicted to them. Similarly, adding good foods into your diet like beans, legumes and high-fiber fruits and vegetables can sometimes make you feel bloated. This is primarily because the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut is way off. As you slowly re-introduce healthy foods into your diet, you will feed and grow the beneficial bacteria in your gut, those symptoms will disappear and the long-term health benefits you will enjoy are undeniable!
This is a link to a fascinating lecture about the history of food and the benefits of a plant-based diet by Dr. Scott Stoll.
Links to more information about nutrition and health:
Additional helpful links and documents:
Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout – Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout