Garbage in, Garbage out!
Since I practice holistic, functional medicine in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I believe that nutrition is one of the cornerstones, one of the 3 tenants, of the 'Healthy Trinity'. It is also one of the most common reasons for sub-optimal health!
Most Americans are not healthy. It has a lot to do with our culture in general. We tend to be inactive (despite being very 'busy') and our nutrition is horrible.
I see patients every day that have some type of medical problem that likely has its roots in improper nutrition.
Here is a short list of problems that can be attributed, at least in part, to nutrition:
- heart disease
- Crohn's disease
- Thyroid problems
- Digestive problems
- Stomach pains
Proper nutrition is about much more than 'portion control' or eating the right amount.
Proper nutrition is about eating the right KINDS of foods. Sure, we shouldn't eat too much either but when we eat the right foods then the quantity becomes much less important.
Eating for health means that we need to think of our food as fuel. This is difficult for many Americans due to how we view food. We use food for social gatherings, comfort, holidays, rewards, etc.
Also, a lot of people will make some efforts to change their diet and think they are doing better. Sometimes they are doing better, sometimes their efforts are in vain. If you don't have a background in nutrition then it would probably be best to have someone knowledgeable in nutrition review your diet.
This isn't 'rocket science'. Our ancestors probably weren't 'nutrition experts' but they were far more healthy. This difference is that they didn't have all of the JUNK available that we have today. Their food was natural and nutrient dense. Our current food options consist of high calorie process foods deplete of nutrition.
Nutrition as medicine
Lectins and gluten cause significant damage to our intestinal walls which cause a whole cascade of deleterious effects. These substances are often referred to as 'anti-nutrients' since the are bad for us and do the opposite of nutritious substances.
Gluten, for example, can increase a chemical called 'Zonulin' which controls the gaps in between cells. Zonulin opens these spaces and allows more substances to cross the intestinal barrier. Many of these substances are not supposed to cross over into our bodies and we mount an immune response to them. This increases overall inflammation and also causes most of our autoimmune conditions such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thyroid disorders, and many others.
Thorough treatment of numerous medical conditions requires addressing nutrition. Many of these conditions can be adequately and appropriately treated with nutrition alone.
For conditions that cannot be completely treated with nutrition alone we can often decrease the dose of medication required which will minimize the unwanted effects of medications due to lower doses. Its a win-win.
Nutrition General Guidelines
- Establish your 'goal' - is it to be as healthy as possible? Lose weight? Optimal performance? Treating or preventing a specific illness or condition? Each of these goals are going to have different parameters for what is important. Establish your goal and continually work toward that goal.
- Eat whole, natural foods when possible
- Get as much food locally as possible (i.e. Farmer's Market)
- Eat as much variety as possible to ensure good intake of nutrients
- Do a 30 day nutritional cleanse. I commonly see patients that can't tolerate certain foods that they don't even realize are causing a problem. Some foods cause a problem due to the irritation of some other foods. The only way to know what is causing a problem is to remove all of the common offenders and then gradually re-introduce them.
- Eliminate gluten altogether.
- Reduce, if not eliminate, grains as much as possible - this is due to both anti-nutrients and the insulin response to them
- Pay attention to what you eat and re-evaluate based on your performance, body-composition, and how well you feel.
Following these guidelines will get you started on the path to optimal health.
Food As Fuel
Any activity that occurs on the face of the planet requires energy. We need it to power the lights in our house, make our cars go, heat our water, cook our food, and power our televisions.
Our bodies need energy to beat our hearts to circulate blood, make air go in and out of our lungs through breathing, move our bodies, and even power our brains.
The energy to power all of these activities is supplied by the food we eat.
We typically measure the energy contained within our food through calories. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise 1 mL of water 1 degree of celsius.
However, the calories to which we typically refer in regards to human nutrition, consumption, and exercise is a kilocalorie or KCal. That is, 1000 calories. Some call this a 'large calorie' or the amount of energy required to raise 1 kilogram (or liter) of water 1 degree celsius. I guess its just semantics.
There are 3 'macronutrients' that we need. These are the primary energy sources for our body.
- Carbohydrates - there are 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates
- Proteins - there are 4 calories per gram in proteins
- Fats - there are 9 calories per gram in fats
Each component is essential for health. However, you can certainly get too much of a good thing.
There are also vitamins, minerals, and countless other essential components that are necessary for health. We must make sure that we have enough of each of those. Supplementation is not the answer here. The best way to make sure we have adequate intake of these is through a varied diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Proper nutrition is absolutely vital for good health. We must eat the right amounts of healthy, natural, unprocessed foods.