Food is so much more than just calories we use for energy — and it is our passion and privilege to share with you how much more food does for your overall health! In our latest free webinar, Susan Eichorst, PA-C, explains how food can be used as medicine, and also how it can be harmful when not used properly.
What is food?
In short, food is information that communicates with our genes. This is called nutrigenomics, and is becoming more studied and understood in recent years.
The natural colors of fruits and vegetables actually represent 25,000 phytonutrients that help to prevent disease and improve health. Isn’t that amazing? Fruits and vegetables are most effective when eaten in their whole, unprocessed form.
Did you know that genetics are actually responsible for only about 10% of your outcome in life? We love sharing this data so you can understand how much control you really have over your own health and wellness.
So, how can food be used as medicine?
It is important to first acknowledge that when we talk about “food” we are talking about whole, unprocessed food. Man-made and highly processed foods (most of the boxed, canned and frozen items you find at the store) are actually “artificial food.” These “foods” contain mostly chemicals, additives, corn syrup and refined carbohydrates (which are broken down as sugar in your body). These ingredients aren’t technically food because they hold little to no nutritional value for your body.
For example, choosing gluten-free items is not automatically healthier simply because they are gluten-free. Gluten-free versions of things are often higher in sugar, harmful chemicals and additives, to try to mimic or compensate for the texture and taste of the with-gluten versions of those items. They are still highly processed and are still “junk food” as far as your body is concerned. If you don’t need to buy gluten-free, it’s actually better not to.
Science and food journalist Michael Pollan put it simply and clearly when he said “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Following that advice can lead your body to new levels of wellness and health you may never have expected! Here is some information to help you get there in a way that works for you.
There are many benefits to choosing whole, nutritional foods:
- Feed and promote a healthy microbiome (the balance of bacteria the body needs to function optimally)
- Help regulate hormones
- Help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain
- Help regulate the immune system
- Balance glucose and insulin levels
We all know that a colorful diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is a great way to get enough vitamins, fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants in our diet. That’s why we are focusing on how to improve your diet in areas such as meats, fats, dairy, sweeteners and beverages.
Meat and fish
Buying pasture-raised (as opposed to cage-free) and grass-fed beef as much as possible is an excellent way to enjoy a leaner, juicier source of protein that is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamin B6, all of which can improve heart health, metabolism and your immune system! Pasture-raised and grass-fed beef is also a great way to help the environment because raising cows and processing beef in this way is a method of restorative agriculture. This means it actually helps to improve the soil and land instead of depleting it!
When buying fish, you’ll notice distinct visual differences in wild-caught fish versus farmed fish. Salmon is a great example. Wild-caught salmon is a deep pink/red color while farmed salmon is a pale pink/peach color. Did you know that farmed salmon has only a quarter as much vitamin D as wild-caught salmon? Farmed salmon is also exposed to more toxins and contaminants.
Partially hydrogenated “trans” fats
These kinds of harmful fats were originally developed in the 1940s for use in shortenings and margarine. Partially hydrogenated fats increase your level of “bad” LDL cholesterol while also lowering your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. They also contribute to chronic inflammation in the body and contribute to Type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke, dementia and even cancer. Trans fats were banned in the U.S. by the FDA in 2015, to be removed by 2018 (extended to 2019), but there’s a loophole: If a product contains less than .5 mg of trans fats per serving, it can be listed as zero! This means that when you eat double, or more than double, the recommended serving size (as many do), you can easily be eating several milligrams of trans fats each time.
Where do trans fats hide?
- Microwave popcorn
- Frozen foods
We know that list may have you feeling sad, but remember that it is typically okay to eat these products once in a while. Just make a point not to eat too much in one sitting or have them as part of your regular diet. When reading labels, it’s best to avoid anything that lists “partially hydrogenated oil” because that is actually trans fat!
What are more desirable kinds of fat?
- Grass-fed butter
- Ghee or clarified butter
- Avocado oil and coconut oil for cooking
- Olive oil (best to use raw, such as on salads, instead of for cooking)
- MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides) from coconut oil
It’s normal and expected for us to enjoy some ice cream or some great queso now and then, but it’s also important to avoid making dairy a regular part of your diet. So many of us grew up hearing from our parents and TV commercials that we need milk so we can have strong bones, but that has been proven to actually NOT be true. You do not need milk for bone health! Dairy is most associated with allergies (such as lactose intolerance), weight gain, acne, eczema, bloating and gas.
When you want to enjoy milk or other dairy products, it’s best to actually drink whole milk (avoid skim, 1% and 2% milk) because the fat is actually the healthiest aspect of milk. In the same vein, avoid low-fat yogurts (they are mostly sugar) and avoid cheeses made with skim, 1% or 2% milk. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, that it’s always best to avoid any kind of “cheese” that comes in a can. Those are full of harmful chemicals and hold no nutritional value. You and your body deserve better!
We bet you grew up, like we did, hearing that low-sugar or sugar-free versions of things are healthier. Well, sugar is generally not good for us, right? Correct. BUT artificial sweeteners are actually worse for your body than sugar. If you’re going to choose between a regular and a sugar-free version of something, it is less-harmful to choose the regular version that uses sugar. This is because artificial sweeteners are ONE THOUSAND times sweeter than regular sugar and are therefore highly addictive. In fact, they spike your body’s insulin levels more than regular sugar, which in turn spikes hunger. There is a direct correlation between people who struggle with excess weight and people who regularly eat and drink sugar-free products.
Artificial sweeteners rewire your brain chemistry and your metabolism and disrupt your microbiome. These serious effects are associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and some cancers.
What are some better sweeteners to look for?
- Monk fruit
- Pure stevia (not Pure Via or Truvia, which have other additives)
- Coconut sugar
- Organic maple syrup
These options are less harmful to your body, but do keep in mind that they are still sugar, so it’s still important to enjoy these sweeteners in moderation.
Drinks are one of those sneaky sources of sugar, chemicals and calories that often are overlooked when you’re focused on making changes to the foods you eat. A great deal of calories can come from what you drink, though. That’s why it is important to consider the kinds of beverages that are part of your regular diet. You can do your body a lot of good just by avoiding soda, fruit juices (all the sugar and none of the fiber of real fruit) and sports or energy drinks (full of sugar and chemicals).
Here’s what to drink instead:
- Water — Filtered or reverse osmosis is best.
- Mineral water
- Green tea — Full of antioxidants, but be mindful of caffeine and avoid sweeteners.
- Herbal teas — Contain certain disease-fighting polyphenols and help fight free radicals.
- Milk alternatives such as oat, almond or cashew — Avoid versions with added sugars or additives.
- Coffee — Watch out for mold contamination that can occur between manufacturing and purchasing.
We know this is a lot of information, but here are some of the key pieces of advice to keep in mind when making personal diet and lifestyle decisions for yourself or your family:
- Use sugar sparingly and check labels for added sugars.
- Quality counts. Choosing organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised products as much as you can will give you more vitamins and nutrients and fewer chemicals, all while helping the environment.
- In general, avoid: High fructose corn syrup, wheat (it does not hold the nutritional value today that it did for our ancestors, processed corn and rice products, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Doing what you can to eat healthy, organic, nutrient-rich foods will fill your body with the energy, nutrients and antioxidants it needs to help you feel happy and healthy throughout your life! To learn more, watch the full webinar or reach out to our team today at 303.327.7300 or by requesting a consultation online.