Nutrition Information to Prevent Disease, Promote Health, and Taste Great!
Nutrition information is constantly in front of all our eyes, with everything from outrageous weight loss plans in supermarket tabloids to those annoying little food fact labels with the percentages of everything on them.
Claims on product labels like “low fat,” “no cholesterol,” and “no sugar added” are now being crowded out by functional food claims like “good source of fiber, may promote a healthy heart.” How do you make sense out of all this? Is nutrition information just more advertising hype?
My goal in the next few minutes is to make it clear that many of the patients I see in my holistic medicine practice who are ill could be well again by treating food as medicine. My understanding of food as medicine has grown greatly, and I also understand now from years of experience and reading medical science that eating healthy as a lifelong habit can prevent many of the diseases that disable and kill. And I also want you to know that nutrition information can be distilled to a few simple principles, freeing you to enjoy good and delicious food while eating within guidelines that promote health.
New information: Did you know there is reason to be concerned about GMO Foods?
If you want to bookmark this page for later and start enjoying a healthy diet now, click here for healthy recipes!
Medical Education has Failed Us
I was not always so passionate about food as medicine. I had a single course on nutrition in medical school, and the overall impression among my classmates at that time was that the material was mostly irrelevant to the rest of medical education. Just passing the course so we could get on to the “real” courses like surgery, pathology, pharmacology was the unstated goal of many of us at the time. Nutrition information just did not fit in the high tech, pharmacy dependent model that ruled the day in medical education.
I hope that medical school curricula have improved from that dismal state in the last 30 years, because what I know now from experience and solid science is that good nutrition and food choices are the foundation of good health. Prevention of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and most of the other chronic degenerative diseases of aging can be accomplished with good nutrition. And even when disease is established, we can improve outcomes and control them better when food is chosen wisely, beginning a process of nutritional healing.
Can I Supersize that Inflammation Sir?
If I could choose one nutrition information topic for you to know as a guideline for healthy diet, it would be the anti-inflammatory diet. If nothing else, this is proof that eating healthy can be delicious and interesting. Here are the details.
We have sufficient solid medical science to show that an anti-inflammatory diet is associated with better outcomes or prevention for Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, auto-immune diseases such as lupus, chronic pain, and many cancers.
Simple guidelines for an anti-inflammatory diet include:
• Healthy fats: start by understanding that eating some foods containing mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, etc) every day is healthy and should be enjoyed. Also aim for 2 servings of oily fish (such as wild Alaskan salmon or sardines) per week. If not eating that much fish, take a fish oil capsule daily. So enjoy those healthy fats, and then avoid some fats that are inflammatory. Specifically, aim for a trans-fat intake of zero. How do you assure this? Read the label on any prepared food product, and put it back on the shelf if it reads “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils of any kind. I encourage you to limit your intake of the polyunsaturated vegetable oils which are largely omega-6 fats (including corn oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil). Saturated fats, found in meat, dairy, and coconut oil, are also inflammatory and should be minimized.
Learn about the history, production, varieties, and health benefits of olive oil.
• Plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits: the powerful anti-inflammatory compounds in colorful vegetables and fruits are one of your greatest health promoters. Aim for 9 servings per day, and get a rainbow onto your plate. For example: red (tomato sauce), orange (sweet potato), yellow (yellow peppers), green (broccoli), blue (blueberries), purple (purple cabbage). Plenty of garlic and onions are great health promoters as well.
• Enjoy foods high in fiber: whole grain products, fresh vegetables and fruits are the best way to assure a high fiber diet. This decreases inflammation and prevents many serious diseases. I reserve a special positive emphasis on legumes (beans) here as great fiber sources. We have solid science showing that legumes reduce risk of heart attacks and cancers.
• Decrease glycemic load and simple sugars: this is the flip side of the coin I just showed you about whole grains and fiber. When you get most of your carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains instead of refined flour in baked products (breads, cakes, crackers, etc), you keep the blood sugar from spiking too high and then adding to inflammatory belly fat (the medical word is visceral adiposity). Keeping the blood sugar steady is an especially important issue for children and teens with attention and focus issues, and is one of the areas I discuss in the ADHD Nutrition page. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important it is to pay attention to glycemic index and avoid foods that raise blood sugar. Of all the nutrition information which I gleaned at a recent scientific meeting, this was one of the most important points for reducing risk of many chronic diseases and disability.
• Enjoy anti-inflammatory herbs and spices: I already mentioned garlic and onions, which in addition to being good foods with great flavor are herbal medicines in their own right. You can also spice up your food withturmeric (the main ingredient that makes a good Indian curry), ginger(great for digestion and for decreasing rheumatic joint complaints), rosemary, oregano, and cayenne pepper for decreasing inflammation. (I told you good food would not be boring!)
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Your Destiny on a Fork
I hope you have noticed something important about these nutrition information guidelines. This is not a laundry list of “don’ts” and bad things to avoid. It is mostly about good foods to enjoy more of, and making careful choices within certain food groups. With this very general overview of the anti-inflammatory piece of nutrition information, you can take action today. Think about this: every bite you put in your mouth either makes you more healthy, or less so; every meal has the potential to add to your health, strength and productivity, or steal your future. And now you know that you can have your health and eat it too! Stay tuned, I know we will want to talk more about this soon.
For your health and wellness,
Robert Pendergrast, MD