Four Pillars of Health - Part 2: Diet

fruits and vegetables

Nutrition has become my latest obsession so I’m excited to write about it in this blog. I’ve touched on diet before in Acne is an Ugly Disease, Antioxidants: Aging and the C Word, and Beauty from Within (or What Your Skin Would Eat). We all know about the Canada Food Guide, that highly processed foods are bad for you, eat the rainbow, and to stick to the outer aisles of a grocery store but when we’re pressed for time, we still grab an unhealthy snack or meal. A little planning ahead and a little prep time is all it takes to have healthy snacks (apples, grapes, berries and bananas) and meals (frozen leftovers) on hand.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas Edison

So why is nutrition so important? Healthy foods can be preventative and/or medicinal while unhealthy foods can cause weight gain, nutritional deficiencies and health problems. If you have any questions about a food, a nutrient or a health condition please feel free to post a comment or contact me and I’ll get you started in the right direction. You can also invest in a book, such as The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, N.D., How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D., or do some careful internet research.

I’m going to give a few examples to illustrate the importance of diet, using a nutrient, a food and a condition, and give you some interesting facts and  nutrition tips.

Let’s first have a look at the protein glutathione. It is available through diet and our livers produce it, although we make less as we get older. It is one of the most important compounds in eliminating fat soluble toxins including pesticides. It does this by transforming them into a water-soluble form that can be excreted through urine. It also has an antioxidant effect which makes it highly important for anticancer and anti-aging. It's involved in tissue building and repair and the immune system. The more you’re exposed to toxins the faster your body uses glutathione. Studies have also found that glutathione helps blood clot formation during surgeries, reduces the side effects and increases the efficacy of some chemotherapy drugs, treats Parkinson’s disease and increases sperm count in men with low sperm counts (Murray, 2005). Where can I get some you ask? It's found in fresh fruits and vegetables (cooked produce contains far less) with asparagus, spinach, okra, avocado and walnuts being some of the richest sources. The body doesn't do the best job of absorbing it however because its broken down by digestive enzymes into amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Glutathione supplements are absorbed by the body even less but consuming vitamin C, as well as other vitamins and minerals, helps the body manufacture more glutathione.

Now let’s have a look at the grain amaranth which is considered a highly nutritious food. Well, hang on, Amaranth is actually an herb, but the Aztecs called it a miracle grain. The seeds are protein rich, are almost gluten-free and are easily digestible. It contains 25% more fibre, five times more iron and calcium and twice the magnesium than whole wheat. It’s an excellent source of vitamins B2, B3 and B5 and a very good source of B6 and folic acid and an excellent source of minerals. You might find it in cereals, crackers, bread, or as a flour. The seeds can be found in natural food stores and should be cooked before eating as it can block the absorption of some nutrients in our digestive system. (Murray, 2005)

Finally let’s look at diarrhea. Well, not literally – let's keep it clean! If you have diarrhea avoid solid foods and focus on liquids during the worst of it. Drink herbal teas, vegetable broth, fruit juice and electrolyte replacement drinks. If you’re up to it, try sipping a drink of half sauerkraut and half tomato juice. Avoid dairy products except for maybe live culture yogurt. Avoid food allergens. During the chronic phase, eat pectin rich foods such as pears, apples, grapefruit, carrots, potatoes, and beets as well as tannin rich blueberries. Clinical studies have shown the effectiveness of eating carob. And mango can provide protection against Giardia while travelling. Consult a physician if diarrhea lasts more than three days or with significant dehydration. (Murray, 2005)

Interesting Facts

  • Omega-3 (found in fatty fish, flax seeds, walnuts) reduces the chance of chronic and inflammatory disease (and at least 58 more diseases).
  • In 1893 the supreme court ruled on the difference between a fruit and a vegetable and ruled that a vegetable was eaten as part of the main course and a fruit was eaten as an appetizer, dessert or out of hand.
  • The average body contains about 38 liters of water.
  • In the US, about 5 lbs of pesticides per person are used each year. More than 50 pesticides are used on broccoli, 110 on apples and 70 on bell peppers. Although Canada has one of the strictest pesticide regulatory systems in the world, each crop uses one or more of the 400 registered pesticides.
  • Eating your greens gives you the strongest protection from major chronic diseases (Greger 2015).
  • To preserve the antioxidants in your vegetables when cooking, cook them in a pan without oil or in the microwave. Peppers are best eaten raw. You can cook artichokes, onions and beets by any method. Carrots and celery have more antioxidants after cooking. (Greger, 2015)
  • Migraines or menstrual cramps? Eat 1/8 teaspoon of powdered ginger.
  • Domesticated animals are 25-30% higher in fat (and in saturated fat and contain little omega-3s). Wild animals contain 4% fat, polyunsaturated fats and beneficial omega-3s.
  • Smaller species of wild and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring) contain the least amount of Toxins.
  • Kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods.

A quote from a study in the medical journal, Cancer Causes and Control: “Vegetables and fruit contain the anticarcinogenic cocktail to which we are adapted. We abandon it at our peril.”

Nutrition Tips

  • If a snack doesn’t contain at least 2g fibre put it back. Most Canadians only get half the recommended fibre. Fibre is important as it binds to toxins and reduces your risk for many diseases.
  • Fresh veggies are best, followed by frozen veggies and then canned veggies (except for canned tomatoes as they contain more lycopene). This is because nutrients leach out into the water of canned vegetables.
  • Eat lots of herbs and spices (fresh or dried) as they are high in antioxidants (peppermint has the highest of herbs and cloves have the highest among spices).
  • Eat a 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric a day as it may play a role in preventing or treating lung disease, brain disease, some cancers (multiple myeloma, colon and pancreatic). Add to a smoothie, rice dishes, soup or roasted cauliflower (it's bright but it doesn't have a strong taste). Avoid if you have gallstones.
  • Canned beans retain their fibre content and are quick and convenient
  • If sugar, fat or salt are one of the first three ingredients put it back
  • It’s okay to eat your nuts, especially almonds and walnuts, in moderation (reduces obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes)
  • Eat a minimum of one Brazil nut a week or up to one a day to lower your cholesterol.
  • Chop fresh broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower and wait 40 minutes before cooking (to maximize sulforaphane, which may be anticancer, may help protect your brain, your eyesight, and to manage type 2 diabetes). (Greger, 2015)
  • Drink 6-12 glasses of water per day - it is important for digestion, the circulatory system, Detoxification, temperature balance, and so much more.
  • Can't sleep? Eat two kiwis an hour before bed (Greger, 2015).
  • Buy organic for produce you don’t peel, as well as strawberries, carrots, grapes, potatoes, lettuce, peaches, bell peppers, apples and tomatoes (which have the highest residues) or wash or soak in soapy water.
  • Domesticated animals are 25-30% higher in fat (and in saturated fat and contain little omega-3s). Wild animals contain 4% fat, polyunsaturated fats and beneficial omega-3s.
  • No more than 2 servings (3-4 oz) per month of red meat and do not grill or cook meat until well done as it increases cancer causing compounds
  • Organic or reduced fat dairy contains less chemicals and hormones (Toxins).
  • For more, sign up for 101 Health Tips from Harvard Medical School.
  • Visit your local farmers market to support local business and to stock up on fresh foods.

Join us next month for part 3, when we take a look at exercise.

Did you miss part 1? Find it here.

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