Future topics will include many aspects of nutrition as well as overall health, including physical activity and mental well-being. In this first newsletter, I'm going to concentrate on good nutrition.
Good nutrition today is confusing! Where do I start?
There is really no single, simple answer, and new information becomes available all the time, sometimes contradicting what we thought we knew. But I will try to provide some basic information to help you make wise choices.
I'll take a brief look at what our problems are today, how our ancestors ate, and then suggest some tips for shopping for healthy groceries today.
Today many of us mainly eat food that has already been prepared, whether at fast-food or other restaurants, or our grocery stores. Typically, we don't know how much fat, salt and other additives we're consuming in these foods. We tend to snack on 'junk food' (also high in fat and salt), and drink soft drinks or juices that have a lot of sugar in them.
Many of us spend very little time on physical activity. As a result, the percentage of the population that is overweight and obese has been increasing at an alarming rate over the past few decades. The results of this include increases in type 2 diabetes and many other diseases. At this rate, our life expectancy may start to decrease for the first time in many years.
About 50,000 years ago, early humans were hunters and gatherers. (2) The food - plants (mainly fruits, vegetables, nuts) and wild game - available to them varied seasonally and according to where they lived. (3) Grains were rarely part of their diet because of the difficulty of manually milling them; they were mainly eaten in times when little else was available.
The diet was meat-based, but wild game was much leaner than commercial meats today, and the type of fat in wild game was healthier (mainly non-saturated). (4) Food was eaten as soon as it was hunted or gathered; it was cooked minimally if at all. Hunting and gathering kept people very active.
Because of all the conflicting advice today, there is increasing interest in the original human diet. We may not want to replicate it exactly, but how can we come a little closer to it?
Buying fresh foods and preparing them ourselves will help us to eat a more healthy diet.
In the summer and fall, take advantage of farmers' markets for fruit and vegetables. Also, stores selling mostly fresh produce are increasingly common. They often offer a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables.
In your regular grocery store, shop around the outside aisles! This is where you will find your essential foods.
Fresh, raw foods are usually in the first section - increasingly more than just one aisle - a good sign.
We are fortunate to have a wide variety of colourful vegetables and fruits all year long, although buying fresh produce in season is always a good idea.
If possible, buy only organic vegetables. Increasingly, grocery stores are including some organic produce which is best - it has not been sprayed with chemicals in the field, fumigated in storage to keep off bugs, or radiated to prevent spoilage.
Ask your grocer for grain-fed, hormone-free meats. It is often possible to find grain-fed chickens, but that's about it. We need to let store managers know the demand is there so they will supply more healthy choices. Avoid deli meats - they contain additives.
Fish - It is difficult to find deep fresh water fish - most of the fish we buy today have some level of mercury in them. However, the benefits of eating fish a few times a week generally outweigh the dangers. For example, salmon has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) (5) which are healthy. Note that fish which has been covered in batter and been deep fried is not healthy.
Bread - Buy 100% whole wheat, or multi-grain bread with no additives. This bread has a short shelf life. That's what you want. If you don't eat a lot of bread, you can keep it fresh in the freezer, and just take out what you need as you need it. It thaws quickly without a microwave oven.
Dairy products - Low fat dairy products are better than those with higher fat. But goat's milk and yogurt are best - goat's milk is often used in developing countries when mother's milk is not available, and is believed to be closely equivalent, although the nutritional content of goat's milk can vary. (6,7)
Visit your health food store for quality grains and nuts.
Drink lots of water - at least 6 to 8 glasses per day.
- Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables
- Eat less meat, especially 'red' meat, and more fish
- Buy fresh, unprocessed food and prepare it yourself
- Replace refined grains with whole grains, e.g. brown rice, whole wheat, Kamut or spelt pasta. Explore other less well-known grains such as millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat etc.
- Drink lots of water (instead of soft drinks, fruit juices)
- Consume moderate amounts of non-hydrogenated vegetable oils
Reduce consumption of:
- Sugar - especially in soft drinks, juices, candy, cereals, baked goods
- White bread and bread that is less than 100% whole wheat, for example, cracked wheat
- Foods with preservatives or additives (such as nitrites, sulfites), for example deli meats, some ready-prepared frozen foods
- Canned foods - some nutrients may be lost with over-cooking
- Saturated fat and trans-fats
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic.
1. Olshansky SJ, Rassaro DJ, Hershow RC et al. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. New Engl J Med 2005;352:1138-1145.
2. Eaton SB. Stone Age nutrition: the original human diet.
3. Eaton SB, Eaton III SB, Konner MJ et al. An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements. J Nutr 1996;126:1732-1740.
4.Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J et al. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56(Suppl 1):542-552.
5.A future newsletter will discuss good and bad fats in more detail.
6. Jackson F. Goat milk found as nutritious as mother's milk.
7.Haeniein GFW. Nutritional value of dairy products of ewe and goat milk.
This is the first in the series of newsletters that will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.
Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic