How to Use Food to Improve Your Health
Health and wellness is much more than the absence of disease. The food we eat not only provides the nutrients our body needs for health, but also provides information to our cells about the outside world.
Our brain, heart, lungs, gut and even skin are not separate entities but a wholly integrated into all other organs in the body through communication between nerves, the immune system and endocrine messengers. Particularly, the mind and body are very closely connected and although treated separately many ‘mental conditions’ can be manifest with physical symptoms and many physical conditions affect the mental state immensely. Additionally how we treat our body in terms of nutrition, sleep and exercise has a large impact on our overall health. Emotional health involves our feelings – this is largely overlooked but also affects the mind and body. How we relate to others and the relationships we form, impact on our health and well being as well.
Your health and wellness needs to encompass these different dimensions. You have the capacity to nurture a HEALTHY SELF with the foods you eat and the lifestyle you live. If you have a chronic disease you have the ability to HEAL THYSELF with food and lifestyle. That is, you can dramatically improve your symptoms and support your mental health by changing what you eat and do. The medical/health industry has been hijacked by pharmaceutical companies, fast food companies and supermarkets. There are many ways you can change your diet which will make a dramatic impact on your health.
Healthy Body – Food as a Medicine
You are what you eat. Think about that. Your body is made entirely of what you eat. When in utero, a baby grows entirely from nutrients supplied from his mother. After birth his body’s growth continues and the food he eats forms the building blocks for new bone, skin, brain, blood and gut. With obesity numbers exploding around the world, many in the western world are actually malnourised on a micronutrient level. Modern convenience diet is laden with fat-rich, sugar-rich calories but lacks essential vitamins and minerals.
Our bodies are designed to process and eat fruit, vegetables, animal produce and to drink water. Some people have bodies adapted to eating grains and dairy – others do not. And no-one is born with a label as to know which type they are.
Seventy percent of the world’s population are lactase deficient, meaning they have lose the ability to digest lactose found in milk and dairy products as they age. It is less common in Europeans (10-20%) and more common among Asian and South American peoples (60-100%). Lactase splits lactose into glucose and galactose which are digestible. If unable to digest lactose, it remains in the gut as it passes through the small and large intestines and causes people can develop symptoms of bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and frequently passing wind. Many people are unknowingly ingesting dairy, thinking it is beneficial when, for them personally, it is not.
Many people have heard of coeliac disease, which is an allergy to gluten in wheat and other grains. Many people have symptoms of this disease and yet when tested they are found not to have the disease yet their symptoms are resolved when they eat a grain-free diet. This may be because they have poor absorption of fructans, galactans and polyols. As they are not absorbed they remain in the gut and cause similar symptoms as lactose intolerance. Fructans are found in wheat and other grains. People with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may benefit from the FODMAP diet which is designed to eliminate these substances from the diet.
Fermented foods and high fibre diet
The food we eat today is very sterile compared with diets of the past. In particular there is a lack of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, keffir or kimchi which replenish the body’s healthy microflora in the gut. It is becoming increasingly evident that an imbalance in this microflora is responsible for recurring infections, diseases of chronic inflammation, and a multitude of allergic and autoimmune disorders. Our microflora becomes ‘set’ in the first 2 years of life and from thereon in is relatively stable unless stable unless we suffer insults such as repeated antibiotics or gastrointestinal infections. Our microflora digests fibre – a substance we are unable to digest. It produces butyrate as a by product which has been shown to be a major influencer in prevention of development of allergic diseases and bowel cancer. It is also emerging as a factor influencing energy expenditure and a lack of a healthy microflora is thought to be contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Exposure to toxins via our food is common, due to modern farming practices, which laden our food with herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Some of these are neurotoxic, especially to babies and small children, while others have adverse effects on our ability to fight infection and skew our hormonal regulation. Once food has been harvested it is then laden with chemicals to extend the shelf life of the food. Many of these have been established to have adverse effects especially on the behaviour of children.
Social Toxins – Sugar
The final toxins we take into our body are social toxins. The most pervasive being refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These additives have found their way into most food items. They have been added to bread, cakes, noodles, crackers, canned foods, fast foods… the list is endless. The body has no ‘off switch’ when it comes to sugar so it can be eaten in unlimited amounts without making you feel full. Sugar is addictive and promotes the storage of fat. The muscles can only utilise a set amount of sugar based on our metabolic rate and activity rate. Any excess must be dealt with by the lover and converted to fatty acids to be stored. Sugar is also pro-inflammatory as it promotes proliferation of the pathogenic microflora in the gut. Sugar addiction has both a physical and emotional component as with other addictions which is why it is difficult to overcome.
Social Toxins – Alcohol
Alcohol is another pervasive social toxin. It kills cells which is why it is used in the medical field to kill germs. It kills good microflora, and it kills liver cells. It adversely affects relationships and mood. When I worked in Australia you would not believe the number of intoxicated men who were brought into the emergency department who were crying and suicidal as a result of their alcohol consumption, not to mention the injuries inflicted due to alcohol intoxication.
Social Toxins – Caffeine
Caffeine has experienced a high of recent years with evermore increasing amounts being added to energy drinks, in addition to the the caffeine already present in soft drinks, coffee, tea and chocolate. Caffeine causes disturbance in thinking, judgment, perception, attention, motor activity, and social functioning. It produces in children symptoms akin to ADD/ADHD which has become very common among children today. Other health issues caused by caffeine include insomnia, rapid heart rate, dehydration (as caffeine makes you urinate more water), depression, anxiety and of course as other social toxins is addictive.
Top Tips for a Health Self and to Heal Thyself with foods
- Eat wholefoods or Real foods – Don’t eat refined or packaged convenience foods. They are energy dense (high fat, high sugar, high salt) and have been stripped of nutrients.
- Eat fermented foods – to balance the microflora in your gut (especially important if having chronic/recurrent infections or doses of antibiotics)
- Trial removing grains and dairy (one at a time) from your diet. If you aren’t digesting it, it could be adversely affecting your health.
- Avoid toxins
- social toxins which include refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
- environmental toxins – eat organically as much as possible or even better use homegrown produce
- production toxins – eat wholefoods/real foods to avoid contamination with artificial preservatives, colours and additives.