I was eating a salad the other day with some fresh veggies from our local farmer’s market. Someone stopped and asked, “Are you on a diet?!” To which I replied, “No, I’m eating correctly.” After an awkward stare, they walked on and I continued to enjoy my food!
One thing you’ll learn about me is that I don’t like the word diet– I just think we tend to misuse it. Yes, there are diets out there but what we’re going to talk about is more appropriately termedeating correctly. Diet, by one common definition, means a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. Here’s the problem: we assume the food we’re accustomed to eating isnormaltherefore anything else would be abnormal. We can’t fault ourselves too much, though, because every cultural niche sees the foods they eat daily as normal. It then makes sense that anything outside of our cultural norm would be considered abnormal to us. Follow me? Ok, so here’s the twist: I’m going to suggest that what we eat is abnormal and there is a normal (or an eating correctly)out there that we don’t have to call a diet. Diet has such a negative connotation – nobody gets excited about going on a diet. And if you’re not excited about it, will you really stick to it long term? We need a shift in our thinking – a shift that comes with nutritional education and then in turn making healthier choices about what goes into our bodies. You don’t have to feel imprisoned by what you eat! Our bodies are beautifully complex and we’ll dive deeper, learning more, as we continue this journey. For now, as we transition towards summer, I want to give you some quick tips to get you headed in the right direction.
1. Cut down on processed foods.
First off, how do you define a processed food? Well, there are several ways – let’s go over a few. If it doesn’t look like it was grown somewhere, then it’s probably processed. Or if you read the ingredients label and there are more than a dozen ingredients, then it’s processed.
The National Health Service showed that a dietary intakeof primarily processed foods increases inflammatory biomarkers. So, what does that mean? Inflammation is directly associated with increased risks for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, depression, dementia, colon cancer, breast cancer, and atherosclerosis to name just a few…yikes!! And, interestingly enough, incidence of the health problems noted above has risen in line with the growth seen in the processed food industry. The processed food industry is like any other market – at the end of the day, it’s a business out to make money and sustain growth. The only way the food industry will ever genuinely change and provide us with healthier foods is if it helps their bottom line. As much as their marketing promotes happy people and green farmland with silos in the background, our health is not their highest priority. Ever walk down the cereal aisle? Do the colors remind you of a circus? That’s marketing. Notice it for what it is.
2. Eat more whole foods.
It’s not as simple as looking at calorie intake. It’s much more complex, including concepts like glycemic index and glycemic load to name a few (we’ll get in to those in a later column). At this point, just realize that, as a broad statement, foods that look like they grew somewhere are better for your body than processed foods. You’ve probably heard to shop on the perimeter of the grocery store and I agree! Only go to the circus in the middle if you want to be entertained. Don’t go there to shop!
3. Freshness counts.
Did you know that today you would have to eat 12 bowls of spinach to equal the nutrition in one bowl of spinach from the 1930’s?! Or that the iron content in apples today are only 4% of what they were 50 years ago?! Crazy, right? The fresher the whole food, the higher the nutrient content. So, what’s the difference in the food industry from 50-100 years ago compared to today? Well, for the most part, our food comes from a lot farther away, and farther away means two big things: it was probably harvested before optimal ripeness AND it takes time to get to us. Both of these facts directly impact the nutritional value of what we put in our bodies.
So, how do we get more nutrients into our bodies? We can supplement, which we’ll talk about later in another column, and/or try to obtain fresher whole foods. Three great ways to obtain fresher whole foods are to simply grow them yourself, support your local farmers market, or eat at a restaurant that sources food from local farms. Most of the time, your local farmers have harvested the food they sell within the last 24 hours. Don’t think you have a green thumb? Try growing something yourself anyway – you can only get better at it – and, believe me, you can find a ‘how-to’ on just about anything on YouTube!
So, where do we go from here? I challenge you to make small choices daily to take back control of your health. Know that fresh, local whole foods are a smarter choice than whole foods from outside your locale and any whole foods are better than processed foods. It’s not a diet. It’s eating smarter and eating correctly. You’ll enjoy it more than you can imagine!
Dr. Thomas is a board-certified physician who operates Complete Health Integrative Wellness Clinic and Thomas Urology Clinic in Starkville, Mississippi.
This newspaper column is for informational purposes only and is, under no circumstances, intended to constitute medical advice or to create or continue a physician-patient relationship. If you have a medical emergency, you should immediately seek care from your nearest emergency room, and if you have specific health questions, you should consult your own physician.