So much has changed in the health fields in the past 15 years due to technological advances (like the widespread use in research of the Functinal MRI machine) as well as revelations about the toxic effects of the pesticides being employed regularly in our food system. Some of these new rules for health and longevity are quite surprising because they represent a big change from previously accepted practice. Others are common sense but which we seem to ignore due to our lifestyles and the convenience of industrially produced food. So they’re all worth reviewing. Here’s a quick run down of just 5 of them:
Rule 1: Eat Real Food
A favorite expression from the author Michael Pollan is: “Eat real food, not too much, mainly from plants.” But what is “real food?” What should the ingredient label on the package have or not have on it? And there’s your answer: real food doesn’t have a label because it doesn’t come in a package. It’s food in its most basic form (fish, meat, raw vegetables, raw fruit, nuts and seeds). It is food which hasn’t been transformed to look like something else.
There’s only one problem with this new rule: it presumes that we know how to do something with this real food, like cook it, and that we would want to take the time to do so. In North America and more recently in Europe, people are going out to eat, buying take-out food or having food delivered to their home more frequently than before. They might be having meals at home, but they have paid someone else to prepare it.
In the United States in 2015, Americans spent more on food in restaurants than on groceries for the first time ever since those statistics were being tracked by the Department of Commerce1. Fewer people in the U.S. are preparing their own meals from scratch on a regular basis. The problem here is that many studies over the past 15 years show that the more people dine out or “sub-contract” their food preparation to the food industry, the more the rate of obesity, body fat ratios or BMI rise along with the inherent health problems linked to these health markers2, 3.
Rule 2: Buy organic whenever possible
“Natural” doesn’t mean much anymore as there are many legal loop-holes manufacturers can use to employ legitimately that word. Instead of “all nautral,” look for “organic” with a label of certification. You will at least have a guarantee that a certain process was adhered to regarding the use of pesticides for produce and drugs for livestock and their products (eg: eggs).
Scientists realise now that whatever the animal ate or was treated with, you will most likely end up absorbing when you eat that animal or its products, such as eggs. For example, growth hormones given to a dairy cow end up in its milk and then in you or your children when they consume that milk. In the US alone, 80% of all anti-biotics used are given to industrially raised livestock. This is usually done in “CAFO’s,”or Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where the crowded conditions of livestock lead to frequent break-outs of disease. So to stay healthy, avoid meat from animals raised in these overcrowded feed lots and choose organically raised “free range” (for chickens) and “grass fed” (for cattle) labels.
Rule 3: Lower your grains, raise your vegetables
There’s a lot of debate on this because some scientists, through meta analysis, have come to the conclusion that wheat and indeed most grains are causing more harm than good to human health. Furthermore, they are saying that we have not evolved to consume the large amounts of bread, pasta and rice that the modern diet contains. And the accusations are sharp: from neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain” where he attributes the high consumption of wheat and other grains to encouraging the development later in life of Dementia and Alzheimer’s, to other works such as “Wheat Belly”. Suffice it to say, that most scientists studying optimum human nutrition today agree that restricting carbohydrates is a viable way of keeping your weight down (especially as you approach 40), your blood sugar levels steady, and adverse reactions, like gluten sensitivity, at bay4.
Limiting carbohydrates lowers insulin levels, causing the body to burn stored fat for energy, resulting in weight loss. Better to increase your portion of vegetables with a decent portion of protein and limit your consumption of rice, bread, and pasta. Try that for 1 week and see how you feel. I’m not happy about giving up my large plate of spaghetti for dinner (a Friday night tradition since I was a kid) but I actually feel better when I do.
Refined sugar is the worst enemy for your health, so develop a plan to reduce or eliminate it from your diet.
Rule 4: Breakfast is more important than you think
Not only is it more important than we think, but what we thought we knew about breakfast is wrong: First, adults and children who eat a healthy breakfast perform better at work or school, have fewer decreases in energy and are less likely to overeat at subsequent meals5.
However, what constitutes a healthy breakfast is fast changing, according to science. Forget the toast with store-bought fruit juice from a bottle. Yes, you can keep your coffee or tea, but make sure you have a good source of protein (animal or plant-based) and a good dose of healthy fat. That would mean including things like an avocado, coconut oil or milk (in a blended drink), olive oil, cold -pressed nut oils like walnut & hazelnut, and whole eggs (yes, eat the yolk). Scientists know that the cholesterol in your food has less of an impact than previously thought on the cholesterol in your blood. Even the fat in full-fat pro-biotic filled yoghurt is good for you.
Why all this talk about fat at breakfast? Healthy sources of fat will keep you feeling full longer so you won’t reach for something mid-morning or binge at lunchtime because you’re starving. It will stabilise your blood sugar and keep your energy levels steady because it is a slow burning fuel. And no, eating healthy fats won’t make you fat. Good fat has been shown to actually increase your metablolism and the energy expenditure of the body, as well as being necessary for good cognitive function.
If you hate breakfast or don’t have time for it, then drink it in the form of a protein drink (yoghurt or a high quality organic protein powder, nut milks, coconut milk, a little fruit, some seeds, etc.). There are many healthy recipes online and you can make a week’s worth over the weekend. You can freeze all of them, then transfer one from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before to thaw while you sleep.
Rule 5: Refined sugar is the worst enemy for your health, so develop a plan to reduce or eliminate it from your diet.
Thanks to Functional MRI, scientists can see the reaction of the brain when sugar is consumed, and it’s very revealing: the brain’s reaction to sugar is the same and happens in the same region of the brain as when cocaine is consumed. Sugar is an addictive substance, the more you consume, the more you want. A study showed lab mice when given a choice, preferred table sugar to cocaine6. It is now known to increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease7. When scientists want to grow cancer cells in a petri dish, they throw table sugar on them. Furthermore, is appears that the sugar industry was aware of the link of high sugar consumption to cardio-vascular disease (CVD) and cancer but buried the information.8
I haven’t eliminated refined sugar completely, but I’m certainly more intentional about what and when I consume it.
Here are 3 changes I’ve made:
- Forget dessert after dinner (it disrupts your sleep pattern and encourages weight gain). Any dessert I have now is consumed after lunch or during the afternoon to give me time to burn the calories.
- Eliminate store-bought fruit juices: Any fruit I eat is consumed whole or in the form of freshly pressed juice.
- Replace table sugar with pure Stevia or a bit of raw honey. Read Stevia labels carefully for added sugar: many contain maltodextrin (a sugar derivative).
All these concessions add up. I’ve probably reduced my consumption of refined sugar by about one half of what it was a few years ago. Also, I rarely have the ravenous hunger pains late morning or at the end of the day thanks to the addition of healthy fats to my meals.
What do you think of these new rules about healthy eating? Were you aware of them already and, if so, have you changed the way you eat as a result of them?
- U.S. Department of Commerce statistics for March 2015.
- Wolfson, J., & Bleich, S. (2015). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, 18(8), 1397-1406. doi:10.1017/S1368980014001943 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/is-cooking-at-home-associated-with-better-diet-quality-or-weightloss-intention/B2C8C168FFA377DD2880A217DB6AF26F
- Binkley JK, et al. “The Relation between Dietary Change and Rising U.S. Obesity.” International Journal of Obesity 2000; 24:1032-1039; https://www.nature.com/articles/0801356
- Mayo Clinic, “Healthy Lifestyle: Weight Loss” by the Mayo Clinic Staff, Sept. 20th 2014.
- Leidy, Heather, University of Missouri, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology: “Neural Responses to Visual Food Stimuli after a Normal vs. Higher Protein Breakfast in Breakfast-Skipping Teens…”, published in the journal “Obesity.”
- Lenoir, Serre, Cantin, Ahmed, University of Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France “Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward”; http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0000698
- Dr. Custodia Garcia-Jimenez et al, University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain, published in Molecular Cell. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28440775
- PLOS Biology, “Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents.” http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2003460