When a patient comes to me asking for help with their symptoms, but they are not willing to look at their diet, I know there is only a limited amount that I can do for them. There is no special herb or nutritional supplement that can compensate for a poor diet.
“If diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. If diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” ~Ancient Ayurvedic proverb
“He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician.” ~ Chinese proverb
One of the best ways I know to start and argument, especially amongst health practitioners these days, is to start talking about food and nutrition. There are lots of strong opinions, lots of conflicting research and even more personal stories of success and failure. Yet, I suspect that few practitioners would diminish the value of a healthy diet. The disagreement comes at what is considered to be “healthy.”
So what are you supposed to do? How to you know what is good to eat and what is not?
These are some of my guiding principles:
- Different people have different needs. Just because your friend says that being a vegetarian cured all his ailments, or your uncle lost 30 pounds following the Atkins diet, doesn’t mean that you should trip all over yourself to do what they did. And it also doesn’t mean that you should expect the same results. While there are some general principles for everyone, it is important to remember that what you need is likely different that what your partner needs, and recognition and appreciation of those differences is important.
- Quality matters. Focus on high quality, minimally processed foods. Think about food as it comes in its natural wrapper, not a plastic one.
- Be wary of extreme diets that recommend avoiding entire food groups. Certainly, there may be therapeutic reasons that someone might need to completely eliminate certain foods. But generally speaking, we are omnivores, which mean we are meant to a wide variety of lots of different foods.
- Don’t be afraid of fats. This is big topic, which we will discuss more in the future, but in short; it is vital that a person have fat in their diet. The choice and quality of fat is important. Highly processed industrial vegetable oils, especially those that are hydrogenated, are going to be bad choices. Minimally processed fats from grass fed animals or organically grown coconut or avocado are going to be better. Fats are going to be necessary for keeping blood sugar balanced and providing satiety and energy. Fats are also necessary for the proper absorption and processing of vitamins and proteins.
- Deemphasize refined sugars, grains and starchy carbohydrates. I don’t think that everyone needs to go totally sugar or carb-free by default. It is also vital for a person to have carbohydrates in their diet. Vegetables, fruits and non-refined whole grains (in that order) are going to be your best carbohydrate choices. Our culture often over emphasizes sugar, grains and starches out of the misguided attempt to follow a low-fat diet. Also, grains (especially gluten) can be common food sensitivities, so while many people can do just fine with grains, many other people cannot.
- The whole is more than the sum of its parts. You probably know this already when it comes to your body; you as a whole person are a complex interaction between many both internal and external factors. This is true with foods also. So, strive for eating foods in their whole and complete form. “Low” or “reduced” fat dairy products are only shadows of their whole selves because the fat is missing. Same with “refined” or “white” grain products, part of the food is missing. This absence is a problem.
- Focus on high quality meats and vegetables. Organic, grass fed, no antibiotics, no hormones, from the farmer’s market are going to be the ideal. Certainly, this is a lofty goal for most of us (both in time, access and expense) but work towards it.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ~Ann Wigmore
Included here are a two graphics, which illustrate nicely some examples of a healthy diet:
“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”~ Thomas Edison
There is plenty more talk about when it comes to food and nutrition, so stay posted to this blog for further discussion. If you have specific questions or areas that you would like me address directly, please let me know.
Next in our Foundations of Health series, I will be discussing the role of stress and emotions in health.