If a person comes to me asking for help with their health, but they are not willing to look at their diet, I know there isn’t much I can do for them. There is no herb, vitamin 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
These are some of my guiding principles for food:
- Different people have different needs. Just because your friend says that being a vegan 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. Recognition and appreciation of these differences is essential.
- General nutrition is different than therapeutic nutrition. This may be one of the biggest misunderstanding I run into. What is going to be a “generally healthy diet” for a “generally healthy person” is very different than using food and nutrition in a targeted and therapeutic way to address a specific health concerns. For example: a healthy person should be able to tolerate some grains and sugars in their diet just fine (and may actually benefit from them) but someone who struggles with autoimmune disease or an underlying inflammatory condition is going to need to be much more mindful about eliminating these items.
- Quality matters. Focus on high quality, minimally processed foods. Think about food as it comes in its natural wrapper, not a plastic one.
- Don’t be afraid of fats. 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. Vegetables, fruits and non-refined non-gluten 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, which cause increased inflammation in the body. 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 to eat 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. Sure, this may be a lofty goal for most of us (both in time, access and expense) but work towards it. If you can’t get everything organic, use the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists to help prioritize which items to buy organic.
- For general nutrition: 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.
There is plenty more talk about when it comes to food and nutrition, if you have specific questions about any of the above, please let me know.
“He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the skills of the physician.” ~ Chinese proverb
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ~Ann Wigmore
“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