Beating Illness Through Whole Foods and Lifestyle
I recently read an Instagram post that shared a picture of a grocery store aisle, posing the question, “If there is a ‘Nutrition’ section at the grocery store, what is all the other stuff?” It has become increasingly overwhelming to know whether what we are buying at the grocery store is truly good for us. We are bombarded with aggressive marketing labels to convince us that those sweet treats are actually good for us because they have added minerals, are “all-natural,” and “sugar-free.” But what exactly does that mean? What is “healthy” food?
Food is not “healthy.” Living beings may enjoy good health, which is the definition of healthy, but when we refer to “healthy food,” we actually mean nutritious. Food is good for our health when it is rich in nutrients. Nutritious foods are those that naturally contain many nutrients in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water. As a rule of thumb, we want to consume foods that are nutritious, just as Mother Nature provides. Steer clear of processed foods, which are the ones that have long ingredient lists disclosing all the extra stuff.
“Should I be vegan, paleo, or keto? Vegetarian but occasionally eat meat?” Well, that depends. To share my personal story, I started following a paleo diet after completing the Whole 30® about three years ago. I loved the Whole 30®! It was eye-opening, profoundly educational, and transformational. I have enjoyed good health ever since learning what works for me and eliminating what does not.
For a while, I was preaching my lifestyle to everyone who would listen because it felt so perfect, amazing, and I wanted everyone to experience this. Then I learned through my health coaching training that dietary theories are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. An optimal diet may be as individual and unique as fingerprints are. Now I do not stick to any one dietary theory, but have gained awareness of the foods that support health in my body and mind. So how do you find out what works for you?
Dietary habits may be very difficult to break. Our bodies may be so accustomed to the food we eat that we no longer register the symptoms of a disrupted gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is this wonderful world of beneficial bacteria in our intestines that we share a symbiotic relationship with. That is, they benefit us and we benefit them. Certain foods disrupt this beautiful balance and we get problems like leaky gut (bad bacteria entering our blood stream), poor digestion, heartburn, inflammation, and even mental health issues. Yes, you read that correctly. The gut is being recognized as our “second brain” as research continues to support its connection to our mental well-being. It is no wonder then that we have deep emotional attachments to certain foods and we give in to strong cravings. But knowledge is power, and now you have this information to use to your advantage.
A chronically disrupted gut microbiome may lead to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, COPD, stroke, many types of cancers, autoimmune diseases, personality and mood disorders, autism, and depression, to name a few. These conditions can be significantly improved by the food we eat. While our current healthcare system treats these diseases with medications, many medications greatly disrupt the gut microbiome and mask the symptoms of disease, leaving the root cause of the problem intact and our bodies with an even more favorable environment for illness. Food is medicine, and this is the most empowering piece of information you can grasp to gain control of your health.
Beating illness through wholesome, nutritious foods is a sustainable, long-term approach to leading healthy lives. When you are grocery shopping, look at the ingredient list. Foods such as produce, raw nuts, and non-processed meats have no ingredient lists because they are exactly what you see (almonds, broccoli, apples … you get the idea). Most of us buy some processed foods, too, and if this is the case, you can do your best to avoid added sugars, artificial ingredients, food colorings, or names that are long and difficult to pronounce. Some “bad” ingredients use sneaky names. If you search the downloadable resources from the Whole 30® website, you can find a list of the common additive cheat-sheet. You can also improve your health by learning what kinds of foods work well with your body, and which are disrupting your system. A full-blown reset like the Whole 30® was a great way for me to do it, but you can take a gentler and longer approach by eliminating one type of food for a couple of weeks, notice how you feel, then reintegrate it and eliminate another. Common foods to eliminate that may be causing problems are legumes, dairy products, all kinds of sugars, and grains that contain gluten.
When you start reading ingredient lists, you start realizing how our food is so negatively altered. Furthermore, when you give your body a chance to reset, and you reconnect to it noticing the signs and subtle ways it communicates with you, you learn to listen to its needs, and to trust your judgment. Making positive food choices becomes a no-brainer. Be an informed shopper in order to really know the food you consume and improve your health. We are made of exactly what we eat, and health begins from the inside out.