Q & A: Basic Nutrition
Q & A: Basic Nutrition
Are you trying to start eating better but have become confused or frustrated with all of the information out there, some of which seems to contradict itself? You may have realized the importance of a healthy diet, but are unsure how to get there. You are not alone. Just google “are bananas healthy?” and you will get a range of answers and discussions. It can be overwhelming! But good foundational nutrition does not have to be complicated. At Foundations Medical Center we place a huge emphasis on diet and nutrition. Without proper nutrition your body will never function optimally. But where do you start? Here are a few questions that I get asked regularly. This is a huge topic and we could spend days discussing it, but this will cover some of the basics and give you a starting point…
I have read I need to avoid “processed foods.” Why are processed foods bad for you?
First lets discuss what “processed” means. Everything you buy at the store is processed in some way. The fruit and vegetables had to be harvested, the ground beef had to be ground in a machine, and the fish had to be caught and filleted. This is mechanical processing. For the purposes of this discussion we will focus on chemical processing. This includes making foods from refined ingredients and adding chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavors to manufacture a product. Here is a list of things most processed foods have in common:
- Most processed food is loaded with sugar, which most everyone will agree is unhealthy.
- They have may added artificial ingredients such as dyes, preservatives, flavorings, and substances to add or maintain texture.
- They are often high in refined carbohydrates which lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
- Most processed foods are low in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
- Most are low in fiber.
- Often they are high in trans-fats and processed vegetable oils. These fats are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids which, when eaten in excess, can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation.
This is a food label from a protein bar that has been marketed as “healthy”….. This is an example of processed food. I am not entirely sure what all of those ingredients are but they are not food, and in my opinion should not be eaten.
I have been told to eat “whole food”, what does that mean?
Whole food is food that has little or no refining or processing. It is as close to its natural state as possible. It contains no artificial ingredients, preservative, dyes, chemicals, or additives. I often tell patients that “food” does not have a “food label”. For example an apple is food, whole food…..Apple Jacks are not! In general, if it has a food label it is not whole food. I usually recommend patients shop the periphery of the grocery store, this is where whole foods are typically found. If it is found on the center isles and has a shelf life of several months, it is not whole food.
Is eating organic important?
Yes. I believe it is. There are many studies out there that demonstrate eating an organic diet decreases the amount of pesticides and herbicides in our bodies. Many of these chemicals have been linked to chronic disease such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
Eating organic is expensive! Are there some foods that are more important than others to buy organic?
Yes! The Environmental Working Group is a good resource to help you navigate which products are the most contaminated with pesticides and which may be ok to buy non-organic. They have a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen”.
Should I eat red meat?
The topic of red meat is somewhat controversial. There is a wide spectrum of opinions on whether or not it should be consumed and to what degree. I believe that clean, grass fed beef, bison, and lamb are good sources of protein and iron, and when eaten in moderation are an important part of a healthy diet. I usually recommend limiting the amount of red meat consumed to 1-2 times per week.
I get most of my protein from beef, what are other sources of protein I can eat instead?
I encourage patients to consume a variety of protein sources such as fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, soy, legumes, and seeds. In addition, fish is loaded with healthy omega-3 fatty acids which are important for a number of functions in the body, and are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. I recommend wild caught fish as well as organic chicken.
I hope this helps simplify some of the confusion associated with healthy eating. When I get asked “what should I eat?”, I often sum it up with one sentence: Eat clean, lean meats….. vegetables and fruit, organic when possible,….nuts and seeds…..very little starch, and no sugar. Most of your plate should be covered with fruits and vegetables. Try to get as many different colors on your plate as possible. And when in doubt, eat a vegetable!
If your diet is not where if should be, try incorporating some of the things above and I believe you will begin to look and feel more healthy and vibrant!