The Basics of Good Health and Nutrition – Filling in the gaps
There is a gap in our understanding of health that leads to gaps in our diets and nutrition.
The first gap occurs between us and what we learn from school and parents, from government, from doctors, health experts, health magazines and podcasts. They may focus on the physiology of disease or the benefits of specific superfoods and special diets, but I believe there are other, often-forgotten things we need to know about general nutrition and eating patterns that support exceptionally good health.
Here are the basic things we need to know about and get from our food, and strategies to fill common gaps of the second type, dietary gaps.
- Food is energy, information, and medicine
Good health and nutrition start with food! Food is our main source of nutrients. However, food is a source of more than nutrients. Because of the way our body uses food and the nutrients provided, it can be a source of energy, information and medicine for us. We should be aware of this and mindful of the nature of the energy, information and medicine we are consuming, and if it is appropriate for our own situation.
Healthy eating starts with eating good quality food that provides stable energy. This helps to support repair, regeneration and physical health.
It should also be dense in nutrients to give us the information our cells need to stay healthy and to function properly, operating in ways that help us maintain a youthful, pain and disease-free body and mental health.
The food we eat can help us to maintain a healthy weight, clear and velvety skin, attractive hair and nails, strong and flexible bones and joints, clear and accurate eyesight and hearing, and make it easier for us to breathe easily, balance, create, and react to inputs, successfully reproduce if we choose, and to remember and learn information. In these ways, food is also medicine, and the best way to use it as such is preventatively.
- Government plate recommendations don’t guarantee good health
Unfortunately, following government plate recommendations does not ensure that you will get everything you need from food. If we follow the government food guides, we will almost certainly miss many of the essential nutrients and information needed to thrive.
Unsurprisingly, the government plate recommendations ignore food as medicine and as information. In other words, they don’t touch on the medicinal nature of food or how to harness that power. Following government plate recommendation does not assure that you’ll get a correct and healthy energy balance either. The way the food guides are laid out, it is too easy to overeat on simple carbohydrate foods that will raise blood sugar, creating insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
The plate recommendations also completely ignore an essential macronutrient – fat. They do not ensure that we balance our diets with the right amount or types of fats. Some fats called EFAs are essential and many of us do not consume enough to meet nutritional needs. Research shows that in the United States 68% of adults and 95% of children are deficient in omega 3 EFAs.
- Energy balance – get it right
Populist trends right now are moving people into two camps - the “calories are the only thing that matters for weight management” camp or the “food or macro type or quality is all that matters and then your weight will balance out” camp. But neither is the whole story.
Caloric math is not reliable or consistent. Some bodies are more efficient with calories than others, due to differences in human and microbial genetics and behaviour. Calories from different foods also have different phytonutrients, macronutrients, thermal effects and hormonal effects, causing variations in hunger, satiety, and desire to move the body. Some bodies are inherently predisposed to unintended consequences (like reduced thyroid function or increased appetite) from lowering calories. And foods that contain endocrine-disrupting chemical toxins affect energy, digestion, metabolism, health and weight in ways beyond their caloric contribution.
Food quality and macronutrient type is not the only factor either. Even if you eat ‘perfect’ food, calories do matter. If you have too much food and too many calories, even a natural, organic, fresh and nutritionally dense diet with the right ratio of proteins, carbs and fats for your body will do your blood sugar and insulin levels harm, increasing your biological age and reducing your life expectancy.
So, be choosy about what foods you pick, and ensure the total energy provided is adequate but not more than required for your metabolism. Include more food when you increase your activity level.
- Essential nutrients provide information to the body
In nutrition, we call nutrients essential if the body is not able to make them, but we need them for physical function. These essential items contribute the information the body needs to operate at optimal efficiency; therefore, they must be in our diet. Make sure you get them.
For example, we must consume ALA omega 3 essential fatty acids, or EFAs. Every cell requires ALA so the cell membrane can properly regulate the intake of nutrients and outflow of wastes. And, unlike most animals, humans cannot make vitamin C in our bodies, which means that eating sources of vitamin C, such as cabbage, red pepper, kiwi or oranges is essential for us. If we don’t eat vitamin C sources, we can experience pain, loss of teeth, bruising and bleeding, or even death.
Limit packaged foods. Food packages do tell us about nutrient content and give us a % per serving. This helps us to easily keep track of how much of these items are in these foods. The problem is, eating nothing but food from packages is not a health strategy. Because some of the healthiest and most critical essential nutrients are the least stable, packaged foods will spoil if they include them. That means they remove essential fatty acids, fiber and phytonutrients, and often add sugar, salt or other preservatives instead.
- Your immune system will work better if you eat a wider variety of foods
Different attributes in food have different medicinal qualities. To use food to the best of our ability as medicine, we need to eat a wide variety of foods. Starting with clean ingredients, we should seek a balance of flavours, and a balance of colours. Simple, repetitive eating may be easy, but variety is the key to optimum health because it helps us foster a diverse and therefore healthier microbiome.
Every tradition that has developed using food as medicine has recognized the importance of balance between elements. Elements may include colour (green, purple, red, yellow, black, grey, white, brown, orange), flavour (acidity, astringency, bitterness, sweetness, saltiness, etc.), texture (crunchy, soft, chewy etc.) or temperature (heating, cooling).
Learn some healing food ways, and learn to use a wide variety of spices, herbs, pseudograin, seeds, and other plant foods, occasionally switching them up as the seasons of the year or of your life change. This will give your body more benefit than just eating the same 25 things from Costco repeatedly. Depending on your health condition, occasionally including various oils, flowers, responsibly sourced sea foods or compassionate and healthy animal foods will fuel better health than eating the same way all the time.
- Investing in your kitchen and cooking skills is an investment in health
Learn to properly store food. I am always shocked by people who find bottles at the back of their fridges that have been expired for years. This should never happen - spring cleaning your kitchen cupboards, pantry and fridge is mandatory. Consider getting a new fridge, one with better lighting, airflow and compartment layout. I am convinced that it will save you time, frustration and money.
After that, products should be regularly inventoried, rotated and consumed. Look at what needs to be eaten first and plan your next meal around it. Food waste is not cool by any measure. Learn to make smoothies, learn to make good soups and salads. These are wonderful ways to use up vegetables that are no longer crisp, or fruit that is overripe.
Learn to cook without using unhealthy, damaged oils. Healthier methods of food preparation include steaming, poaching, drying, roasting. Roasted foods turn out best when they go into a hot oven completely dry. This gives a crisp texture. Steamed foods turn our best when the cooking process is stopped using a cold-water bath.
- Good food starts with a home stocked with good ingredients, successfully prepped
In addition to a selection of herbs and spices, a well-stocked kitchen, pantry and fridge should have “head start” ingredients. These are healthy foods prepped and ready to eat or use. For example:
- Snacking fruits & vegetables (can be served raw)
- Veggies (prepped or cooked and ready to add to recipes)
- Cooked grains (especially those that are organic and naturally gluten free)
- Beans or lentils or other high-fiber plant proteins (in cans or cooked and stored)
- Oils in the fridge that contain EFA omega 3s (such as Udo’s Oil, flax oil, sacha inchi oil)
If your family is omnivorous, you should also stock:
- Cooked chicken (such as a roast chicken, separate meat from bones, save bones)
- Eggs (boiled or ready to eat or use)
- Salmon (canned, bone-in, or smoked, frozen)
Additionally, there should always be produce in your home:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Frozen fruit and vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, such as:
- Cabbage (all variations)
- Broccoli and Cauliflower
- Radish (all types)
There are almost no restaurants in North America that use good quality oil made with health in mind – they are too fragile. Therefore, you must stock and use these items at home to get them in your diet.
- Find your missing puzzle pieces
Seek out traditional and medicinal foods from your own ancestral culture and try including them in your diet. If your ancestors regularly ate fermented food, wild greens, or ancient grains, these foods may suit your constitution, learn the things your grandmothers knew about food.
Sometimes, it is a cooking method, one that is slow, that we need to reclaim. Sometimes, it is an ingredient. Do what you can to preserve the traditional foods of your people.
Also, fill in the most common gaps in your diet – commonly, people lack purple produce, green produce and essential fatty acids. You can find ways to easily supply yourself with these functional foods – by using Flora Red Beet Crystals or Elderberry Crystals, with Beyond Greens or spirulina powder, and Udo’s Oil 3+6+9 Blend, DHA Flax Oil, or Omega Sport+.
To recap ways to fill common health and nutrition gaps:
- Don’t blindly follow government plate recommendations
- Be mindful of the nature of the energy, information and medicine you consume
- Pick good quality foods that supply the right macronutrients and adequate energy
- To get the right amount of food energy, eat more food when you increase your activity level
- Eat whole, not highly processed, foods, in order to get fiber and phytonutrients
- Get all essential nutrients – vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, K complex, and all minerals
- Balance the colour, flavour and other elements in your meals
- Invest in your kitchen skills, equipment, knowledge and techniques
- Keep a variety of healthy foods stocked and prepped at home
- Revive old foods and techniques
- Take advantage of produce powders/healthy oils to easily get all essential dietary components
HOLISTIC NUTRITIONIST DANA GREEN REMEDIOS, RHN, RNCP HAS A PASSION FOR HELPING OTHERS BREAK THROUGH THEIR BLOCKS TO GREATER HEALTH, WEALTH, AND HAPPINESS, WORKING WITH TRANSFORMATIONAL MIND-BODY TOOLS. THE VANCOUVER-BASED EDUCATOR AND COACH ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS IN ENGLISH, FRENCH, AND SPANISH AS A SPECIALIST WORKING IN THE PRODUCT INFORMATION DEPARTMENT AT FLORA, AND IS A REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR TO THE FLORAHEALTHY BLOG.