With the New Year approaching, many of you will commit to making resolutions to improve your life on some level, often involving your health. As you contemplate what you need to do for 2013 to better your health – whether it’s to ‘lose weight’ or just ‘be healthier’ – turn your resolution into a real SOLUTION by making the choice to adopt a permanent lifestyle change for the better.
As part of your plan for better health, I’m sure many of you are considering modifying your diet for much needed, positive change in your life. Whether your goal is to shed some pounds or to just improve overall health for you and your family, the following is some sound, evidence-based advice for your top 4 action items to get the most benefit from your diet.
When you make the decision to change something – whatever it is – commit yourself to 3 weeks, as research shows it takes 21 days to establish a new habit.
1. Eat Whole Foods
Fact: “Whole wheat bread” or “whole grain bread” does not constitute a whole food!
What exactly is meant by ‘whole foods’? The concept applies to foods that appear on your plate much like they did when they were grown and pulled from the earth – before they undergo any form of ‘processing’ of any kind. Whole foods aren’t processed, so they retain all the nutrients and enzymes for consumption the way nature intended.
When you adopt a whole foods approach to diet, food is more easily digested (producing less gas, bloating and indigestion if any) and nutrients more easily assimilated and absorbed, thereby reducing inflammation in the gut – along with the rest of your organs. By optimizing digestion, you optimize the utilization of nutrients to support the pathways of health. Following a whole foods diet also means that you can’t consume much in the way of foods that are bad for you – all baked goods, pastries, candy, crackers, chips and the typical ‘junk foods’ are all processed and do not constitute a ‘whole food’.
Here are a few examples of how to replace a typical processed food item with a whole food:
- Replace pasta with a whole grain such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa or buckwheat. Whole grain intake is associated with reduced risk of several cancers (by up to 70%), including digestive tract, breast, ovarian, prostate, bladder, kidney, lymphoma, leukemia and others.
- Swap your cold morning cereal with a whole grain like old-fashioned oats, steel cut oats or millet.
- In place of a sandwich for lunch, make a healthy mixed green salad with chickpeas, walnuts and your own dressing of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, olive oil and lemon.
- For a snack, bake ‘yam fries’ (slice yam, coconut oil, sea salt) instead of that bag o’ chips.
2. Consume 2-3 L of Filtered Water Daily
Fact: Coffee does not count toward your daily water intake. In fact, caffeine dehydrates you!
When I tell my patients how much water they should drink a day, I’m often faced with the following responses:
“But if I drink that much water, I’ll have to pee all the time!”
Well, that’s the point. Your body is made up of 60-70% water. Cells cannot produce oxygen or energy if water is not available to drive these reactions forward. The result? Fatigue, muscle weakness, joint aches, irritability, lack of mental clarity and a slew of other symptoms that occur from the build of toxins that ensues from dehydration – damaging every cell and vital organ in your body, including your brain and kidneys.
“But I really don’t like the taste of water.”
There are many solutions to staying hydrated through the day. You can drink straight water or caffeine-free herbal teas to meet your daily hydration quota. Try adding lemon, lime or fresh fruits to your water to get some flavour.
If you drink coffee or caffeinated teas, be sure to replenish the water lost from these diuretics. As a general rule, for every cup of caffeine you consume, you’ve got to drink an extra cup of water (in addition to your 2-3L) to balance your hydration.
3. Choose Organic Produce or Grow Your Own
Fact: Organically grown, unmodified food is not the same as conventionally grown food.
Whenever I have this conversation with patients, it tends to spark a discussion about the ongoing debate about the nutritional comparison of organic vs conventional food. There is no doubt that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher nutrient content, vitamins and minerals than their conventional counterpart. Despite media frenzy over a few weak studies eluding that organic and conventionally grown foods are nutritionally equivalent, there have been over 236 studies collectively demonstrating that organic foods are nutritionally superior to the alternative, 61% of the time .
In addition to having higher levels of vitamins, minerals (such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus) and antioxidant phytonutrients, organic foods also contain far less toxic chemicals . Conventional farming practice involves the use of toxic pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers that have all now been classified as ‘carcinogenic’ (cancer-causing chemicals) or ‘potentially carcinogenic’. Not only can these chemicals contribute to the development of cancer, they are also known as ‘persistent organic pollutants’ (or POP’s) that have been linked to the development of diabetes, obesity and weight loss resistance [3,4].
If that’s not enough reason to choose organic, perhaps the future of our environment is. It is undisputed that organic farming methods are better for our planet. Support a healthier environment by choosing to purchase organic foods. If you can’t afford to buy all your food organic, use the Environmental Working Group’s shopping guide with their list of Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen to help you decide which foods are most important to buy organic.
4. Avoid Sugars & Adopt A Low-Glycemic Diet
Fact: Eating ‘sugar-free’ foods and beverages that contain artificial sweeteners, are not healthy or healthier than consuming the real thing.
Please stop using artificial sweeteners like Splenda, aspartame, NutraSweet and Equal! Aspartame has neurotoxic effects – meaning it is heavily toxic to the central nervous system – mediated by its metabolites, formaldehyde and formic acid. Both of these compounds are human carcinogens . In addition, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an increased risk of leukemia (a blood cancer) aspartame-consuming individuals. Another study, published August 2012 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a positive correlation between aspartame consumption and alteration of gut bacteria. If you need to use low-calorie sweeteners, xylitol is a safe, natural sugar substitute and studies have demonstrated that it actually helps prevents dental cavities and tooth decay .
Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance (a condition that precedes diabetes), mainly develops from consuming a diet high in carbohydrates and other high-glycemic foods. Glycemic impact refers to the effect of a given food or meal on your blood-glucose (sugar) level. The more elevation of blood-glucose induced by a food, the higher it’s glycemic impact.
Although diabetes is a fairly straightforward diagnosis, insulin resistance is not. Many people have insulin resistance and don’t even know it! In fact, it’s quickly becoming epidemic. Insulin resistance develops when blood sugar levels fluctuate too much throughout the day or are chronically elevated. Overtime, our cells become desensitized to insulin, preventing entry of glucose into the cells, so it remains in the blood. Chronically elevated glucose in the blood creates inflammation in blood vessels (leading to cardiovascular disease) and surrounding tissues (causing organ damage).
Taken a step further, cancer cells are known to carry a lot of insulin receptors, but unlike healthy cells, they cannot become desensitized to insulin. Cancer cells then have an advantage to use the extra glucose in blood to drive their growth . Coupled with inflammation that causes DNA damage and hinders our immune system, it’s the perfect recipe for disaster. To date, there have been numerous studies implicating diabetes and insulin resistance as major factors in the development, progression, recurrence and mortality outcome in cancer [8,9].
Eating low-glycemic means avoiding foods that are high-to-moderate in glycemic index like sugars, bananas, grapes, dried fruits, alcohol and refined carbohydrates. It also requires that every meal consist of proper balance of macronutrients, meeting the following criteria: protein, healthy fat, complex carbohydrate and fiber. Other guidelines to having glycemic balance with diet include:
- Eat small portions
- Consume 3 main meals and 2 snacks daily
- Do not go longer than 3 hours without food
- Consume 3-4 servings of vegetables daily
There you have it. My top 4 action items for changing your diet for the better!
While it’s true that following a diet like this takes more thought and meal preparation, like anything, it takes 21 days to make a new habit and 21 days to break an old one. So come Jan 1st, 2013 commit yourself to 21 days of healthy eating. The first 3-5 days are the most difficult. Sure, you will mourn the loss of your bad eating habits at first, but soon you’ll get past that hump and realize you’ve never felt better…trust me, you won’t even think about going back to your old ways! What better way to start the New Year?
1. Benbrook C., et al. New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods. The Organic Center, Mar 2008.
2. Crinnion W. Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer. Alt Med Review, 2010, 15:1 4-12.
3. Roos V., et al. Circulating Levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants in Relation to Visceral and Subcutaneous Adipose Tissue by Abdominal MRI. Obesity, 2012 doi:10.1038/oby.2012.123.
4. The Research Council of Norway. “Pollutants may contribute to illness and becoming overweight.” ScienceDaily, 26 Jun. 2012. Web. 24 Dec. 2012.
5. Lyyaswamy A., Rathinasamy S. Effect of Chronic Exposoure to Aspartame on Oxidative Stress in the Brain of Albino Rats. Journal of Biosciences. 37:4 2012 Sep pg 679-88.
6. Swedish Research Council. “Sugar Substitute Xylitol Reduces Risk Of Cavities.” ScienceDaily, 16 Feb. 2007. Web. 24 Dec. 2012.
7. Cohen DH, LeRoith D. Obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer: the insulin and IGF connection. Endocrine-Related Cancer, 2012, 19 F27-F45.
8. Kabat et al. Repeated measures of serum glucose and insulin in relation to postmenopausal breast cancer. International Journal of Cancer, 2009; DOI: 10.1002/ijc.24609
9. L. L. Lipscombe, W. W. Chan, L. Yun, P. C. Austin, G. M. Anderson, P. A. Rochon. Incidence of diabetes among postmenopausal breast cancer survivors. Diabetologia, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s00125-012-2793-9