Although not rocket science, nutrition is a complex field with much opportunity for confusion. Over the years I came to understand the secret to a healthy diet. It is simple and not necessarily dependent on complex vitamin supplements or special foods.
It is essentially rooted in a simple and healthy way of living which generations before us practiced. And regardless of how complex your life is structured, you will easily benefit from a few suggestions below. It will enhance your experience of eating and bring more health and joy into your life. After all, eating is one of the greatest pleasures we have.
Simple Guidelines for Healthy Eating
• Eat a simple diet. Too many ingredients poorly combined make the digestive process difficult. Avoid too many spices and flavors. Most meals can be simply seasoned with a few fresh herbs, onions, garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper. This way the natural flavors of foods are preserved and digestion is supported rather than challenged. If desired, adding a small amount of something sweet can be a powerful taste enhancer. Your diet should consist of plenty amounts of fresh vegetables and sufficient amounts of protein. Refined, simple carbohydrates should be kept to a minimum. Eat mostly complex carbohydrates from vegetables. I usually suggest a ratio of 2 parts carbohydrates to 1 part of protein. Make sure all your fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates are rich in fiber. This will improve digestive function tremendously and competes with the absorption of sugars. If you want to go the whole way eat seasonal and preferably locally grown, organic foods. For a informational brochure about carbohydrates and fiber please email me at email@example.com.
• Eat lightly. Overeating is a major cause for poor digestion, weight gain, and high cholesterol. Try to stop when you are about 70% full. You will feel much better after your meal and you will have much more energy available. Try to get at least 30% of your daily calories from breakfast, and have a substantial yet healthy lunch. The standard sandwich or salad for lunch is often not sufficient. Eat your dinner early and keep it light.
Many people make the mistake of eating their biggest meal at dinner time. According to our physiology this is the wrong thing to do. The body, and especially the liver, is designed to work much more efficient if dinners are kept light. Cultures where lighter, simple dinners are the norm have much lower rates of obesity and insomnia. And sleep is important too, especially for men. A recent study showed that men suffering from chronic insomnia die prematurely four times more often than men with normal sleep.
(Vgontzas AN, et al, SLEEP 2009; 32: A283-4.)
• Read food labels. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce what you are reading you might reconsider your choice. It helps to have a digital scale to actually see for yourself how much one serving of a particular food is. You might be surprised about what you find.
• Snacks can help you stay fit, alert, and slim. Skipping meals causes hypoglycemia. This makes you feel grumpy and reduces mental abilities as well as performance. Having snacks between your main meals helps you stay sharp, alert, and content. Recent studies also show that healthy snacking keeps your metabolism going and therefore can prevent weight gain. Skipping meals usually makes you crave high fat, high carb foods and creates a tendency to overeat. This is also good to remember when it comes to dinner time. The afternoon snack prevents your ravenous hunger at dinner time, and puts you in a better mood when you come home. It might also curb the craving for the nice glass of wine when you come home. Although, red wine, in moderation, has its benefits.
• Drink between rather than with your meals. Your stomach contains a relatively small amount of hydrochloric-acid that is very important for digestion. If this gets diluted (by water or even worse, sodas) it will impair digestion. This can lead to bloating, fullness, heartburn, flatulence, bad breath, fatigue, and even allergies. If this becomes a chronic situation, it can lead to even greater health problems like, malabsorption, hypochlorhydria, GERD, hiatal hernias, and stomach cancer in extreme cases. There is an exception though. A small cup of green tea with your lunch can actually stimulate your digestion.
• Chew well. Chewing starts the digestive process in the mouth. Well-chewed food presents less work for the stomach and intestines. I usually recommend chewing each bite about fifty times (yes, that’s right – fifty times). Aside from improving digestion immensely it will also help you to relax while eating, which is incredibly important for the digestive process. Stress immediately inhibits digestion. Your body is hard-wired this way.
• Include a few naturally fermented foods in your diet such as natural sauerkraut, dill pickles, or natural yogurt. Those foods are very beneficial for digestion.
• Relax and sit comfortably when eating. As mentioned earlier, stress directly inhibits digestion. So it is really important for you to relax while you eat. What good is the best diet if you do not absorb it well? Do not eat at your workplace and try not to think about work, stressful, or negative events while you eat. Chewing properly helps you to be mindful of what you eat and how you digest it. Many of us really forget that food and oxygen together are what our body produces our energy from. So take a few deep breaths, sit relaxed, and make sure that you and your body get to enjoy the best out of your food.
• Reduce sugars and avoid artificial sweeteners. I will dedicate a separate blog post to this important topic.