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From miracle foods to fad diets - it’s tempting to jump into trying the new latest health food trends. From gluten-free to FODMAP, ketogenic to vegan, there’s so much information out there - and it’s just plain difficult to know where to start and what’s right for you. It’s time to focus on the basics - a diet that is right for everyone.
First, why do we care what we eat?
I think we all know why food is important - along with oxygen and water, it keeps us alive. However, humans are incredibly complex living beings and being healthy depends on many more factors than just the basic but vital triad of food, water and oxygen. These other important factors are:
So why do we focus on food, when there is so many other determinants of health? Since food is a basic necessity for life, there are ways in which we can integrate food into many of the other determinants of health.
Social Environment and Food
Remember that time you tried to eat your breakfast on the way out the door, taking it on the road or the subway so that you could make it to work or school on time? Or are you one of the many who skip breakfast to save time in the morning?
Our bodies are not meant to eat while being busy. Historically, humans kept busy to eat - gathering, hunting, moving to new places as environments changed. Granted, we keep busy in order to eat today too - however many of our jobs are not as physically taxing, and when we do find the time to relax and eat, it is usually in front of the TV or at our computers still doing work.
Eating on the move and distracted eating are both unhealthy ways of incorporating food into our day. When we are rushed, stressed or on the go our bodies are releasing hormones that are telling our digestive system and other system involved in the “rest and digest” state to stop working so it can allocate resources to our heart, blood vessels, muscles, and lungs. This response is called the fight or flight response, the purpose of which is to prepare our bodies for exactly that - fleeing or fighting. Today, this response becomes activated when it overreacts to things like being late, traffic jams, and work and family pressures.
Studies show that eating while distracted (for example, while watching TV) results in increased food intake - we are unable to properly assess how much food we are eating, and can eat up to 71% more than we would in a non-distracting environment. Studies have also found that people who ate while distracted were less satiated and ate sooner afterward.
The Problem: Eating while our mind is distracted by other factors.
The Goal: Mindful eating
Physical Environment and Food
There are an overwhelmingly large number of factors involved in the role of physical environment and health - including, but not even closely limited to sustainable farming, genetically-modified foods, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, food packaging and preservation, food security and food safety. All of these factors are important to consider when choosing healthy, sustainable food - but for today, let’s just focus on the direct impact food quality has on our health.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Dirty Dozen before, and maybe even the Clean 15? If not, the Dirty Dozen is a list of the top 12 produce that, when conventionally grown, contains the highest amount of pesticides. To see the full list, head over to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Guide. This year, strawberries topped the list, containing around 10 pesticides, all the way up to 22 different pesticides!
Animal products can be a good source of many nutrients, including protein, essential fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and iodine. However, conventionally-raised animals (which means animals given antibiotics and hormones, fed grains or improper diets, and raised in enclosures) can be a source of toxins. Organic animal products and free-range/wild caught animals is a better option to reduce the source of these toxins - however the best way to avoid them is focusing on a plant-based diet with smaller amounts of good quality meat and animal products.
Additionally, there’s the actual food itself - looking at which foods cause disease and which foods prevent disease. For example, consumption of fruits and vegetables decreases risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer - on the other hand, consuming sugar, saturated and trans fats are related to increased risk of the above health conditions.
The Problem: Consuming foods that may be detrimental to our health.
The Goal: Eating health-promoting foods.
Food as Medicine
Not only is food required to sustain life - it can also be used as medicine. We can and do use various dietary strategies to address and help treat many health concerns - such as genetic disorders, autoimmune conditions and food intolerances, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Diets like these include, but are not limited to the ketogenic diet, elimination diet, FODMAP diet, and many others. These diets are therapeutic - meaning they are meant to treat a condition and, for the most part, not meant to be lifelong changes. Many of them involve drastic changes to eating/food choices that could result in nutrient deficiencies when done incorrectly.
There is a lot of hype about these therapeutic diets in social media today - focusing on mindfulness and food quality is a great way to promote healthy eating, and is right for everyone. If you’re interested in finding out whether the therapeutic diets are right for you, or just to learn more about them, book an appointment with a naturopathic intern today!
SourcesMoray J, Fu A, Brill K, et al. Viewing television while eating impairs the ability to accurately estimate total amount of food consumed. Bariatric Nursing and Surgical Patient Care. 2007; 2:71–76.
Ghobadi S, Hassanzadeh-Rostami Z, et al. Association of eating while television viewing and overweight/obesity among children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Obes Rev. 2018; 19(3):313-320.