The benefits of a healthy diet include:
- Weight loss
- Decreased risk of diabetes
- Decreased risk of heart disease
- Decreased risk of almost all cancers
- Decreased risk of high blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Enhanced immune system
- Increased sensitivity to insulin
- Increased energy and ability to concentrate
What we eat has an enormous affect on our overall health. Thousands of studies support the idea that diet is highly correlated with the risk of developing various chronic degenerative diseases. Food is our greatest drug. It can either be used incorrectly and cause great problems or when used correctly, will protect our health.
Recent studies have shown that by eating a healthy diet and exercising moderately we can significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and host of other chronic degenerative diseases. When you add cellular nutrition to this healthy diet and modest exercise program, you give yourself the absolute best chance of protecting your health or regaining your health if you have already lost it. The diet I recommend will take into consideration all of these diseases. If you already are suffering from one of these chronic degenerative diseases, it will offer you the best of hope of regaining your health.
Carbohydrates are simply long chains of sugars that are released at various rates in our bodies. These include foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugars. It has been assumed for the past one hundred years that the more simple the sugar, i.e. table sugar, candy, or soda pop one consumes, the faster the sugar is absorbed into the blood stream and the quicker one’s blood sugar rises. This has given rise to the concept of simple sugars versus complex sugars (having long sugar chains). Medical research has since shown us that this theory was totally wrong. In the past 20 years, medical evidence now suggests the most important consideration is the glycemic index. Few of us realize that highly processed carbohydrates like white bread, white flour, rice, and pasta also release their sugars faster than table sugar. These foods are considered high-glycemic carbohydrates, because they release their sugars very quickly into our blood stream.
On the other hand, carbohydrates such as: cauliflower, beans, asparagus, apples, oranges, and grapes release their sugars more slowly, thus keeping blood sugars from spiking. These are considered low-glycemic carbohydrates. These carbohydrates also contain high amounts of fiber—the indigestible portion of our food.
Fiber passes through the gastrointestinal tract without being absorbed, allowing not only our nutrients to be absorbed at a much slower pace, but also helping to eliminate toxins as it cleanses the colon. An increased amount of fiber is very important in our overall diet and can be found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
I recommend between 35 and 50 grams of fiber each day. Most Americans only consume 8 to 10 grams of fiber each day and if we have a bowel movement every other day, we feel like heroes. Our paradigm is limited. Perhaps a broader worldview would prove enlightening.
Dr. Burkitt, a surgeon, famous for the disease, "Burkitt’s Lymphoma," practiced in Africa for over 20 years. While in Africa, he did not see a single case of colon cancer, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, gall bladder disease, or even appendicitis among the native population. He attributed this remarkable finding to the fact that his native African patients consumed 60 to 70 grams of fiber per day and typically had three to five bowel movements every day. When Dr. Burkitt returned to the United States, he spent most of his time promoting the health benefits of a high fiber diet.
Constipation is a $3 billion business in the United States alone. Patients in the U. S. think they are heroes when they have a bowel movement every other day. When I refer a patient to the gastoenterologist, I can count on the fact that he or she will recommend my patient to eat more fiber. The fiber in low-glycemic carbohydrates provides most of this necessary fiber, however, many of us need to supplement our diet with additional fiber in order to obtain the 35 to 50 grams needed each day. I guarantee the tremendous health benefits reaped by making this intentional effort will prove worthwhile.
Glucose (the basic sugar that is used by the body and that all carbohydrates eventually become in the body) is extremely easy for the body to absorb and in turn raises blood sugar rapidly. The rate at which the blood sugar increases (the glycemic index) is rated at 100. Fructose (which is found in fruits and honey), on the other hand, is more difficult for the body to absorb and is therefore considered low-glycemic with an index of 23. White table sugar has a glycemic index of 65 because it is a disaccharide (made up of two molecules: on molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose).
Surprising to many, wheat and white bread actually have a very high glycemic index (even higher than table sugar) because of its physical structure. The fine particle size and the exploded structure caused by the leavening action of the yeast makes the surface of wheat starch extremely accessible to digestive enzymes. They actually are worse for our bodies than table sugar because of how quickly their absorption raises blood sugar. Rice cakes, one of our favorite diet foods, has one of the highest glycemic indexes of any food.
The average dietitian does not utilize the glycemic index, which was introduced in the early 80’s. However, a recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association points out the potential serious outcomes of America’s and the industrialized nation’s tremendous use of high-glycemic foods. Problems like hypertension, obesity, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes are primarily related to our diet.
Dr. Walter Willet, head of nutrition and preventive medicine at Harvard, in his book, Eat, Drink, and be Healthy (Simon and Schuster, 2001) believes white bread, white flours, pasta, rice, and potatoes should be placed at the top of the food pyramid with sweets and snacks. In turn, I encourage my patients to eat less bread (or to choose heavy multigrain, stone-ground brands) and more carbohydrates high in fiber. By simply eating more whole foods—fruits and vegetables, you are not only going to get the good fiber but also these foods are primarily low glycemic. Please read the discussion on glycemic index to better understand this concept and learn why glycemic load is also important.
Low-glycemic carbohydrates need to be balanced with good proteins and fats. When protein and fat are combined with low-glycemic carbohydrates during a meal, the absorption of sugar is slowed and the release of glucagon (this hormone is the opposite of insulin) is stimulated. All of the bad metabolic changes that occur with elevated blood levels of insulin (high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, lower HDL cholesterol, central obesity) are actually reversed by increasing the levels of glucagon. Click here to learn more about the glycemic index.
Protein has been maligned over the years due to the tremendous focus on low-fat diets. Since most of the "bad" fats are contained in proteins, we have thrown the protein out with the fat. People have been led to believe that a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet is the healthiest diet we can eat. However, amino acids only found in proteins are essential for all of our body’s functions, especially our immune system. We must choose good protein sources.
Vegetable proteins are the very best proteins we can eat; the greatest advantage of plant protein being the fact that it contains less environmental toxins and chemicals than animal protein. Because of the highly commercialized production of animal protein, it now contains significantly greater amounts of hormones, antibiotics, and toxins.
Our bodies require 10 essential amino acids and vegetable protein is sometimes criticized for not being complete. I don’t find any problem with this because you can easily mix and combine many different plant proteins. Some examples are soy protein, nuts, legumes, and certain whole grains.
Cold-water fish offers the next best source of protein. Cold-water fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna not only gives you a good source of protein but also a needed sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which I will discuss more under fats. Again, be aware of toxins these fish may contain because of industrial pollution of our waters. Mercury poisoning as well as many other toxins are increasing in all fish species. Shellfish and larger saltwater fish are the worst. Knowing the source of the fish is helpful.
Fowl are the next best source of protein. Chicken and turkey are the best because the fat accumulates on the outside of the meat rather than on the inside. Since most toxins found in these animals accumulate in the fat, you can easily avoid them by removing the skin and fat from the meat leaving an excellent source of protein. Organically grown fowl is a great choice if you have it available.
Animal products are less desirable sources of protein due to high levels of saturated fat marbled inside red meat. I encourage my patients to keep their consumption of red meat to a minimum, knowing that some of us simply like to have a good steak once in a while. I recommend for those patients who eat red meat to choose the leanest cut they can get. Remember, no one needs to eat the 24-ounce cut. Eat small, fine cuts of steak along with tasty low-glycemic vegetables. You do need to avoid meats like bacon, hot dogs, salami, and lunchmeats. Organ meats (liver, brain, and kidney) should also be avoided due to high toxin concentrations.
Dairy products are the least desirable protein source because they have the highest concentration of saturated fats. Milk, eggs, cheese, butter, and buttermilk are ranked among some of the unhealthiest foods that we eat. The problem is that they make our recipes taste so good. You can markedly improve your diet by eating low-fat or non-fat milk and cheese. If you eat eggs, consider eating more egg whites than egg yolks. Though range fed chickens produce eggs that contain helpful omega-3-fatty acids, we will all be much healthier by keeping the total amount of saturated fat to a minimum.
Proteins have been given a bad rap, but not nearly as much as fats. The consumption of fats in our diet has certainly been the talk of this past half-century. Still, people are as confused about fats today as they were a generation ago. In fact, in many ways they are even more confused. The bottom line is that our bodies need fat to thrive and live healthy. Fat is needed for many aspects of the cell but especially in the formation of the cell membrane. Fat is also needed for the production of many of our hormones, natural anti-inflammatories, and basic energy needs. Not only must we decipher between good and bad fats, but we need to know how and when to consume what kind of fats for good health.
Saturated fats come primarily from animal fat and dairy products. These are the worst fats that we can consume. These saturated fats increase total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol and lower HDL or "good" cholesterol. Most Americans and people in the industrialized nations consume the majority of their fats in the form of saturated fats. Numerous studies reveal that the actual consumption of cholesterol does little to increase our cholesterol levels; however, the consumption of saturated fats and high-glycemic carbohydrates play a large part in elevating cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most nutritionists now realize that it is not simply the fat in our diet causing problems; but rather, the types of fats we are consuming.
In the 1950’s, polyunsaturated fats became popular as a "healthy" substitute for saturated fats. For example, vegetable oils were made into margarine as a substitute for butter. Vegetable oils primarily contain what is known as polyunsaturated fats. These fats do in fact lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol, but the problem is that they also lower HDL or "good" cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats are also vulnerable to oxidation and easily transform into "trans-fatty acids", which are rancid fats. These fats make poor building blocks for our cell membranes and are anything but healthy. Many vegetable oils are now subjected to a process called partial hydrogenation. The reason food manufactures go to the trouble of this process is to improve taste, spreadability, pleasurable sensation in the mouth, and to extend shelf life. It has nothing to do with making a "healthy" alternative.
To hydrogenate oils, manufactures heat the oils to high temperatures under pressure with hydrogen gas. This process is stopped before it is completed or all the fats would become saturated. However, this abbreviated process provides a mixture of fats--saturated, polyunsaturated, with a high concentration of trans-fatty acids. When you look at food labels you will be amazed how many processed foods are made of partially hydrogenated fat. The medical evidence is growing that these partially hydrogenated fats or what is becoming known as rancid fats are probably the worst fats you can eat. I recommend avoiding these kinds of fats all together.
These fats are found in many of our vegetables, nuts, and certain vegetable oils. These are considered healthy fats because they actually help lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while maintaining HDL cholesterol levels. They are found in foods like cashews, almonds, avocados, olive oil, and pistachio nuts. Virgin olive oil is a very good source of these types of fats. Canola and peanut oils are also high in these types of fat. Even though these fats do not contain the essential fatty acids, they appear to be much healthier and in some ways protective against heart disease. You must however be careful not to heat these oils because they can become rancid fats very easily. If you do use them in your cooking, you need to use very low heat and use a high quality virgin olive oil.
Essential Fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
These essential fats are just that—essential. Our body cannot make them, so we need to get them from our diet. They are critical in the production of hormones called prostaglandins, which control inflammation, cell growth and differentiation, blood clotting, and key aspects of our immune system. We get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet, however; almost all of us are deficient in the omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-6 fatty acids produce hormones (prostaglandins) that promote inflammation, cell growth, and blood clotting. Omega-3 fatty acids produce hormones (prostaglandins) with just the opposite affect. In the event that you are injured, you need to have a good inflammatory response to bring about quicker healing--the inflammatory response brings blood and immune cells to the wounded area. However, if you have not been hurt, an inflammatory response can damage tissue and cause major problems, i.e. asthma, arthritis, and heart disease. Therefore, it is critical that these essential fats are consumed in a balanced fashion so that the hormones they produce will also occur in balance. If these prostaglandins are not kept in balance they can cause serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, inflammatory diseases, and autoimmune diseases.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in meats, margarines, peanuts, poultry, and many of our processed foods. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, soybeans, organic eggs, walnuts, and oils made from flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans. It is most beneficial to consume these essential fats in a ratio of 2 omega-6 fatty acids to 1 omega-3 fatty acid (2:1 ratio). However, Americans consume an estimated ratio of 20:1 and in some cases, 40:1 omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. Is it any wonder we are in a health crisis?
It is imperative that you make a concerted effort to consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids in order to balance out these two essential fats. Eating adequate quantities of the omega-3 fatty acids will actually lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Most people simply need to supplement their diet with cold-pressed flax seed, sunflower, pumpkin seed oils or fish oil.
I realize most people will eat saturated fats and at times even partially hydrogenated fats. Still, it is important to get the majority of your fats from essential fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Many researchers now argue that fat is not the problem, rather the types of fats we are consuming is the major contributor to elevated cholesterol levels.
Combining Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
It is critical that you have a portion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat with each meal or snack. Every time we eat, we need to be sure that we are taking in good nutrition and that we are not going to be spiking our blood sugar. We need to eat for hormonal control and not calorie control. Insulin is our "storage" hormone and most of us do not want to store any more fat than we already have.
Glucagon, on the other hand, actually utilizes fat as an energy source. I explain to my patients that are overweight that this lifestyle of eating actually has a side effect of fat loss. If you don’t need to lose any weight, then you won’t on this diet. You simply just feel better and become healthier.
I believe that around 40 to 50% of our calories should come from low-glycemic carbohydrates, 25 to 30% of our calories from good protein, and 25 to 30% of our calories should come from good fat. There are many different ratios, which will accomplish this same overall goal. Barry Sears in his book, The Zone, recommends the 40/30/30 (40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat) and other diets recommend 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fat.
All of these diets accomplish the same desired hormonal results, which is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Always avoid unhealthy weight loss diets that are out of balance such as the Atkins’ Diet (all protein and fat with no carbohydrates) or Dr. Ornish’s Diet (all carbohydrates with very little to no fat). The desired goal is to keep insulin and glucagon levels within a healthy zone. The body needs both to maintain health and to assure that your cells are getting proper nutrients.
A good ratio is combining 20 grams of low-glycemic carbohydrate, 10 to 12 grams of good protein, and 4 to 6 grams of good fat. You can eat as much as you want; however, be sure the ratios stay the same (40 grams of carbohydrates, 24 grams of protein, and 8 to 10 grams of fat).
You should eat five to six small meals each day. Eat breakfast within one hour of awakening and a meal or snack every four hours throughout the day to keep your metabolism going and blood sugars stable. I find weighing foods is not necessary, although reading nutritional labels is essential.
I teach my patients to not get caught up in anything too complicated—like weighing foods. Simply use your hand as a guide. The palm of the hand (circumference and thickness) = 1 protein serving (red meat—use ½ the palm of your hand). 1 fist (1 ¼ cups) = fruit serving (carbohydrate). 2 fists (2-4 cups) = vegetable serving (carbohydrate). Tip of the thumb (1 tsp.) = 1 fat serving
A typical meal should contain two servings of carbohydrates, one serving of protein, and one serving of fat. If your body frame is large, you may need double this amount, still the balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins must be maintained. The actual amount that you consume will depend on your body size and whether this is a main meal or snack. Remember the key is to keep portions balanced even when eating snacks.
Here are some principles to help you enjoy food and keep you on track:
- Be careful not to take in too many high-glycemic carbohydrates with any particular meal especially when eating out. Don’t eat bread, potatoes, and dessert all at the same meal. In fact, recent research reveals it would be best to avoid high-glycemic foods all together. (read the discussion about the glycemic index).
- Be creative with your snacks and be sure that they contain the right balance of good carbohydrates, good fat, and good protein.
- Always have healthy snacks readily available. If you don’t, you will eat whatever is around when you get hungry.
- Purchase lean bars, balance bars, and lean drinks, which already have the proper balance and have them readily available.
- You will tend to have some withdrawal from a high carbohydrate diet. However, once you become consistent with this diet you will feel much better with a marked increase in energy.
Most of my patients find it relatively easy to stay with this diet. Be creative using these principles and enjoy your food. I encourage my patients to purchase book, The Formula, written by Gene and Joyce Daoust. This gives you the basic program and a good number of helpful recipe ideas. I recommend my patients to stay with the "fat flush" program detailed in this book for about two weeks; especially if they want to loose weight.
Click here to view a list of Recommended Foods To Eat.