When you hear the word “nutrition,” what comes to mind for you? The FDA food pyramid? A bottle of vitamin and mineral pills? Your mother telling you can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten all your spinach? Commonly, when we think of nutrition we think “borrrrring!” We think of the foods we should be eating rather than the foods we are eating.
Nutrition is not about our diet. While our diet plays a very important role in our nutrition – it is more about the interaction of the food we eat with our unique physiology. So, when we think of a healthy diet it is important to remember that there is no public policy that can dictate what a perfect diet is – simply because we are all individuals. What is important is finding what the perfect diet is for you.
It is not always easy to make the connection between what you eat and how you feel. We are very adept in this country at shutting up our symptoms – if we have a headache we take a couple of aspirin, a body ache has us reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen. Acid reflux or GERD is soothed with antacids – and even our red, itchy dry eyes are treated with fake tears! Symptoms are no longer considered to be the body’s way of communicating – they’re conditions that must be relieved so that we can ignore them a while longer.
The problem with ignoring a symptom, however, is that it doesn’t go away – it just gets louder and more demanding. Treating your symptoms is a temporary, though sometimes necessary fix – but if you want to achieve optimal health and vitality you have to get to the root cause of the problem. This often begins with our food.
If a food is not nourishing your body then it is creating a stress. For example, an egg is considered a very healthy food – in fact, it has been called the “perfect” food. It contains everything to begin a life with. However, if your particular physiology reacts to egg as an allergen then it is far from a healthy food for you. Symptoms of fatigue, gas, bloating, achiness, headache, etc. have been reported from people who are sensitive to egg protein, but if you are not looking for the connection you might easily attribute these symptoms to something entirely different. The key is in finding the foods that create “chronic” stress in the body and eliminate them from your diet. In so doing – you are relieving your body of dealing with unnecessary and unseen stress that can eventually lead to disease.
The other component to the nutrition question is how well your digestive system is working. We need to have sufficient stomach acid to break down protein, adequate salivary and pancreatic enzymes to process carbohydrates and healthy amounts of smooth flowing bile to emulsify fat for absorption. If any of these systems are compromised or out of balance we will experience problems such as acid reflux, bloating, gas, undigested food in the stool and malnutrition, to name a few. If any of these symptoms sound familiar then you should probably take heed. Most of us have experienced digestive disorders at one time or another – what we are concerned with are the chronic issues that lead to problems.
The following is a list of things that you can do to improve your nutrition:
• Digestion starts before we even eat. Spending time with our food in the preparation, cooking, seasoning, smelling and tasting all combine to get the body ready to receive nourishment. The brain plays a key role in proper digestion.
• In school we were taught that digestion is a “north to south” process. If you have something going on in the southern region of your body – it most likely started farther up the line. One of the best things you can do to aid proper digestion is chew your food. Make a conscious effort to chew each bite at least 20 times – it’s not easy! Many of us eat on the run – short lunches and hurried meals throughout the day so we get used to “wolfing” down our food in large un-chewed quantities. Becoming more mindful of the chewing process benefits us in so many ways.
• Relax and enjoy meal time. There’s wisdom in traditions and saying grace is no exception. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and feel gratitude for the food, your healthy body and even the people you may be eating with. This puts your body in the receiving mode and allows you to get the most nutrition from your effort.
• I’m a big fan of the food writer Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and Botany of Desire. I like when he says “It’s no longer what we eat – it’s what we eat, eats.” Think about that for a minute. His point is that making healthy food choices goes deeper than just choosing the so-called “healthy” food over the “unhealthy” food. We need to consider where that food came from, how it was produced or raised, cultivated, fed and harvested. What fertilizers/pesticides may have been used. How the animal was fed and treated. This all contributes to the nutritional content and quality of your food.
• Take the steps to find out what your perfect diet is. We put most, if not all of our patients here at the clinic through the Elimination Diet. This is where we take all of the most common allergens out of the diet for period of time and then systematically re-introduce them to discover symptoms associated with each food. The purpose is to definitively know which foods are nourishing for your body, which foods are not – and what it feels like for you.
• Keep your digestive system as healthy as you can. You can create the perfect diet– but if you’re not digesting properly it won’t do you much good. Pay attention to your symptoms of bloating, brain fog, headaches and body aches. Follow some routines to give yourself better health such as a liver cleanse a couple of times a year, a good exercise program to help your body release toxins and burn up stored energy and one of the best things of all – learn to cook!
Image courtesy Bethd821