Food and nutrition play a major role in our overall health and wellbeing. Effective nutrition and nutritional practices increase our longevity and improve our quality of life.
Getting the right nutrients in the adequate amounts, strengthens our immune system and protects us from infections and chronic debilitating diseases. Generally having a whole food diet (for help on a whole food diet see Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist) and reducing meat and dairy intake is recommended. Eating right for the planet and looking for sustainability sourced foods is also important to reduce our carbon footprint. Here are are some important food and nutrition tips for healthier living:
1.Slow Down Aging with Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet but rather a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. The hours of eating vary based on your preference but one of the most popular methods is the 16/8 cycle where you eat nutritious meals in an 8-hour window, and subsequently fast for 16 hours. During the period of fasting, our cells undergo autophagy which is the process of cells engulfing and eliminating old and toxic cells to improving the function of the genes responsible for longevity and ageing. It has also been shown to be very beneficial in weight loss, improving heart health, rejuvenating the brain, reducing inflammation, preventing certain cancers, improving the function of insulin to reduce body fat, and lowering blood sugar to prevent diabetes.
2.Get Some Daily Turmeric for Anti Inflammatory
You may already know turmeric as the yellow spice for cooking but turmeric does more than just add colour and flavour to our foods – it also contains medicinal compounds that have many several health benefits. Turmeric has powerful compounds known as curcuminoids which include curcumin, an anti-inflammatory substance that works on the cellular level to potentiate so many positive health benefits. Inflammation is our body’s process for fighting infection, however, it has to be regulated to prevent damage to our cells from excessive inflammation. Curcumin is an antioxidant, anticancer, anti-fungal, and antibacterial. Turmeric, in general, has shown benefits in reducing inflammation in diseases including osteoarthritis, preventing obesity, protecting the heart, protecting the liver, and preventing certain cancers.
It’s important that if consuming turmeric then including pepper dramatically increases its bioavailability to ensure it’s absorbed into your body.
3.Eat Blueberries Daily as Antioxidants for Brain Health
Blueberries are not only sweet and low in calories, but they are also nutritionally-dense with fibers, vitamin C, vitamin K, and other nutrients. They are sometimes referred to as super-fruits since they have very high antioxidant levels. The main antioxidants in blueberries are known as flavonoids. Flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which is a group of flavonoids, are very powerful for protecting our cells against free radicals which are substances that damage the cell and lead to aging and diseases associated with aging. Free radicals also damage our brain cells, however, antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to improve brain function and delay mental aging. Blueberries can also reduce the risk of heart diseases, control diabetes, lower blood pressure, and protect our good cholesterol.
Generally, all edible berries have beneficial qualities and whilst there has been focus in recent times, on blueberries, many berries have high antiioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.
4.Eat Spinach Daily for Better Eye Health and Lower Blood Pressure
Spinach is a leafy green vegetable that is low in calories, high in fibre, and rich in vitamins (like vitamins C and K), high in minerals (like iron, calcium and folic acid,) and nutritionally-dense. Like most other green leafy vegetables, spinach contains a lot of antioxidants which protect our cells from the toxicity of free radicals which are by-products of our body’s natural metabolism.
Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two pigments also naturally found in the human eye that protects our eyes from the damaging effects of direct sunlight. Studies show that these two pigments contribute directly to our eye health by reducing the risk of cataracts and age-related permanent vision loss (macular degeneration), and in some cases, these pigments also reverse existing and progressing eye diseases. Spinach also contains nitrates which are substances that directly help to reduce blood pressure and promote heart health. Spinach is known to improve brain function, boosts immunity and reduce the incidence of certain cancers.
5.Eat Quality Whole Foods for A Balanced Healthy Life
There are so many varieties of food and it can get confusing what to eat and what to avoid. Most of us already have a good idea of what is good and what is bad for our health. For instance, we know that fruits and veggies are healthy while sugar-filled soft drinks and fast-foods with trans fats are unhealthy. To make it easier to remember what to do to provide your body with full nourishment, consider embracing Dr. Gregers Daily Dozen routine which is essentially 12 food types that you should incorporate into your daily routine for a balanced diet. These include beans (three servings), berries ( two serving), other fruits (three servings), cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli – one servings a day), greens (two servings), other vegetables (two servings), flaxseed (one tablespoon), nuts and seeds (one serving), herbs and spices (one serving), whole grains (three servings), beverage (five servings), and exercise (90 minutes moderate or 40 mins of vigorous activity). Following this regimen as closely as possible will put you on a path to a healthier life.
6.Get Your Micronutrient from Whole Foods Rather Than Supplements
Dietary supplements have become more popular in recent years and even though it can be tempting to get your vitamins and nutrients from these supplements, obtaining them from whole foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients is safer unless supplementation is medically necessary and recommended. Whole foods are minimally-processed foods that retain most of their natural vitamins and nutrients like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Whole foods exclude foods like refined sugars and refined grains. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some supplements have hidden drugs which can not only put you at risk but can also interact with other medications you might be taking, or worse, exacerbate an already existing medical condition. Consult your healthcare provider prior to starting any new dietary supplements.
7.Control Your Blood Sugar Level with Low Glycemic Index Foods
Glycemic index (GI) is a way to rank foods based on their effect on blood sugar using pure glucose as a reference. Glucose is assigned a GI of 100 and other foods are ranked as high GI (70 or more), medium GI (56-69) and low GI (55 and less). The lower the GI of a food, the slower it is digested. Foods that are slowly digested are also absorbed slower with less impact on the blood sugar levels which in turn means less work for our organs including the pancreas. The pancreas is directly involved with managing our blood sugar levels and reducing our risks for diabetes and the more overworked it becomes, the more we increase our risk for diabetes. Thus, a low GI diet helps prevent diabetes, or if already present, improves the outcome of the disease. Another factor that is often considered with GI is the glycemic load (GL) which takes into account the glycemic index as well as the quantity of food we eat. And very much like GI, the lower the GL, the better for our body overall. Apart from regulating our blood sugar, low GI diet can also improve our cholesterol level, improve our heart health, decrease the risk of certain cancers and diseases, and help us lose weight.
8. Reduce Meat Intake to Reduce Homocysteine and Decrease Risk of Heart Disease .
Homocysteine, an amino acid by-product of protein breakdown in our body has been directly linked to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease also known as heart disease, is a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease kills more people than cancer or other diseases. A lot of factors that contribute to heart disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity are well-known, however, high blood homocysteine levels, another contributing factor to heart disease, is not often talked about. Meats such as red meat and poultry contain homocysteine which can lead to an increase in blood levels of homocysteine with negative consequences whereas food like whole grains and dairy have a positive effect on homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels cause damage to our blood vessels, harden our blood arteries (atherosclerosis), and also increase the risk of blood clots in our body. All of these ultimately increases our risk of heart disease.
In addition, eating less meat not only helps our health but also the planet by reducing the amount of farmland, animal feed and distance travelled to get meat to our plates. If you do eat meat, get it locally and from farmers with high animal welfare standards.
9. Avoid Fad Diets and Balance Micro and Macronutrients Intake
There are many scientifically proven healthy diets that can sustain and maintain life and well-being. There are also many fad diets that promise a short-term goal like fast weight loss, flat belly, anti-ageing and other benefits that are not substantiated. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a balanced diet should provide a wide range of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed in larger quantities and include food groups like carbohydrates, fats, dietary fibre, and proteins which fuel and provide energy for the body. Micronutrients are the nutrients we need in smaller quantities such as minerals and vitamins. Even though we need micronutrients in fewer quantities than macronutrients, micronutrients are also very essential for building our body and protecting us from diseases.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the amount of macro and micro-nutrients our body needs varies based on our age, gender, pregnancy status, activity level, stress level, and other underlying medical conditions. Macronutrients and micronutrients can be measured as AMDR (Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges) where dietary intake ratios are proteins 10-35%, Fats 20-35%, and Carbs 45-65%; or as RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) which also has several ranges. Striving to meet RDAs and AMDRs is not absolutely necessary as long as you are eating a balanced meal. When in doubt about what to eat, focus on high-quality foods including fruits, vegetables, and nuts, while reducing meats, processed foods, refined sugar, and dairy products.
10. Eat Salmon Twice A Week for Improved Brain Health
Salmon is a great source of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and most importantly, essential omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to have so many benefits for our body and brain. Unfortunately, unlike other fatty acids which our body freely makes, omega-3 fats can only be obtained from the foods we eat. Nutrition guides suggest, eating salmon (or other oily fish) at least 2-3 times a week is sufficient to improve our brain health, one of the benefits of omega-3 fats. Salmon has also been shown to help reduce memory problems, reduce the risk of dementia, and decrease age-related decline in brain function. Frequent consumption of salmon also reduces blood pressure, controls inflammation, reduces the risk of cancers, improves our heart health, promotes eye health, help fight anxiety and depression, improves our sleep, nourishes our skin, and protects our bones and joints.