Excellent Nutrition

“Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food”
Hippocrates ; the father of modern medicine and origin of the Hippocratic Oath

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CONSTITUTIONAL MEDICINE
- Ancient wisdom in the modern world



 

1) Enjoy your food!

'Enjoy your food' may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say but it is perhaps the single most important point any nutritionally-minded health practitioner could make to you!

When you truly enjoy your food you send deep, instinctual messages to your body to reach out and extract the energy and goodness from that nutrition. The phrase 'you are what you eat' is quite literally true but it is more accurate to say 'you are what you absorb' and when I meet a patient who shows signs of nutritional deficiency it often becomes clear that their primary problem is not a diet lacking in essential nutrients but rather that their food choices &/or their meal-times are lacking in the kind of enjoyment needed for the digestive system to work properly!

Enjoyment and appreciation of good food is a sure foundation for feeling and living well. A good diet does not have to be boring and don’t think for a moment you should eat foods you dislike just because they're good for you! Some of the healthiest and longest-Iiving people in the world eat the most interesting and tasty diets. When a person who has been rushing through this part of their life slows down and starts really enjoying their food a rather wonderful, positive shift soon happens in their health, both physical and mental. That self-repairing, self-regulating, intelligent force inherent in us and all living things can help us get better from all kinds of chronic problems but it is profoundly dependent on the goodness from food to do it!

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2) Drink plenty of water

Our body is about 60% water overall but our brains are 75% water and our blood is 85% water. Even slight dehydration makes the blood stickier and impairs good brain function. We lose a lot of fluid every day through breathing and skin-evaporation as well as going to the toilet and what many people don't realise is that by the time their mouth is dry and they actually feel thirsty they are already significantly dehydrated.

Most people need to drink at least 6 cups of water a day but this is variable according to our constitutions and a good rule of thumb is how often a person needs to go the toilet. More than once an hour is too much, less than once in two hours is too little. Urine should be light in colour and virtually free from odour if you have been drinking enough.

Drinking plenty of water helps us to not overeat, keeps our skin looking better and helps our brain function better! One of the best ways to establish a good hydration habit is the visual-cue of putting a glass-jug of water somewhere such as the kitchen bench or office desk and then aiming to empty it by the mid-afternoon. Some people find it helpful to add some lemon slices, mint or other green herb leaves for both beauty and flavour.

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3) Eat Fresh and Whole Foods

Fresh food is great for your health, it has no preservatives, its nutrient levels are higher and it tastes better, plus it is easier to see if fresh food has been spoiled or is past its best.

Whole foods are basically any foods that get into your hand or on to your plate with a minimum of industrial processing and chemical enhancement. These are foods that our grandparents would recognise, they've not been made in factories; they've been grown in nature!

Over 3000 chemicals have been approved for use in the food industry and every year the average person takes in well over a kilo of chemicals that, until recently, our bodies never had to deal with before. A lot of people around the world feel that processed and chemicalised food may be a much bigger danger to us than we realise. I personally know that toxicity can be a big problem for some of my own patients with chronic health problems because I look at their tongues and their blood at very high magnification and, when I see certain signs and they take cleansing herbs and clean up their diet those chronic conditions clear up! There is an article called 'what is detoxification?' that goes into this subject in more depth here.

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4) Aim for at least five different types of fruit and vegetables daily

Many people have heard the advice to eat at least five pieces of fruit or vegetables daily but in reality a lot of people don't get even close to that but rather instead eat a lot of bread and flour-based convenience foods. This causes a tremendous number of issues in health over the years and it can now be categorically stated that the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar etc.) and the under-consumption of whole food carbohydrates (fruit and vegetables) is the core reason our society is decimated by heart disease, diabetes and obesity (more info on this in an article on the metabolic syndrome here)

In many ways fruit and vegetables are the healthiest foods of all. Vegetables and fruits contain an excellent range of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants and fibre. They are also good sources of a variety of components that impart specific health-giving properties; for example cabbages and tomatoes reduce cancer risk; legumes (beans & lentils) contain phyto-oestrogens that help hormonal balance; bitter components in greens flush the gall bladder and fruit pectins lower bad cholesterols.

Vegetable consumption should be varied. Preparation by steaming, stir-fry or baking reduces nutrient loss. An ideal combination would be two or three orange, red or yellow vegetables, a couple of green vegetables, and at least one of the cabbage family such as broccoli or cabbage and/or some garlic or onion for their cancer-preventing and blood fat-lowering properties. Fruit is also a superb source of healthy nutrients that our bodies can easily extract. Fruit is best consumed whole rather than juiced, to retain the fibre and slow the absorption rate of sugars. You will never gain unwanted weight eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.

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5) Eat a good amount of protein

Protein is found in animal products such as meat, eggs, fish, milk and cheese, and also in certain combinations of complex carbohydrates. When people go on 'healthy' or 'weight loss' diets, they often drastically reduce or stop most of their protein intake however, for both energy production as well as the vital rebuilding of body tissues, the regular intake of quality protein is an essential part of a healthy diet.

Deciding how much protein to eat in grams is quite difficult. Young people between the ages of eleven and twenty should eat about one gram of protein for every kilogram of their body weight. People from twenty onwards can reduce this to about 0.75 g for every kilogram. On average, this means people should consume at least between 45 and 65 grams of protein each day.

Approximate levels of protein in common foods

  • Meat (100 grams) 20-25 grams
  • Fish and seafood (100 grams) 15-20 grams
  • Beans/legumes (I cup) 10-15 grams
  • Whole grains (I cup) 5-12 grams
  • One cup of milk or yoghurt 8 grams
  • An egg, 6 grams
  • Cheese (30 grams) 6-8 grams
  • Vegetables and fruits (I cup) 2--4 grams

Complex carbohydrates contain some of the amino acids that make up proteins and can be combined in a meal so that they become a complete substitute for animal protein, for example, grains with beans or tofu and rice (Asia), lentils and rice (India), tortilla and beans (Mexican), grains and nuts or peanuts and rice (Southern Asia), nut butters and bread (bread-eating countries); rice and cashews (Asia), beans and seeds or sesame seed paste (tahini) and beans (Middle East). Many people instinctively cook like this or follow traditional recipes that incorporate these food combinations.

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6) Vary food flavours

There are five main flavours in the diet: bitter, sweet, sour, salty and spicy. In New Zealand, as with most European-based cultures, we rely heavily on the sweet &/or salty flavours. Some cultures include all or most of the flavours in their cooking as a matter of course; - Thai food for example, is cooked with the addition of salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavours.

Each of the flavours has subtle effects on digestion and health. Bitter foods, for example, improve digestion and bowel function by stimulating the bile flow. Bitter green vegetables are commonly used in some parts of Europe e.g. chicory, dandelion leaves and silver beet are often included in the diet to aid digestion. Grapefruit is both sour and bitter, and the old practice of having half a grapefruit before a fatty breakfast such as bacon and eggs makes a lot of sense. Dandelion coffee is a gentle and effective bitter and liver tonic that is widely available as an ‘instant’ beverage

Warming spices in the diet improve sluggish digestion and can be used for complaints of the upper gastrointestinal tract such as nausea, dyspepsia (belching) and indigestion. Ginger can be particularly helpful for nausea (more about that here). Warming spices are especially useful for those who feel cold, have difficulties with cold weather, or catch colds easily.

Sour foods are drying and can be used to prevent excessive mucus membrane congestion and moistness. Excessive consumption of sweet foods often causes a build-up of phlegm or catarrh in susceptible individuals that sour foods can help to counteract. Many sour foods, such as citrus fruit, are useful to protect the mucus membranes from infections, sour food also aids digestion.

At first you might not like the experience of a new taste. For example, you might think why anyone would like something bitter and surely this contradicts the first point about ‘enjoying your food!' This is the challenge; give a new taste at least 3 tries before you make a decision about whether you really like it or not. The psychology of taste is well researched; most people instinctively dislike a flavour that registers as new; it is simply ’long-evolved survival mechanisms at work. Keep trying and it is highly likely you will soon like it and enjoy your food even more!

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7) Healthy Diet Examples

Everyone needs to find their own groove when it comes to food but these examples are offered by way of a practical guide as to how one might eat the kinds of healthy foods I've been talking about.

One other tool I would like to share is the template for the diet diary that I have used with a great many patients over the years. This simple one page per week layout lets you see the big picture of how you are eating and it's noticeable that as soon as people start recording what they eat they greatly increase their awareness of their food and almost always improve their nutrition as a result; print it from here.

~ Start the day with:

  • The juice of a lemon diluted in a glass of warm water
  • 1/2 a grapefruit
  • Some citrus juice (especially grapefruit)

Each of the above kick-starts your liver into action and can be highly useful if you are one of the legions of people with no morning appetite because yes, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

~ Breakfast

  • A homemade muesli with ingredients such as raw oatmeal, rice flakes, puffed millet, sunflower seeds, linseeds, sultanas, chopped almonds or cashews, dried apricots, paw-paw or other fruit, coconut and chopped pumpkin seeds. Add low-fat cow’s milk, goat's milk, yoghurt or soya milk, and chopped fresh fruit.
  • Fresh fruit in season with yoghurt and seeds or chopped nuts.
  • Wholegrain bread, toasted, with an egg or two, or perhaps some nut butter, hummus, low fat cheese, miso, add optional sprouts.
  • Cooked cereal such as oatmeal, millet meal, brown rice or buck- wheat, with added nuts, seeds and dried fruit as desired. Add milk of choice and fruit or a little honey.

~ Lunch

  • Wholegrain bread sandwich with a mixture of salad vegetables. Include a little protein such as meat, tuna, salmon, chicken, egg, low-fat cheese or hummus.
  • Salad of mixed vegetables such as lettuce salad, coleslaw, tabouli salad, grated beetroot, tomatoes, carrot or celery. Protein should be included either in the form of correctly combined vegetable proteins or animal proteins as above.
  • Soup with the addition of beans or grains, a little yoghurt or Parmesan cheese.
  • Any of the dinner choices

~ Dinner

  • The options for the evening meal are usually extremely varied, being only limited by the imagination. It should contain: at least three different vegetables, cooked or raw depending on season and some good protein.

~ examples for the evening meal :

  • Vegetables with rice and tofu
  • Lamb casserole
  • Chicken soup
  • Stir-fry beef and vegetables
  • Vegetables with lentils and rice
  • Fish with vegetables or salad

~ Fluids

  • Limit caffeine-containing beverages to 1-2 cups of coffee or 2-4 cups of tea a day.
  • Drink at least half a dozen glasses of plain water daily.
  • Try getting a new herbal tea every week or fortnight until you find a few you like and want to have regularly. Hot or iced, they can usually be infused (stewed) for longer than ordinary tea (make it to your taste) and you can certainly add honey as well.

With thanks to Ruth Trickey, Medical Herbalist, for some parts of the material presented here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd