Optimize Your Nutrition
Step 7 of My Ten-Point Tune-Up
Last month, everyone joyfully wished each other "Happy New Year." This week, I'd like to wish you "Happy New'trition" — the kind of nutrition that will tune-up your tired body and give you renewed energy and better health in 2015.
"Optimizing Nutrition" is Step 7 in my Ten-Point Tune-Up. By nutrition, I mean the food you eat, the beverages you drink, and the supplements you take. I mean the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all the other crucial dietary compounds that feed every cell and system in your body so that it can function optimally.
Even though Americans consume a lot of calories, we don't always get enough nutrients. 95% of people in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition failed to get the government's daily Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for all key minerals essential to health.
In other words, fewer than one in 20 people were getting enough daily nutrition needed to avoid deficiencies, let alone the amount need for optimal health. What's even more surprising was that many of the study subjects worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland — one of the world's top nutritional centers!
So why are so many Americans deficient in vitamins and minerals? Several reasons:
1. Too much sugar and white flour. Added sugar, which is devoid of vitamins and minerals, accounts for 18 percent of the calories in the average American diet. Another 18 percent come from white flour, which has been stripped of bran, the grain's nutrient-rich outer covering. Do the math: more than a third of the total calories found in the typical American diet provides only miniscule amounts of nutrients!
2. Too much processed food. Processing usually strips food of most of its nutrients. It also often adds health-harming levels of energy-robbing sugar, artery-clogging trans fats, and cell-poisoning artificial chemicals.
3. Not enough nutrient-rich whole foods. In addition to eating too much of the wrong kinds of food, we don't get enough of the right kinds. A report by the government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that only 33 percent of American adults eat nutrient-rich fruit two or more times a day, and only 27 percent eat nutrient-dense vegetables three or more times a day.
4. Too much modern life. Unrelenting stress, air pollution, nutrient-depleted soil, chronic use of antacids, and diets overloaded with refined carbohydrates and saturated fat all drain the body of micronutrients or block their absorption.
One of my goals for this year is to help you learn how to optimize your nutrition. So in the next few weeks I'll be offering you a nutrient-by-nutrient guide to preventing nutritional deficiencies, optimizing nutrition, and optimizing your health.
Today I'd like to talk about a healthy diet and show you six very easy ways to eat better.
A Healthy (and Happy!) Diet
Eating a healthy diet is key to optimizing health.
But when I say "healthy," I'm not talking about eliminating all the foods that might be bad for you. Such a diet is impossible to follow, as so many people find out when they try it. Also, it's not much fun! Dietary deprivation usually leads to so-called over indulgence. Pleasurable moderation — including "indulging" in the foods you love to eat — is the key.
As Mark Twain so aptly put it: "Moderation in all things — including moderation!" To stay healthy, all you have to do is eat a diet that is reasonably healthy. Here are my key recommendations, which first appeared in my book Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale):
Eat Lots of Whole Foods
…including whole grains, fresh fruits (whole fruit, not fruit juice), and fresh vegetables; and minimize processed foods. Following this one, simple guideline will have amazing results because the more unprocessed foods in your diet, the healthier it is for you. Why? The closer food is to its original form, the higher its nutritional value.
Increase Water Intake
Water lubricates the body. You can tell you're adequately hydrated when your lips and mouth aren't dry. But you want water to be pure, so that you aren't filling your body with toxins while quenching your thirst. The best way to ensure pure water is a good water filter in your home.
I recommend the Multi-Pure (with carbon block filtration systems) or a (more expensive) reverse osmosis filter, which uses a different type of multistep system (the same type used to remove salt from seawater). You can also buy large jugs of water that have been purified by either carbon block filtration or reverse osmosis. Looking for a water filter? I would contact Bren Jacobson (410-224-4877). He is my favorite water expert and will be more interested in taking care of your needs than his :-) To learn about the importance of using water filters see The Importance of Drinking Water, a guest article Bren recently wrote for my blog.
What you don't want to drink is water from soft plastic bottles. Eventually, we'll realize that these were a mistake that added unacceptable toxins to water.
Minimize or Eliminate Sugar and Other Sweeteners From Your Diet
As I explain at length in my book Beat Sugar Addiction Now! (and my other books about sugar), excess sugar can weaken your immune system; worsen pain; boost your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease; lead to obesity; cause type 2 diabetes; and play a role in causing or complicating many other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, autoimmune diseases, candida and yeast infections, and attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder.
For a healthy sugar substitute, use stevia (made from the leaves of the stevia plant, a sweet-tasting herb in the chrysanthemum family). The brands I like best are Body Ecology and SweetLeaf. Zevia has a whole line of excellent all-natural sugar-free sodas that taste great — so there's no need to deprive yourself of pleasure!
You can also use saccharin (Sweet'N Low), which has a long record of safety. My least favorite artificial sweetener is aspartame, because some individuals experience severe reactions to it, including seizures, headaches, nausea, dizziness, depression, and more. (It's surprising to me that it ever received FDA approval for use.) I think the jury is still out on sucralose, which is sold as Splenda. On the other hand, I still consider the aspartame to be much safer than sugar.
Remove Excess Caffeine From Your Diet
Coffee drinkers are often caught in a vicious cycle. The energy boost from excess caffeine (along with skyrocketing adrenaline levels) is followed by an inevitable low, causing you to drink ever-increasing amounts of coffee to sustain your energy. If you're a coffee drinker and suffer from severe fatigue and anxiety, I recommend you stop drinking coffee completely for 2 to 3 months. (Substitute a morning glass of brewed tea for your morning jump start.) If after that time you're feeling good, you can start drinking coffee again — but no more than one 12-ounce cup daily. After that a more healthful choice for the rest of your day is to drink one or two cups of green tea or black tea, both of which are high in antioxidants.
Although I recommend stopping excess coffee completely, I don't recommend stopping it suddenly. To successfully reduce your coffee consumption, remove it from your diet gradually. Cut your intake in half every week, until you are down to one cup a day. For example, if you drink four cups a day, cut down to two cups a day the first week, and then to one cup a day the second week. When you're down to one cup a day, enjoy it! Coffee in moderation is actually a healthy drink with a number of health benefits.
Limit Alcohol to 1-2 Drinks a Day
Hundreds of studies show that the benefits of drinking alcohol follow what scientists call a J curve. Think of this as plotting a two-dimensional graph where the vertical axis is "amount unhealthy" and the horizontal axis is "amount of alcohol consumed." No alcohol consumption (the left tip of the J) is more unhealthy than a moderate amount of intake (the bottom of the J).
But as you increase alcohol intake beyond moderation, you begin to suffer negative effects (the line of the J on the right). Bottom line: a moderate amount of alcohol intake (one to two drinks a day) is good for your heart and brain, while a large amount is bad for your entire body.
I advise patients who drink more than three drinks daily to stop drinking alcohol completely for 3 months. If you decide to return alcohol to your diet at the end of that time, make two drinks a day your limit. One drink equals 6 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of whiskey or other "hard" liquor.
Follow Your Bliss!
Perhaps you're familiar with the famous advice given by Joseph Campbell, who wrote books about the lessons in ancient myths that could help guide our lives. His main admonition was "Follow your bliss!" Well, I agree — and that includes figuring out what to eat. Better than any expert, your body knows what's good for you.
So here are two simple questions to ask:
- Does it feel good? If the answer is no, why would you want to bother with it?
- How's that working out for you? If it's working out well for you, stay with it. If not, stop it.
It's that simple. Your body will TELL you what's good for you better than any expert — by making you feel good!
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.