We Are What We Eat: 20 Tips to Achieving Optimal Health.

We know we need to eat.  

Beyond our need – comes choice.

And these choices impact our long-term health – positively or negatively.  

While Preventive Medicine focuses on keeping you healthy … sometimes … despite our best efforts, we come face-to-face with compromised health.

That’s right.  Whether you are in robust health, or find yourself suffering from chronic health conditions including auto-immune disease, chronic pain, hormonal imbalances, cancer (or are in remission) your dietary choices and patterns will impact the direction of your condition.   Even moreso for the better after you read further.

Cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and auto-immune disease, for example, are inflammatory disorders.  Eating foods which quell the fire of inflammation and down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines will keep inflammation in check.

There is a saying “we are what we eat.”  

I would add,   “we are what we can absorb.”  

Healthy gut flora and a good gut barrier are necessary for proper absorption of nutrients (see Leaky Gut Syndrome).   In my practice I see more cases of gluten, dairy sensitivity and leaky gut every day.  Our systems are stressed, and our seemingly innocent food choices are simply making matters worse.  

The good news:   the concept of “Food Intolerance” has caught on in the mainstream consciousness.  We are slowly “getting it” that we might be overdoing it with some foods.   Eliminating the top aggravants can make a world of change (gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, alcohol, etc.).  Testing has also advanced to a place where we can take a  deeper look into our immune system’s reaction to these foods and save ourselves years of suffering.

Another field, “proteogenomics” (the study of genes and food), has taught us that certain foods can dial down or down-regulate the genes associated with Cancer and other inflammatory conditions.  By cutting out many foods that we have become addicted to, like sugar, which feed inflammation and cancer, we lower the inflammatory switch.

Michael Pollan reminds us in his 2009 book, In Defense of Food:

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”   Remember these words, and you are on your way to better health.

As an Integrative Health practitioner, I enjoy educating my patients not only WHAT foods to eat but WHY certain foods should be high on our list and abundant on our plates.

As a clinician, nutrition or botanical medicine is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but a personalized medicine journey of discovery matched to my patient’s unique needs.

I present to you here some broader “Food As Medicine” guidelines.  

These will prepare you on your journey to greater balance AND management of compromised health states.   These should be used in concert with a comprehensive integrative medicine protocol:

1. Your diet should consist mainly of high quality, organic vegetables, proteins and fats.

2. Eat a rainbow of foods: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple…these foods contain hundreds of protective compounds including flavonoids, which help dilate and stabilize blood vessels (aka improve “vascular integrity”), and antioxidants which protect your cells from oxidative damage, including damage to the DNA.

3. Eat a wide array of Brassica family foods, including:  broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, collard greens , mustard greens and kohlrabi. These foods contain sulfurophanes, a member of the isothiocyanate family of phytochemicals, which convert to key DNA repairing, cell detoxifying compounds. They are an exceptionally rich source of inducers of the enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, help repair your body’s genetic mistakes and eliminate environmental estrogen overload.  Note:  If you suffer from low thyroid issues, please discuss with your health practitioner how much or little Brassica foods should be in your diet .

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered that fresh organic broccoli sprouts & cabbage sprouts contain the most potent amount of these cancer-fighting compounds.  (And the sprouted forms will not interfere with low thyroid function.)

4. Eat plenty of healthy fats, the best ones being monounsaturated fats. These are olives, olive oil, avocado, coconut oil.   (Yes, coconut oil has finally been resurrected from its years of bad press – click on the link to read more).

5. Eat plenty of cilantro, avocados  and asparagus. These foods increase one of THE most powerful antioxidant, cell protector and liver reparative compounds known to boost our health called Glutathione.  Glutathione protects healthy cells from damage and is depleted from the body by stress, diet, illness, infection, trauma, medication, and injury.  Everyone needs this vital antioxidant.

6. Eat naturally fermented raw sauerkraut found at most health food stores. This food is rich in probiotics (our friendly bacteria allies), B-vitamins, and is an easily digestible, animated food.  Have some as a small side-dish with your meal. Your digestion, bowel function and immunity are all benefited by probiotics, which make up over 70% of your immunity.

7. Choose grains wisely. The best ones to eat are gluten-free such as: quinoa, red quinoa, black “forbidden” rice, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat and millet. Quinoa is a particularly high protein grain. Soak these first overnight; change the water, then cook. You might simmer them in vegetable or chicken broth. Avoid the “white fluffies”: refined flour (white breads) and refined sugar (white sugar).

8. Enjoy eating Legumes (ie: beans, chickpeas, lentils). They are low in fat, high in fiber, and are an excellent source of protein. Lentils are one of the best vegetable sources of iron. Simmer with onion, garlic, and spices.

9. If you eat eggs, eggs are a perfect protein food.  Focus on the DHA-rich, free-range + organic.  ** In some cases people are sensitive to eggs, so not everyone is suited to eating them.

10. Add fresh herbs to your foods as concentrated sources of antioxidants such as dill, basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon, etc., with fresh black pepper to increase bio-availability.  Herbs increase flavor while improving circulation and digestion.

11. Your plate should be full of fresh greens, steamed or sautéed greens and other vegetables, avocado, olives, raw sauerkraut.  Make your protein the side-dish vs. the center piece of your meal.

12. Remember to hydrate well and often. Filtered water, coconut water, green, hibiscus or red roobios teas, among others, are excellent, health-promoting fluids. Coconut water is rich in potassium and other electrolytes and deeply rehydrates the body.

13. Drink a small amount of fresh, blood-alkalizing juices – maximizing healthy vegetables: cabbage, kale celery, watercress, parsley, cilantro, chard, beet tops & greens, carrot tops & greens, burdock root, jicama. You can add a modest amounts of fresh fruit.   A little goes a long way.   Unless using something like a Vitamix, juicing strips the fiber from vegetables + fruits, leaving behind concentrated sugar, which can spike blood sugar levels and raising insulin. Over time, one risks an atmosphere of insulin sensitivity and acidity in the blood (which is pro-inflammatory). Citrus may be irritating to the mouth of a cancer patient, especially if you are in chemotherapy.

14. For extra nutrition soak a handful of organic nuts (almonds / walnuts / pine / cashew) overnight in water (filtered or bottled), whirl this up with everything else in your smoothie.

15. Cut out, or down on red meats. Colon cancer patients should avoid red meat completely. Any red meat should be organic and grass-fed. Other healthful choices are grass-fed bison.  Limit your meat intake in general.

16. Eat cold-water fish 2x/week, such as wild salmon. Salmon is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Sardines are an excellent fish to eat weekly too. The Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish lower inflammation & cholesterol, moisten skin & joints + improve mood and cognitive function.

17. Avoid all farm raised fish. Period. Farmed fish are given antibiotics to decrease the risk of infection and do not have the health benefits of wild fish.

18. Avoid cooking meat with high heat barbeque grilling.  This can produce cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

19. An elimination diet is recommended for a trial period of 3 weeks, and upwards of 3 months.  I tell my patients and Cleanse class participants to think about this as a “vacation” from these foods…which allows your body a time to rest, your gut to heal, and your symptoms to lighten up.

20. Recommended foods to include in your elimination / rotation diet:

    • Sugar in all forms
    • Wheat & other glutenous grains such as barley, rye, spelt, kamut; oats, if not certified gluten-free
    • Dairy
    • Soy, particularly non-fermented forms
    • Caffeine
    • Chocolate
    • Alcohol

I suggest you start with these guidelines and see how you feel, particularly the 3-week food elimination. 

I suspect you’ll notice some small or vast improvement.

And if you don’t,  this might suggests a greater complexity to your ailments which I am here to review with you.

In my practice, we will always discuss your particular health concern in greater detail including specific foods to increase or avoid for your condition.  And when appropriate, we’ll run additional testing.

I hope you enjoyed the blog, will share it with others,  and consider these recommendations a first step on your road back to health.