Au Naturel: Your Path to Better Health

Beacon Vegetable Gardens.jpg

I know we all agree. There are way too many conflicting dietary “dos” and “don’ts” floating around in the universe. It’s no wonder that consumers and health professionals alike feel as if their heads are spinning with the vast amount of information pouring out of every nook and cranny that has a vested interest in health. The volume of data mixed with opinions is frequently overwhelming and confusing.

As a health and wellness coach specializing in nutrition, I spend dozens of hours each week studying the newest research and teachings in my field.  In doing so, I’ve come to embrace a handful of recommendations that have been verified in the scientific literature and validated in my coaching clients’ journeys. Today, I’m sharing five of these recommendations with you, in the hope that you and your families will also come to embrace them, and as a result, experience more robust health, vitality, and better weight management.

Eat whole, unprocessed food

We humans evolved to eat a wide range of foods that we could eat without bad consequences. We did not evolve to eat highly processed foods. When foods are processed, fiber, macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are removed from them, and chemical, non-food additives with unrecognizable, unpronounceable names are included to make the foods taste and look better, and to increase shelf life. And many of these have been proven to be detrimental to our health and metabolism. So whenever possible, stick with foods as close to their original form as feasible. 

Eat more natural fats

Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of a couple of large population studies decades ago, combined with a massive publicity campaign and government intervention, resulted in the adoption of the belief that all fats were bad for us. To be fair, at the time we knew a lot less about fat metabolism and the differentiation between “good” and “bad” fats.  But here’s what we know now.  That good fats, such as those found in extra virgin olive oil; olives; egg yolks from pasture-raised hens; lean meats from animals that are free-range and grass fed; nuts and seeds; cold-water fish such as wild salmon; grass-fed butter; avocadoes, and coconut oil can help curb your appetite, rev up your metabolism, fight inflammation, and provide essential nutrients. But artificial fats, such as margarine and highly processed oils such as corn, safflower, soybean, and canola, which were once thought to be heart healthy, are actually inflammatory and unhealthy due to the agricultural practices and processing associated with them. 

Avoid sugars and highly refined grain

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, more than our ancestors did in the course of a year. But we can only safely metabolize about six teaspoons of sugar a day. As a result, all the excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, starting a cascade of unhealthy events leading to diseases such as obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more. High fructose corn syrup, HFCS, is the most damaging of all the types of processed sugars. You should avoid HFCS at all costs, which won’t be an issue if you’re avoiding processed foods. But for those foods that you choose that are processed, I urge you to avoid any that have HFCS in the ingredient list.

Refined grains are those that have had their fibrous and nutritious parts removed, the most common of which is wheat flour. These refined grains have been stripped of most of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are digested quickly and therefore can spike your blood sugar, an unhealthy turn of events. Eating refined grains can be as bad for your health as consuming sugar, as they are metabolized similarly.

While highly refined carbohydrate foods include the obvious suspects, such as candy, cookies, cakes, puddings, pastries, white bread, white rice, crackers, pasta and soda, added sugars can also be found lurking in ketchups, barbeque sauces, and myriad other products you might not suspect. So read labels carefully on those processed foods that you are still using. 

Increase Your Intake of Protective Substances

Most of us fall way short in our intake of fiber, which helps maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar levels, aids in weight management, and helps reduce the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. So if you’re already avoiding processed foods and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, chances are you’re getting ample fiber. But if not, pay attention to how much fiber you’re consuming and aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day if you’re a woman, and 38 grams a day if you’re a man (or 21 and 30 grams daily, respectively, for those over the age of 50). Liquids such as organic bone broth and apple cider vinegar are also excellent adjuncts to any food plan. There are many other healthful substances too numerous to mention, but these are a few stand-outs in my book.

Try Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an over-arching term for various methods of eating that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting during a defined period. There are several intermittent fasting methods, all of which split the day or week into eating periods and fasting periods. With IF, you alternate between regular periods of fasting and eating. While IF has been shown to be very effective in supporting weight loss efforts, it also assists in lowering cholesterol, reversing insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes, preventing dementia, and decreasing inflammation. It does this by decreasing insulin levels to improve fat burning and insulin sensitivity, allowing your body a break from digestion to rest and repair, and reducing overall caloric intake. It has also been shown to slow down the aging process.

Despite the many myths that abound, IF does not put you in starvation mode, burn muscle, cause low blood sugar, result in overeating, or deprive the body of nutrients. It does have many advantages, however. It’s simple, free, convenient, powerful, and flexible.

There are several variations of intermittent fasting. Common fasting durations are 12-, 16-, and 20- hours. Fasts lasting less than 24 hours are generally done more frequently, some as many as 5-7 days a week. But, they can also be done as infrequently as once a week. Please note that it is inadvisable to embark on fasting without talking with your physician, and even more important to talk with your physician if you are a diabetic, on medications, or have other conditions such as thyroid disease.

Some IF sources: