March is Nutrition Awareness Month. Nutrition can be a daunting topic, made more so by a multi-billion dollar diet industry. But there are a few themes I think are worth sharing, some that may even challenge conventional wisdom.
First, don’t think you can exercise off the bad effects of a bad diet. It takes longer than you think to burn off a calorie, certainly a lot more time than it takes to ingest it. So don’t fall prey to the “I’ll burn this off later in the gym” myth. If your trainer or coach doesn’t talk to you about your diet, get another trainer. If your doctor doesn’t talk about your diet, get another doctor.
Second, Eat Real Food. No matter the source, organic or not, GMO or non GMO, grass fed or corn fed, it won’t have as much added sugar and salt as processed foods. Period.
A rainbow of colorful vegetables provides the basis for a healthy diet full of micronutrients. You can generally eat all the vegetables you like because the fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the vegetables, making them less glycemic. Therefore you avoid the sugar surge and the insulin peaks that follow. And you don’t get as hungry.
A couple of documentary films worth watching are “Fed Up” and “That Sugar Film.” Our relationship today with Big Food is like Big Tobacco was 50 years ago. “Our products don’t cause disease” was misleading back then from the tobacco industry and it is misleading now from the food industry. Processed food manufacturers seek the “bliss point” where the sweetness evokes the most positive human response to crave more of their product. Real food, once you get used to eating it, will be plenty sweet once your taste buds readjust.
Sugar is addicting. Sugar satisfies, induces hormonal and neurologic responses that create the craving for more sugar. Those same hormone responses store sugar for future use in the form of fat. This was a good thing for our ancestors and those who live today in a scarce food environment. But when there is a fast food store on every other corner and sugary drinks everywhere, it is too much. Arteries are damaged in the prediabetic stage. Once we meet the criteria to be called “diabetic”, we are already very sick. Stop giving in to those sugar cravings. If you don’t feed them, they will get smaller.
Some fats are good for you. Olive oil, nuts and seeds from trees, and avocados are satisfying, delay return of hunger and promote health. Don’t confuse these with trans fats (used to preserve the shelf life of processed foods) and saturated (animal) fats which should be limited. Omega 3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil suppress inflammation and improve lipids, reducing heart attack and stroke risk.
Finally, drink more water. Dehydration makes us hungry. Urine should be “copious and clear”, and that is your goal, rather than having a set number of glasses. If you are working and sweating in a hot dry environment, you need more water than on a cold day with little activity. Keep it clear and flowing.
Notice I did not mention the word “diet.” Improve the “way you eat” and you will never be on a “diet” to get healthy because you will be healthier, naturally.
Craig Backs MD
The Center for Prevention Heart Attack and Stroke