Susan Guyette, Ph.D.
The first of the year tends to be a time of big promises, especially to ourselves. Whether you are one of the 60% of overweight Americans or simply want to maintain optimal health, a shift to a regenerative eating style can bring immense quality to life. A focus on natural, fresh foods can take weight off, keep it off, bring you maximum energy levels, a minimum of illness and save you money.

Bombarded with confusing information fueled by the “weight loss industry,” the focus on a “buy a new product for instant results” approach costs Americans $121 billion annually in spending on diet products. Industry purposely generates a fear of food, particularly of the “calorie.” A calorie is actually positive, a unit of energy necessary for the body to function, not an enemy. “Empty calories” devoid of a broad range of nutrition needed to build and heal a healthy body are the culprits. Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food) points the way — the body not gaining enough nutrition, keeps searching for more food.

More than calorie counting, shifting to a more natural way of eating isn’t so much “a weight loss diet,” but rather a sensible, more natural lifestyle leading to a normal weight. Becoming aware of eating for nutritive value is not as simple as starving the body with very limited calories. Dieting obsession with calories often leads to inadequate nutrient intake. A different approach focusing on nutrients satisfies the body’s needs for maximum health, reducing cravings for unhealthy foods, while increasing everyday healing of the body. Eating for maximum nutrition leads to gradual, sustained weight loss. Increased awareness of your individual body is the key to making these choices.

Best for your health and also socially responsible as “a diet”– this eating “style” (as I call it) provides plenty of choice, is easily accessible and highly dense in nutrients. Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live; Eat for Health) recently introduced a term for this way of eating. A nutritarian chooses foods on the basis of maximum nutrition, providing maximum body support available per food dollar. In the long run, we are better off eating less, choosing high quality food, maintaining normal weight and avoiding degenerative illnesses.

A SENSIBLE EATING STYLE

Developing an eating style that works for your particular body, and gives you maximum energy is well within your reach. The best news about the positive approach of nutritive choices is being able to eat the satisfying amount of food your body wants and needs. We have many food choices in this country, regardless of income level. By shifting attention to the good things to eat, the end result is only a short list of the ones to avoid. Here are a few easy guidelines.

  1. Emphasize whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you eat meat, keep it to a minimal amount (3 to 4 oz portion) and “natural” – no added antibiotics or hormones.
  2. Avoid sugar, alcohol, and fried foods.
  3. Eat organic foods, avoiding hormone disrupting pesticides, as they lead to imbalances in the body.
  4. Avoid processed foods (including organic processed foods – they also contain fillers and sugars).
  5. Avoid allergy foods – they cause inflammation.
  6. Eat good fats, such as Omega-3s (fish, flax and olive oil) and avoid bad fats (e.g. hydrogenated, transfats in processed foods, saturated fats)
  7. Exercise –even a gentle walk for 30 minutes a day.

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are known as macronutrients. Essentially important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients are called micronutrients. Whole, fresh foods provide both types of nutrients, with fruits and vegetables as the source of most micronutrients. A website valuable for understanding the nutrition in foods is www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp. Whole, fresh foods are the essential choice for maximum nutritive value. These foods look like they do in nature, with no barcode, no packaging.

How to make eating well affordable? Shop at farmers’ markets or from a CSA share (Community Sustained Agriculture) for the best prices. The perimeter of a grocery store and the bulk food bins are where the whole foods are stocked. Perhaps the best news of this eating style is the reduced cost in avoiding processed foods. Organic foods contain on the average 25% more nutritive value than non-organic foods, quickly closing the price gap when value-per-purchase is considered. (See Everyday Green, July 2010, www.greenfiretimes.com)

Processing destroys most of the nutritive value — wasting one’s food dollar. Eating fresh, organic foods is one’s best bet for avoiding the degenerative diseases (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer). How does this high rate of disease happen? Mehemet Oz explains in Staying Young, that the body, poorly nourished, can sometimes clip along fairly well in our early decades, but then tends to fall apart rather suddenly later on in life. In short, nurturing the body provides essential support for everyday healing, a necessary step for avoiding illness.

Modern science is only beginning to “discover” micronutrients, now totaling several thousand. The interactive relationship between nutrients, particularly in relation to healing, is just beginning to be perceived, and not yet really understood. Diversity in plants consumed is important for daily healing, to obtain a broad range of nutrients. Indigenous peoples have understood this importance of diversity and the healing value of plants for thousands of years.

Healing the intestines with a diet of nutrient-rich foods combined with avoiding acid foods (e.g. sugar, coffee, alcohol) reduces candida, which produces excess yeast, disrupting intestinal effectiveness in absorbing the maximum available nutrients. Going beyond the concept of “we are what we eat,” we truly “are what we absorb,” and this highest level of absorption only occurs from a healthy digestive process. Additionally, whole foods with fiber and maximum nutritive value balance blood sugar, reducing the vicious cycle of food cravings that often lead to poor food choices.

Another important factor in maintaining health and an optimal weight is the alkaline/acid balance in the body. A slightly alkaline pH (7.2) is recommended to keep the intestines healthy and balance in the body’s regulatory system. Your pH can easily be measured with a litmus strip kit from a natural food store. Green foods tend to be the most alkaline, and lemons, a truly amazing food, turn alkaline once in the body.

The Green Goddess juice recipe that follows alkalizes the body, improves intestinal health, detoxifies, is filled with calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C, and provides an energy boost. Dark green vegetables are the highest in nutrient density. My idea of a perfect drink!

Green Goddess Vegetable Juice

3 stalks kale or chard

3 stalks celery

1 cup fresh parsley

½ a fresh lemon

Rinse and trim vegetables. Slice lemon. Size of vegetable pieces depends on the opening in your juicer. Push vegetables through electric juicer. An alternative way to make the juice is in a high-power blender, retaining the fiber. Makes 1 cup of juice. Drink on an empty stomach to maximize effectiveness.

Rather than focusing on the total amount to be lost, envision increments of weight – e.g. 10 pounds at a time. The shift to real foods brings the body into balance, eases the process and tends to shed a pound a week. The end result is a sense of accomplishment and appreciation for well-being. While eating habits are often difficult to change, recognizing and appreciating the broad range of available foods enables you to tailor your own eating style.

ETHICS OF EATING

A new paradigm for eating is urgent for:

1)      Recognizing that over-eating in the context of global hunger is not a sustainable path if we are to provide enough food for everyone.

2)      Focusing on whole foods for maximum nutritional intake, absorption by the body and achieving a state of optimum health.

Knowing that maintaining good health is important for the allocation of resources. Each year over $33 billion in medical costs and $9 billion in lost productivity due to preventable degenerative illnesses (heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes) are attributed to poor nutrition in the U.S.

Seen in a sustainable context, short-term destructive choices versus nutritious choices affect long-term quality to life. Our bodies enable us to carry out our contributions to family and community, rather than becoming a burden.

There is a spiritual dimension to eating healthy food, that of appreciating our bodies and giving them the best quality of care. Respecting one’s body, learning about the nutritional content of foods, not wasting one’s food dollars, and enjoying real food contribute to a satisfying life.

The well nourished body needs much less food. In the face of global food shortages, it is important to not destroy the nutrition of foods through processing and to retain the maximum of nutritive gain, leading to less food required per individual. Put another way, the actions of each individual in purchasing better quality food contribute to the overall demand for responsible food production. Examining how we allocate our resources as a nation, rather than continuing the resource-depleting emphasis of producing more and more, will lead to more sustainable choices. An example of this is the government’s subsidizing of questionable quality processed food.

Being present with food starts with the picking or shopping, then a little attention in the kitchen, with a finale at the table. Slow food, or real food, enhances the enjoyment, as well as the nutritive gain. Once you feel the inner glow of good health, increased energy, and better tasting food, there is no going back to the cardboard, bitter taste of pesticided, processed foods. The release from consumerism and wasteful packaging is also a relief.

Have a happy new year exploring and enjoying optimal health!

Susan Guyette, Ph.D. is Métis (Micmac Indian and Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural centers, cultural tourism and native foods. She is the co- author of Zen Birding (www.zenbirding.com) and the author of Planning for Balanced Development.