Eating for your best health

Black family eating healthy food togetherWhat’s the single most important lifestyle change you can make to benefit your health? It’s your diet. Your diet is probably the most crucial part of your overall health and wellness. By “diet,” we don’t mean a short-term reduction in the amount of food or kind of food you eat to lose weight or achieve a particular body goal, but your habitual eating patterns every day, over your whole life.

What to eat

At Proactive Wellness Centers, we always advise choosing fresh, “whole” foods as much as possible — foods that have as little processing as possible. While that generally means foods in their most natural state, it’s also important to beware of additives in many foods in grocery stores that you would not expect, such as added sugars and salt. You also need to be aware that most vegetables and fruits can contain traces of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that our bodies did not evolve to handle.

We often recommend the Mediterranean diet or the paleo diet as those that are the healthiest diets for most people.

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating habits of people from countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy and Spain. It emphasizes fresh, seasonal and local foods: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and cereals and olive oil, as well as moderate amounts of fish and poultry, smaller portions of dairy such as yogurt and cheese, red and processed meats, and sweets. One aspect that many enjoy is regular consumption of moderate amounts of wine with meals. Another surprising aspect is the focus on social eating — eating meals with others, particularly family, resting after eating and exercising regularly.

The paleo diet is based on the theoretical food intake of prehistoric people of the Paleolithic Era, from about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. It includes lean meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that could have been obtained through hunting and gathering.

As a result, the paleo diet restricts or limits foods that only became available after humans started farming about 10,000 years ago, such as dairy products, grains and legumes.

Food sensitivities

We’re all a little different, which means that some of us are sensitive or intolerant to certain foods. A good example is those who are allergic to peanuts, which can cause a response as serious as an anaphylactic reaction, which is swelling that can close the airways.

Other people are lactose intolerant, meaning their digestive systems cannot fully digest lactase, the sugar found in milk. As a result, they can experience discomfort and pain after eating any dairy product, including cheese.

Many people go through their lives without understanding their food sensitivities and intolerances. They may have symptoms that look like chronic diseases or health conditions. Others experience unhealthy weight gain, or find it impossible to lose weight. However, once they eliminate these foods, their symptoms clear up, they establish a healthy weight and enjoy profound improvements in their overall health and wellness.

Another important step is to identify the foods that the individual can handle through food sensitivity testing. Once we identify the foods that you’re sensitive to, those you’re intolerant of, and those that benefit you most, we can together develop an individualized eating plan.

Intermittent fasting

One trend that is showing very promising results in controlling weight is intermittent fasting. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Intermittent fasting is not about what you eat, it’s about when you eat. It means fasting for 16 hours a day, and eating only during a set, 8-hour period in the day — for instance, between noon and 8:00 p.m.

It has a number of benefits, and while many in the medical community were skeptical five or six years ago, the opinion is changing. A recent study published by the Harvard Medical School found that it can be more effective than other diet plans for weight loss and prevention of diabetes.

Intermittent fasting works at the chemical and cellular level. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut into protein, fat and carbohydrates, which are sugars and starches, in our bloodstream.

Our cells use sugar for energy, with any leftovers stored in cells as fat. To convert sugar into either energy or fat, we need insulin. It’s insulin that brings sugar into fat cells and stores it there.

Our bodies produce insulin when we eat, so as long as we’re not eating, the insulin level in our bloodstream goes down and fat cells release stored sugar to be used as energy. When insulin levels go down, we lose weight. Intermittent fasting allows insulin levels to go down long enough for us to burn off fat.

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. Those who experience strong food cravings, disruption of sleep patterns or who are under extreme stress from other factors in life are not good candidates for intermittent fasting.

Get your best eating plan

Take charge of your best health today. Talk to Proactive Wellness Centers to help work out the personalized eating plan for your optimal health.