Should there be one diet for the treatment and prevention of heart disease, another to treat and prevent cancer, diabetes, weight-gain or any other human ailment? Ideally, the diet plan that is good for most people should also prevent most chronic illness.
Individuality does creep into the diet conundrum, because no two people have the same genes or environment. Some people may need more of a particular nutrient while others may require very little. Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA’s) give us general guidelines for the dose of a nutrient to prevent disease. This recommendation is seldom accurate for the optimal consumption of nutrients, from a Functional Medicine perspective. This is particularly true for individuals under stress. These issues contribute additional confusion to the question of: What is the best diet for human consumption?
The popularity of diet-fads have a long history in the United States. They seem to be more prevalent in developed nations than in economically under-developed nations. Some of this behavior stems from the fact that we are so disconnected from the process of growing and producing the food we consume. We tend to rely on food manufacturers to provide us with perfectly balanced meals. Television and the internet have made it easy to create food myths such as: the best source of protein is of animal rather than plant origin, good nutrition cannot cure certain diseases, or that only drugs have the power to facilitate cures or symptom relief.
Food provides a source of calories that the body uses to make fuel. However, it also provides us with minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidants, numerous phyto-chemicals that are needed for detoxification. Additionally, fiber helps with cleansing our gut and feeding the trillions of gut bacteria that keep us healthy.
When the body burns fuel for its energy needs, it creates wastes known as free oxygen radicals. These are substances that can actually cause aging or rusting of the body. Colorful anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals in food help with the clean up and prevention of the rusting process. Many early medical systems taught that the best anti-aging diet is: low in calories and has a high nutrient density.
A lower caloric intake produces a reduced amount of waste – this has a beneficial effect of controlling the aging process. A diet high in nutrient density produces a surplus of anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals – these can be used by the body for other processes such as: detoxification, controlling inflammatory responses, providing immune defenses, and regulating gene replication. Anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals promote optimal states of health and manage the effects of daily stress associated with modern living.
It is worth repeating: to maintain optimal health your diet should be one with a high nutrient to calorie density ratio. Many people call the highest nutrient to calorie density foods: SUPER-FOODS. Below is a list of high, medium, low nutrient-calorie dense foods. (Modified from ‘Ultra-prevention’ by Mark Hyman M.D.)
HIGH NUTRIENT- CALORIE DENSE FOODS
(Eat 8 – 10 servings per day of these foods, consider a serving to be half a cup)
- Vegetables (Buy Organic and Fresh)
- Cruciferous Vegetables – broccoli, brussel-sprouts, bok-choy, cauliflower, kohlrabi and cabbage, rapini (Italian broccoli originated in the Mediterranean region), Chinese broccoli (gai-lan)
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables – escarole, chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, spinach, dandelion, pea-shoots etc.
- Colorful Vegetables –
Red: tomatoes, beets, chili peppers and bell peppers
Green: green-beans, asparagus, green peppers, okra, fresh green peas, fresh artichoke, fennel bulb, zucchini and other summer green squash such as chayote, opo (Asian squash), and ridge-gourd
Yellow/Orange: fresh corn, yellow peppers, yellow/orange summer squash, squash blossoms
White: mushrooms, sprouts, burdock-root, chestnuts, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, daikon and other radishes, celery root
Lettuce and Mixed Greens: arugula, romaine, red and green leaf, radicchio, water-cress, micro –greens
Sea- Vegetables: arame, hijiki, nori, wakame, dulse, kombu
Allium vegetables: garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, scallions
- Fruit: (Buy Organic and Fresh)
Focus on organic, low- glycemic fruits such as berries, apples, pears, kiwi, mangoes, citrus, peaches, apricots, nectarine and plums.
- Plant Proteins:
- Lentils: orange, yellow, green and black
- Peas: yellow and green split or whole peas
- Beans: kidney, navy, pinto, lima, black, garbanzo, black-eyed peas, fava
- Soy foods should be non-genetically modified (non-GMO) and organic and can include tofu, tempeh, soy-milk and yogurt, soy nuts and edamame.
MEDIUM NUTRIENT – CALORIE DENSE FOODS
(Eat 4-5 servings of these per day)
- Animal protein:: (serving size 3 0z or 2 eggs or ½ cup yogurt)
- Free Range- organic eggs
- Low Fat organic yogurt
- Wild Game- elk, moose, deer, rabbit
- Wild Fish- salmon, cod, halibut, sole, snapper, chad, bass, sardines and herring, trout
- Lean Poultry- free range chicken, turkey and Cornish hens
- Lean Cuts- of red meat such as lamb and beef raised on open pasture and grass fed as opposed to grain and cattle-meal fed.
- Healthful Oils:: (serving size is 1 tablespoon) flax-seed, borage, olive, sesame, walnut and almond
- Nuts and Seeds:: (serving size is approximately 10 almonds or ¼ cup sunflower seeds or one tablespoon of any nut butter) almonds, hazel nuts, walnuts, pecans, brazil-nuts, cashew, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and other squash seeds, sesame seeds, flax and chia seeds, hemp seeds and organic nut butters.
- Whole Grains:: Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, teff, millet, buck-wheat, barley, oats, kamut, amaranth, rye and spelt, whole grain-breads and pasta
- Fruits and Vegetables:: Starchy vegetables, root vegetables such as sweet potato, cassava, potato, winter squashes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, avocado, olives, pineapples, bananas, grapes and melons
LOW NUTRIENT-CALORIE DENSE FOODS
(Eat less than 1-2 servings per day)
- Carbohydrates:: White flour and its products, white rice, white potatoes, cereals, alcohol, popcorn, rice cakes , white sugar and all other forms of sugar such as: honey, molasses, sucanat (brand name for a whole cane sugar), maple syrup, barley malt, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, etc.
- Fats and oils:: Refined vegetable oils e.g. corn, sunflower, canola, soy, margarine, butter, cocoa butter, tropical oils, saturated fats from animal sources e.g. lard
- ‘Junk’ Foods:: Sodas, fast foods, fried foods, desserts, chips and other snack foods such as Bugels, corn snacks etc., as most of these have hydrogenated fats.
NEGATIVE NUTRIENT-CALORIE DENSE FOODS
(Avoid these at all times)
These are non foods that are propagated by the food industry; they are processed to extend shelf life and are disruptive to cellular health. Consumption of these foods leads to problems such as stiff cell membranes that cannot imbibe their nutrients, or poisons that can affect the mitochondria (factories that make your fuel and help with the clean up of wastes).
Avoid the following food additives:
- Trans-fats and partially hydrogenated oils create stiff cell membranes – this propagates resistance to insulin and other hormones.
- High fructose corn syrup which promotes a fatty liver and high triglycerides.
- Food-coloring agents, preservatives such as BHT which are carcinogens.
- MSG which can affect neurotransmitter balance, and can cause abdominal pain, mood disorders, headaches, etc.
SPICE IT UP!
Herbs and Spices have not been listed under the above food categories. Organically grown herbs such as parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, mint, basil, sage, rosemary, lavender, tarragon, ginger, tumeric, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, allspice, mace, hot peppers, black and white pepper, have numerous health properties (benefits) that make them beneficial to use with every meal. Many herbs are easy to grow in small container pots on a veranda or back porch.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER…
It may seem daunting to try foods you have never attempted or to eat them at times you would not normally consume them. Once you try this new routine for a week, you will see that it is doable. It is simply a matter of developing a habit and thereby a lifestyle. You can experiment with a pace of change that works for you. The important thing is to begin the process. You will eventually discover this new way of life to be a joy rather than a chore.
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING SAMPLE MENU FOR A WEEK
Enjoy with a cup or 2 of herbal or green/black teas.
- Oatmeal with a half a cup of berries and a tablespoon of nuts and a few raisins or a date to sweeten
- Raw Granola ½ cup with any nut milk and berries
- Fruit or Vegetable smoothie with a handful of nuts on the side
- 2 Eggs poached or lightly fried with 4 asparagus or handful of broccoli florets and half a tomato grilled on the same pan that fries the eggs.
- ½ cup Whole grain Teff cooked with water like oatmeal and topped with nuts and berries or fruit of choice.
- Congee made with left over brown rice. Top with savory or sweet items.
- Quinoa porridge made with left over quinoa. Sprinkle with nuts and fruit.
Have a piece of fruit with or without nut butter, few nuts, vegetable crudités with hummus or a white bean or lentil dip. Have more Tea or water.
Lunch or Dinner
- Large salad with mixed lettuce, and any 4 more colorful vegetables. Add a serving of plant or vegetable protein and seeds or 3 oz of animal protein. Enjoy with light vinaigrette
- Bowl (2 cups) of mixed vegetable soup such as minestrone, vegan-chili, bean and green soup
- Brown rice served with either steamed and seasoned vegetables or a vegetable curry/ stew. May add animal or more plant protein
- Whole grain pasta with a tomato based sauce, serve with a helping of vegetables or a light salad
- Whole wheat or Ezekiel wrap with a Kale salad, topped with crunchy seeds
- Quinoa with pan grilled vegetables serving with a light mango salsa
- A sandwich with marinated or grilled portabella, tomato, lettuce and pesto. Or deli meats and extra veggies on the side. Try 1 or 2 raw tacos. The wrap can be a cabbage leaf or lettuce and the insides is a blended mixture or walnuts, carrots and Mexican spices, topped with salsa and avocado slices. For your sandwich chips, try thinly sliced apples
Rules of Eating
- Sit down to eat
- Take a few deep breaths and have the intent that the food that you are about to eat is to nourish you. Enjoy the visual and olfactory aspects of the food.
- Chew and savor. Take the time to chew and thoroughly enjoy the food. Almost all carbohydrate digestion happens in the mouth. The food has to wait at least 4 hours for your pancreas to digest it further. If this important step is missed, the result can be increased cravings for carbs, etc.
- Avoid water and other drinks during the meal, other than a few sips to wash food down if you have a dry mouth. You may drink half hour after the meal. This step prevents acid dilution in the stomach, and is an important consideration for: the proper digestion of protein, elimination of foreign invaders and absorption of minerals.
- It is best to avoid multi-tasking and loud music or noise while eating. Companionship is wonderful whenever possible.
What about diets for people who cannot tolerate many foods?
- Elimination or Specific Food Allergy Diet: It is very helpful to incorporate the ideas stated above. Patients who have food intolerances usually suffer from headaches, sinusitis, fatigue, joint and body pains, abdominal pains and groans etc.
- Gluten Free Diet- is imperative for anybody who tests positive for gluten. This is a protein in certain grains such as wheat, barley and rye. The most severe form of gluten intolerance is called celiac disease, which is associated with a marked decrease in the size of the digestive surface area. This then leads to malnutrition and mal-absorption. Most patients have gluten intolerance with symptoms such as daily headaches, IBS, neuropathy, anxiety, depression and spectrum disorders such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, learning disabilities etc.
- Candida Diet- Candida is a form of yeast. Candidiasis is the term used for symptoms associated with recurrent vaginal, bowel, oral or skin yeast infections. It is often associated with fatigue, brain fog and body pain similar to fibromyalgia. If this is proven, treatment includes restricting all grains, sugars, starchy vegetables and high glycemic fruits. Chewing VERY WELL is extremely helpful for patients with this disorder, as they are intolerant of carbohydrates and crave them!!
- Cancer Diet- follow the ideas in the main diet outlined above with a major modification: eliminate ALL animal sources of protein and make the transition fast. Dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, red meat and game are all excluded. Sugar feeds most cancers and therefore is strictly excluded.
- Coronary Artery Disease Diet: follow the ideas in the main diet outlined above with the following modifications: avoid all animal protein and eliminate cooking oils and nuts. Some flax and chia seeds are allowed. It rapidly reverses unstable coronary artery disease.
- Spectrum Disorder Diet: This is commonly used for kids with ADD, ADHD, autism and various learning impediment conditions. It avoids all gluten, dairy and sugar and often corn.