You are what you eat
So, we’re nearing the end of February and you’re struggling to maintain those resolutions you made back in January. You told yourself you’d eat better, get more sleep, exercise more, etc. Those are all noble goals, but they can be hard to stick with. Part of the problem is the sheer amount of information and misinformation out there about what’s healthy and what isn’t. When it comes to food, we are absolutely bombarded with choices – and many of them claim to be healthy. How do we know who and what to believe?
Eating well doesn’t need to be so complicated. The truth is, there is no quick fix, or silver bullet, which will make you thin, healthy, and/or happy. But, we all have the power to change habits, and make positive change in our lives – we just need a few guiding principles to help us make smart choices.
There are a couple of quotes I repeat to patients (and friends, family, and anyone who will listen, really) because they simplify what would otherwise be a minefield of dietary decisions. The first is from Michael Pollan, taken from his book In Defense of Food. In it he writes, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
To make sure everyone is one the same page, when he says, “eat food” he is referring to food that hasn’t been processed, or at least has been minimally processed. A good indicator is, if it contains more than five ingredients (or if sugar is one the first ingredients), it contains ingredients you can’t begin to pronounce, or if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize anything on the label, there’s a good chance the item in your hand isn’t real food. The second part is pretty self-explanatory; eat in moderation. If it looks like a lot of food, it probably is a lot of food. Research shows that if you use a smaller plate, your portion size will decrease as well. We have a bizarre tendency to fill whatever vessel we are going to eat from, so put away the platter and you use a small plate or bowl. Again, the third part speaks for itself. Make sure the bulk of your diet is made up of plants, preferably things that are leafy and green. A plant-based diet will increase your intake of nutrients, while decreasing your caloric intake.
Neither Pollan, nor myself is telling you to give up eating meat, but you’re probably eating more than you need. Treat meat as a condiment, or a luxury, not the foundation of your meal. Studies have shown people who consume a lot of meat have an increased risk of developing certain cancers. There are a number of reasons why this may be: meat does not contain fiber and other nutrients that have a protective effect, as well as the fact meat contains saturated fat, and sometimes, carcinogenic compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCA), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are formed when we process or cook meat. The elevated fat content and other animal products can increase hormone production, and therefore, increase the risk of hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancer. It’s okay to enjoy a steak once in a while, but as with most things, enjoy it in moderation.
The second quote I preach often is, “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.” This one comes from nutrition expert, Heather Morgan. Before you eat anything, think about whether or not the item you are about to eat will benefit your body. Maybe it’s high in fiber, or vitamins. Maybe it contains a variety of minerals that are of value to us. Perhaps it’s packed with polyphenols, which can help stave off cancer and cardiovascular disease. If you can’t come up with a good answer, chances are it’s not an item you want to be consuming. It just so happens that if you live by the Pollan quote, most of your food will pass this little test.
It's okay to indulge once in a while. If you're in Uxbridge, grab a donut from Bredin's Bakery and enjoy it (you will, I promise). As long as it's a treat, and not a staple in your diet you have nothing to worry about. Don’t fret too much about counting calories, and sifting through food marketing. Instead, eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That's it, that's the secret.
Thanks for reading,
Partner and Chiropractor at
Oak Ridges Health Group
58 Brock Street W, Suite 201
Uxbridge ON, L9P 1P3
El Gharras, H. (2009). Polyphenols: food sources, properties and applications - a review. International Journal Of Food Science & Technology, 44(12), 2512-2518. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.2009.02077.x
Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk. (2017). The Physicians Committee. Retrieved 22 February 2017, from http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/meat-consumption-and-cancer-risk
Pollan, M. (2008). In defence of food (1st ed.). Camberwell, Australia: Allen Lane.