By Molly Graham, BFA, B.Ed., FHCH, DMH
Confused about what makes up a healthy diet? Not surprising – there are lots of conflicting messages out there about what to eat in order to stay well and feel fit. That’s because we are not all made the same. What is good for one person is another’s poison – the very same diet that can cause chronic illness in some people can actually prevent and reverse the identical health disorders in others.
In our grandparents’ day it was much simpler – people ate what grew locally. Today, however, we are literally spoiled from choice, with supermarkets crammed full of foods from all over the world. Nothing is out of season when everything is easily available year-round.
With such ample access to food we now need to make rational choices about what to eat for our own health, instead of giving in to our cravings. In my next column, I plan to examine some scientific guidelines to help us make these rational choices about the ideal diet for each of us as individuals. But first, there are some foods that everyone should avoid:
Sugar and sweeteners – Since the low-fat diet craze began, the amount of sugar in processed foods has vastly increased. Now it’s commonplace and added to almost everything that comes in a package – often in the guise of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Too much sweet stuff, however, sets up a vicious cycle of high/low blood sugar levels, which increases the craving for more. Artificial sweeteners and refined carbohydrates such as white bread do the same thing. The poor old pancreas can’t keep up with the volume – no wonder there is so much diabetes today. Eating too much sugar is also one of the best ways to drive up cholesterol levels.
Be sure to check ingredient labels for sugar content. Even most fruit juices, which are naturally sweet, have added sugar! Many mothers give their children only juice to drink, creating in these kids a real taste for sweet foods. What happened to drinking good old water? Eat the fruit whole and quench your thirst with water instead.
If you need something sweet, honey is a better option than refined sugar. Honey is a complex sugar and enters the bloodstream more gradually, which helps keep insulin levels on a more even keel. Unfiltered honey also has other nutritional benefits. Yet no matter what form of sugar we have in our diets, most of us need to cut back our consumption of it drastically. Sugar feeds yeast and fungus in the digestive tract, which is a common health problem today and a sign of severe pH imbalance. Artificial sweeteners are no substitute. Aspartame is 10 per cent methanol (wood alcohol) by weight. This is a cumulative poison due to its slow excretion rate in humans. These chemical sweeteners have detrimental effects on the nervous and endocrine systems as well.
Trans fats – We need fats in our diet to be healthy, but only good fats such as cold-pressed vegetable oils, fish oils and even butter! Hydrogenated fats or fats heated in processing are toxic. This includes most vegetable oils (unless they say cold-pressed), the oils in most commercial salad dressings, most margarines and, of course, fried foods. If you’re trying to cut back on cholesterol intake, try blending ½ virgin olive oil with ½ butter rather than choosing margarine.
Pork – Pigs are very similar to humans physiologically. They harbour the same parasites, bacteria and viruses to which people are susceptible. Eating pork is not a good idea because pigs are scavenger animals and frequently contain parasites and viruses that are not killed with cooking.
Soy – Soybeans contain protease inhibitors that hinder the digestion of proteins. Soy must be cultured (tempeh, miso, tofu) or fermented (soy sauces) in order to be digestible. Remember, what you don’t digest is toxic.
Wheat – You may be surprised to find this staple on the list of foods to avoid. But over the years wheat has been cross-bred to produce more and more gluten to make fluffier bread. The problem is that gluten, a protein, is difficult for most people to digest. Many people with arthritis get relief from their symptoms just by avoiding wheat. Alternatives to wheat are now becoming readily available. Sourdough and bread made from sprouted grains, such as the Ezekiel and Mana brands, are the best options. Sprouting makes the enzymes available for digesting gluten, as does sourdough. Many grocery stores carry pastas, breads, crackers and cereals made from grains other than wheat. So you can choose from a variety of tasty and healthier grains such as rye, spelt, oats, kamut and quinoa.
Foods with preservatives and artificial colours – Sweden years ago banned artificial colours from food, and with good reason. For one thing, they’re unnecessary. For another, they are neurological irritants and contribute to hyperactivity and other behavioural problems in children (and maybe some adults, too). If you are a parent or teacher, you must have noticed how out of control children are after Halloween, when they consume more candy than usual – typically chock full of food dyes. Artificial preservatives and flavour enhancers can have the same effects. Many people are allergic to sulfites and MSG. Such preservatives also allow suppliers to sell us foods that are not fresh and do not have good nutritional value.
Microwaved foods – Despite the assurances by Canadian and U.S. government health departments that microwave ovens are safe, many scientific studies show that using them can have harmful effects. After thorough research by Russian scientists on the biological and environmental effects of microwave ovens, Russia banned their use. They found the creation of carcinogens and a decrease in nutritional value in microwaved foods. Their findings have been confirmed in many other studies. A Stanford University Medical School study showed that microwaving breast milk resulted in a loss of immunological properties and an increase in bacterial growth. A study reported in a Polish medical journal found changes in participants’ blood immediately after ingesting microwaved foods: hemoglobin levels (a protein which transports oxygen in our blood) and lymphocyte levels (cells which are necessary for our immune system to function) were down; white blood cell counts and cholesterol levels were up.
Microwave ovens heat food by friction. Research has shown that this friction can destroy the fragile structure of vitamins and enzymes, and can actually produce toxic changes in amino acids. Government health departments have been wrong before. I prefer to play it safe and forgo the convenience of microwave cooking in favour of slower, healthier options.
Now, how do we determine what is good for us to eat? A good place to start is looking at body typology to help us answer this dilemma. In the meantime, try eliminating as many of the foods listed above from your diet as possible. You’ll be surprised at how great you feel – even after just a few days.