Around 2500 years ago, Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine.”
Modern-day science confirms this philosophy. The first 50 years of the twentieth century saw the discovery of the essential nutrients, particularly in the context of deficiency diseases (such as scurvy or pellagra). More recently, the science of nutrigenomics uncovered the role of food as a vital “health messenger” powerful enough to affect gene expression (turn genes on and off). So now we know undoubtedly that paying careful attention to what we eat is an essential part of promoting health.
It is especially important for individuals managing fibromyalgia (or other chronic illness) to pay special attention to diet. Why? Because good nutrition will give you an edge by helping your body perform at its peak, mitigating symptoms, and promoting a sense of well-being. Eating quality foods can mean the difference between feeling like “you’re barely getting by” and having the energy to not only do what you need to do, but also what you’d like to do.
Giving your body the gift of good nutrition, a good diet, will also help you look better. As most of us already know, diet has a direct effect on body weight. What you may not know is that long-term weight management (as well as health management) requires that we pay attention to not only how much we eat, but also to what we eat. The right foods will help you achieve and/or maintain ideal body weight. Imagine: you can look and feel better simply by choosing the right foods!
If by now you’re thinking ‘I’m sold! How do I start?” you’ll find that keeping it simple is essential. Most us, leading very busy lives, don’t have a lot of extra time. So the key is to simplify and find easy ways to make our food choices work for us (instead of against us!).
Following are 10 simple ways to turbo-charge your nutrition:
1AVOID FAST FOODS
Modern lifestyle (busy lives!) created a need for convenience food. Industry (with little regard for how food affects health) responded with an explosion of fast foods on the market – both processed foods and fast food restaurants. Because processed foods and fast food leave much to be desired in term of their health value, it should be no surprise that incidence of disease (such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer. ) correlates with the growth in popularity of fast food. One of the most important ways you can improve the health value of your diet is to avoid (or limit) processed food and fast food. If you rely on these foods due to a time factor, here’s what to do:
- Prepare your own “fast” food. Cook larger portions and freeze in individual containers for the convenience of a healthy frozen meal. Once or twice a week fill your fridge with natural, easy-to-grab options such as hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, bean salad, cooked lean chicken, homemade soup, and so on.
- Plan ahead-perhaps the most important tip. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it! When there’s nothing healthy available, you are far more likely to make a less than healthy choice.
- Brown bag it! For a healthier lunch, bring it from home. Use the cost savings to splurge on something for yourself.
2AVOID OR LIMIT THE AMOUNT OF SUGAR (and refined foods)
The Standard American Diet (appropriate acronym SAD) is much too high in sugar, and we eat far too many refined foods. Avoiding or limiting these foods will lower the glycemic index of your diet for better blood sugar management. A lower glycemic diet will help to prevent and or manage diabetes as well as help manage your waistline! A simple way to lower glycemic index is avoid “white stuff ” (flour, sugar, rice). Here’s what to do:
- Swap your bread. Avoid anything white, fluffy, or squishy, and choose whole grain, sprouted grain, or sourdough (research shows its acid content helps reduce blood sugar response).
- Read labels. Avoid sugar and remember, if it ends in “ose,” it’s a sugar!
- Replace corn flakes with old-fashioned oats.
- Eat pasta al dente (also watch portion size, and if available choose whole grain pasta).
- Choose brown rice instead of white.
- Power up with legumes! Beans (all types: black, pinto, garbanzo, lentils … ) are a great way to increase fiber, lower glycemic index, and meet protein needs.
- Great on salads or as a main dish. Be creative!
- Avoid packaged foods altogether. As much as possible, eat food in its most natural state (eat an orange, as opposed to drinking orange juice).
- Limit your serving of starch and increase vegetables. A great tip is to halve your portion of rice (or potato, or bread) and add a green salad (and if you add vinegar or lemon juice, the acid will further lower the sugar response).
3CHOOSE YOUR FATS CAREFULLY
The quality of fat in your food has a profound effect on your health. Fortunately this topic has been receiving much media attention. Here’s what to do:
- Avoid trans-fat and hydrogenated oils. These mostly exist in packaged snack foods and fast food. So if you’re following tips 1 and 2, you’ve already eliminated these harmful fats!
- Use olive oil. Great for salads or dipping. When cooking, avoid high heat.
- Avocados. A great tasting, healthy fat!
- Nuts. Eat them raw. They can be a convenient snack. Use portion control!
4INCREASE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
According to the World Health Organization, low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top IO selected risk factors for global mortality. Here’s what to do:
- Add a green salad to your meal.
- Eat a green salad as a meal! Great healthy idea for a light lunch.
- Eat fresh fruit as a snack.
- Fresh berries make a great dessert! Berries are low calorie, low sugar, high fiber and high in nutrients!
5WATCH WHAT YOU DRINK (or don’t drink)
This can be as important as what you eat. Here’s what to do:
- Drink plenty of filtered water (6-10 glasses a day).
- Limit coffee. If you are a coffee drinker, limit yourself to one or two cups of java. And remember, a Frappuccino is not coffee. It’s liquid dessert!
- Limit alcohol
- Avoid sodas-with sugar or diet! Iced tea can be a good option.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Blue, pink, or yellow packets artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose) are a controversial issue. Many use them as an alternative to sugar, yet research shows that they can be highly toxic (which may contribute to neurological and/or immunological disorders). Stevia leaf, nature’s sugar substitute, is 300 times sweeter than sucrose (ordinary table sugar). Depending on your taste buds, it may be a good option.
6WATCH YOUR PORTIONS
If weight management is your goal, you do need to watch your portions. Here are helpful tips:
- Cut your normal portion by one third.
- Eat a sandwich open-face (no top bread).
- Serve meals on smaller dishes! Crazy as it sounds, it works!
- Do not eat while watching TV-or doing any other task which may prevent you form being aware of your portions.
Yes, it is the most important meal! Don’t skip it. If you don’t have time, rather than go for fast food or cereal, choose a high quality meal replacement shake. Meal replacement shakes can offer convenience and good nutrition! (Choose carefully-be sure to read the labels.)
Ideally, three small meals and two snacks. Eating small meals often (grazing) is a great way to maintain good energy as well as being a very effective way to manage your weight.
9REVISE YOUR GROCERY LIST
If it’s in your house, you’ll eat it, and if it’s not, you won’t! It’s that simple. Your preparation begins with your grocery list. To save time, you may opt to buy larger quantities and shop less often.
10USE THE 80-20 RULE
Remember that choosing healthy foods and good nutrition to optimize our health is a lifestyle, not a temporary “diet.” To be able to maintain changes long-term, don’t be tempted by extremes or absolutes. The 80-20 rule is: 80 percent of the time pay careful attention to what you eat so that you can enhance your health.
The remaining 20 percent of the time, eat what you enjoy (in moderation). There should be no “forbidden” foods. Pleasure is part of happiness and happiness is part of health. So, when treating yourself, no guilt! Remember the relaxing feeling of gustative pleasure can also lead to a longer, happier life. Bon appetit!
The foods we choose to eat affect our energy level and our mood as well as our weight. With so much to gain and so little to lose (except a few extra pounds), don’t delay-do something nutritious to power up your health today!
Sylvia Galelli, M.S., is Program Director of Advantage Health & Fitness Inc., a personal health and fitness center located in Diamond Ba,; California.