Healthy Eating Habits
I read a lot about the topics of health and especially diets. I have been experimenting with diets since 1990 and keep journals about my observations. Over time I tried several very different diets - ranging from the politically correct ones to highly controversial, along with diets of my own design. My general observation is that a healthy diet plays an essential role in the overall scheme of well being.
Why eat healthy?
Eating the natural foods humans are well adapted at utilizing, enhances ones ability to cope with the reality of every day life. This in essence improves the probability of living a longer, healthier life. Quality food consumption becomes especially important in the present world of high stress and pollution - making a healthy diet an essential aspect of modern self health care. (Although food is not the only aspect contributing to health or disease, it is significant enough to consider it's effects seriously.)
I think anybody who seriously tried living healthier through a better diet, proper physical activity, adequate rest, and by addressing mental and spiritual factors have experienced a vast range of natural health benefits. Common benefits are overall better health and a sense of well being, better sleep, improved physical endurance and strength, sharper mental abilities and lower sleep requirements. Further more, no or little time and money and energy is spend on doctors, hospitals and health insurance bills.
What is a healthy diet?
Since this article deals with healthy eating, a question remains to be answered: what constitutes a healthy diet? Unfortunately, there are more opinions about this than there are health experts. To further complicate the matter, dietary concepts change over time, leaving most people confused and uncertain about what or whom to trust. One solution to this problem is to become sufficiently knowledgeable about the relevant subjects and rely on common sense to draw basic conclusions. Along with personal experimentation, such an approach will enable one to establish healthy eating habits. This takes time and energy, but considering the long lasting benefits a healthy diet can provide, the effort is more then well worth it.
In order to determine the minimal basic requirements of a healthy diet, I concluded that it is safe to start with the following two objectives:
Looking at the type of diets humans lived on through out pre-history, provides good insights into the kind of foods human body should be well adapted at utilizing and dealing with. Further, the diets of certain ethnical groups that are well known for good health - the people of Okinawa(Japan), traditional cultures in the Mediterranean region and many hunter-gatherer societies - suggest certain health promoting dietary habits. Upon closer examination, two main denominators emerged:
In the context of present time, one can therefore make two general assumptions in regard to the question of what constitutes a healthy diet: 1) generally, the less a food is processed the better. 2) eat less - eat what is adequate, do not over eat.
Generally, the less a food is processed the better
The reason for this is simple. For 99.9% of human existence, our species lived on foods that were either raw or minimally processed. The technology needed to increase food processing did not exist until very recently. It is therefore reasonable to assume that our bodies are best adapted at utilizing and dealing with the raw or minimally processed foods which sustained us for hundreds of thousands of years: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts and seeds.
Often, the more recent the food is, the more likely it is to be less beneficial or even directly harmful - possibly due to lack of full adaptation to such foods. For example, it is estimated that food cooking started about 500 000 - 250 000 years ago (depending on the source, the range may vary). During this time frame, it is likely that human species have at least adapted in some way to cooked animal and vegetable foods. On the other hand, the beginnings of grain consumption are much more recent. Evidence of earliest known, systematical collecting of grains for food goes back to about 23 000 years ago - giving less time for adaptation to grain based foods.
Now, let's fast forward to recent times and consider all the new, human invented, highly processed foods so common today: fast foods, pizza, sweets, chips, convenience foods, canned foods, etc. along with the dramatic rise in heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers, diabetes, kidney problems (and all the complications that arose from these conditions) during the past 100 years or so.
Considering the declining health of most western nations as opposed to good health of the ethnical groups described above, it seems reasonable that the most recent food inventions are directly harmful to human health. Further, it has been repeatedly observed that as ethnical groups around the world adopt the modern western diet, their health dramatically declines and they develop the same diseases that are so common to westerners. Not to mention the fact that the above mentioned diseases were far less common among westerners themselves barely 100 years ago.
The more a food is processed - through excessive cooking, pasteurization, homogenization, high heat, mechanical processing, etc, - the less natural and nutritious it becomes to a point of becoming a harmful burden to the body, rather then a useful and health promoting food. Some industrial processing practices deprive food of their nutrients to such a high degree that the food has to be "enriched" by artificially adding some nutrients back into the food. This is especially true of flours where vitamins are added back in after the processing is done.
A good diet is based on natural, whole or minimally processed foods. A large portion of it should consist of foods that can be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables. Fermented or cultured, unpasteurized foods such as kefir, yogurt, cheeses, miso, sauerkraut and pickles are considered highly beneficial. Cooking should be minimal and only applied to foods that must be cooked in order to be edible. Ancestral heritage also plays an important role as certain foods may need to be excluded or emphasized.
Eat less - eat what is adequate, do not over eat
During the past several decades, food in the western and westernized nations became increasingly affordable and more readily available then ever before in human history. This very fact combined with the enjoyment food consumption brings, results in all too frequent over eating. Which again leads to the above mentioned health problems.
In the past, as in the traditional way of living among the ethnical groups mentioned earlier, food consumption has always been significantly lower. Food quality, on the other hand, has always been higher. Resulting in a lower food intake, but of nutrient dense foods.
Finally, as an interesting note, it has been repeatedly confirmed through laboratory experiments on animals, including monkeys, that cutting down calories considerably lowers their susceptibility to diseases and prolongs their life up to 50%. It is believed by many, that life long caloric restriction can have similar effects on humans.
Health promoting eating habits
Over time, through reading and experimenting, I gradually arrived at several basic health promoting habits that in my experience are the most important:
Good sources of protein:
Good sources of carbohydrates:
Good sources of fats:
I always try to find organic foods to avoid harmful substances like hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. The most contaminated fruits are: raisins, cherries, peaches, strawberries, mexican (winter) cantaloupe, apples, apricots, Chilean (winter) grapes. And the most contaminated vegetables are: spinach, celery, green beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, cultivated button mushrooms, potatoes and wheat. Lean poultry is probably the safest meat to eat if not organic.
What follows are weekly meals that closely resemble my diet at the time of this writing. When planning meals, the key idea is to have variety in diet and to rely on food combinations that agree with ones digestion.
TBS = table spoon
I plan meals loosely, 1-2 days ahead. The meal preparation is very simple: meat and eggs are boiled in water, vegetables that need cooking are steamed. Since certain food vitamins become more bioavailable once exposed to low heat cooking, it is a good idea to alternate between cooked and raw vegetables. For example, Bio-carotene found in carrots becomes more absorbable after light steaming. I adjust the quantity of food according to how physically active I am during the day.
In addition to the above foods I also take vitamin and mineral supplements and drink bottled water. I use spices and salt. Kefir and sour milk are made at home from organic full-fat, unhomogenised pasteurized milk. Sprouts are home grown as well for maximum freshness. Both are very easy to make and require only few minutes of daily attention.
Although a healthy diet can enormously improve ones health, it is only one essential part of healthy living. The other parts are proper and adeqaute physical activity, mental and spiritual well being, and adequate rest. All need to be addressed in order to achieve better health.
An important thing I learned while experimenting with diets and other health related approaches is to always pay attention to the signals from the body. It is essential to do this - in order to maintain good health - and adjust accordingly. As one gets better at reading the body, it becomes natural to self diagnose a lot of minor problems (which can become major if not paid attention to) and remedy them by simply adjusting the diet or other aspects of life. Finally, we are all different - what works for one person may not work for another - thus it's important to experiment with ones diet to find out what works and what doesn't.
Disclaimer: This article represents personal views and should be treated as such. Implementation of any ideas contained herein can only be done at own risk.
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Copyright © 2005 Dawid Michalczyk. All Rights Reserved. This content may be copied in full, with copyright, contact, creation, information and links intact, without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profit format. Author's email: email@example.com
Dawid Michalczyk is a freelance illustrator and an artist. He enjoys learning about health, anthropology and computers. He loves to ride a bicycle and does it almost every day. To see examples of his work and other writings visit his website at http://www.art.eonworks.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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