For 14 years I’ve been working to learn how to help my patients be healthy. To get them well when they’re sick, to keep them from getting sick in the first place, and help them learn to raise healthy kids.
I’ve become convinced that the cornerstone of health, the absolute number-one priority, is a healthy diet. If you want to know how to be healthy, you have to start with food.
Even Hippocrates knew this in the 5th century BC. He is quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine food.”
But with all the profusion of “healthy” diets out there, which diet is the best? Low fat, like the government’s Food Pyramid has promoted for the last 30 years? Low carb? Paleo? Gluten free? Vegetarian? Vegan? What is best?
I’ve been thinking hard about this and while it’s impossible to make specific recommendations that apply to every single person on Earth, it is possible to distill all the recent evidence about how to eat healthy down into one simple principle.
DON’T MESS WITH YOUR FOOD.
Let me explain. The more we DO to our food, the less healthy it is.
When we douse our food crops in pesticides, the produce becomes less good for us.
When we genetically engineer our food, it becomes less good for us (and probably downright dangerous, but that’s a topic for another post).
When we take a food animal and feed it something it didn’t evolve to eat, the animal is less healthy and the meat is less good for us.
When we take a food animal and treat it with hormones and unnecessary antibiotics, the animal is less healthy and its meat is less good for us.
When we take a food animal that evolved to live in fresh air and sunshine with plenty of room to roam and force it to live its entire life in a cage indoors, the animal is less healthy and its meat is less good for us.
When we take fish that evolved to swim free in clean streams, rivers, lakes and oceans and farm them in filthy ponds eating food they didn’t evolve to eat, the fish is less good for us.
When we leave those fish in the streams, rivers, lakes and oceans but we pollute those waters with chemicals and trash, the fish is less good for us.
When we take our food and add preservatives and other artificial chemicals and substances to it, it becomes less good for us.
When we cobble together food substitutes from chemicals that mold won’t even recognize as food, that is NOT good for us.
Food is actually pretty simple. It’s not rocket science.
Eat food, REAL food. Food is stuff you recognize as food. The absolute best food has one ingredient, like an apple, or celery, or spinach, or chicken.
Food is not aspartame, or sucralose, or saccharine. Food is not butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) or p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Food is not partially hydrogenated oil. Food is not glyphosate or any of the other 6 billion pounds of pesticides sprayed on food crops in the USA annually.
If you want to be healthy and help your family be healthy, start with your food.
- Download the Environmental Working Group’s guide to pesticides in produce. Buy the Dirty Dozen Plus organic if at all possible.
- Read labels. If you don’t recognize an ingredient, don’t buy the product until you get a chance to research it to find out what it is.
- DO NOT BUY PRODUCTS WITH PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS. Even if the nutrition panel says the product has “zero trans fat” THIS IS A LIE if the ingredients list partially hydrogenated oils. Companies are allowed to list zero grams trans fats if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving.
- If you eat meat, poultry, eggs and fish please be aware of where these products come from. Buy organic grass-fed pasture-raised beef, free-range poultry and eggs if at all possible. Grass-fed beef is actually much healthier and has more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. (Duh. Cows eat grass, not corn.)
- Fish is complicated and there are websites that discuss which species to buy wild-caught and which to buy farmed.
- Tell your congresspeople and senators that you want to know what’s in your food. Tell them you support laws requiring companies to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. For now, the only way to avoid GMO food ingredients is to buy organic.
- Buy your food locally when you can. Many groceries stock locally-sourced produce. Find a farmer’s market and buy food there. Consider supporting a local farm’s CSA.
Changing your family’s diet is a huge job. You have to start small. Pick one thing and start there. Whether it’s switching the Dirty Dozen to organic, eliminating partially hydrogenated oils, looking for and buying organic grass-fed meats, or just cooking more meals at home, every step towards a real-food diet is a step in a healthy direction.
QUESTION: Which one step do you think would be the easiest to take? Which would be the hardest?