How do you fill in the blank? The mantra I hear everywhere is Food is Fuel! Is it just calories and energy? Do you think of it as cultural, personal, shameful, boring, always on your mind, only social, too much work or just necessary for survival? Everyone has a different relationship with food? And understanding that relationship is necessary if you are not where you want to be and changes are needed for making that relationship a healthy one.
If food is just fuel, it doesn’t matter the quality of food we eat as long as it has the macronutrients: fat, carbs and protein. But I believe food is information or the lack thereof. If you eat whole foods, your food is full of information. However, if you eat processed foods, there is minimal information available. The information whole foods contain is in the form of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) and phytonutrients (flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes/lignans) that do so much more than just fuel the body. The more processed the food is however, the fewer of these micronutrients are present. It’s these micronutrients that are so important and enable the body to repair, regenerate, and protect itself. Our bodies were created to protect and heal themselves. The caveat is that certain foods provide specific nutrients that are needed for the body to be able to prevent or reverse disease and protect itself.
I’m reading the book “Eat to Beat Disease”. In it, Dr. Li explains that he has tested food in the same ways drugs are tested for specific actions in the body. Compounds in certain foods have been tested and found to help specifically with the body’s five defense systems which include: immunity, angiogenesis, the microbiome, regeneration, and DNA protection. Would knowing those foods help you make better decisions about what you choose to eat everyday? I think so. So here’s a couple that Dr. Li has studied and found affective:
- Immunity: Black tea, Broccoli, Cherries, Arugula, Berries
- Angiogenesis: Cranberries, Pumpkin seeds, Chia seeds, Bok Choy, Arugula
- Microbiome: Black beans, Cabbage, Mushrooms, Kiwi, Mangos
- Regeneration: Apricots, Blueberries, Green tea, Carrots, Kale
- DNA Protection: Basil, Brazil nuts, Grapefruit, Peaches, Dark chocolate
Many of the foods are beneficial for multiple defenses. In the book, Dr. Li acknowledges that MDs are sorely lacking in nutritional knowledge because they never received courses in nutrition in medical school. If they did it consisted of no more than 19 hours. (Read this book and then pass it on to your family physician.) Many doctors are asked, “What can I eat to help with my condition?” and most don’t know. Many doctors are struggling with their own health because of poor food choices and therefore tell their patients to “eat whatever you want”. That’s what my mother-in-law’s oncologist told her. For that reason, I have shared what I’ve learned and continue to learn about food and its impact on health.
My whole purpose of learning about plant-based eating started as a means of prevention for me and my family after losing three family members to cancer within a two year period. Because everyone I know has a story about cancer, whether it’s family or a friend who has had that fight, I knew I needed to share what I found out about the way the body responds to food. We have so much more power to affect our quality of life than what many people believe. Real food provides our body with the information it needs to defend itself and stay healthy or move in the direction of greater health. We were created with a body that is able to heal itself when given optimal nutrition. So then what is optimal nutrition?
If living a long and healthy life is the goal, then looking at the lifestyle and foods of people who are living long and healthy, upwards of 100 years of age, would be a good place to start. There are five groups of people who have a greater than normal number of centenarians who are healthy and having fun in their old age. These groups are called the Blue Zones and they have been compared to each other and studied to find out what it is they are doing that make such a difference from the norm. The norm being a life expectancy of 79, with multiple medications and health deficiencies including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The Blue Zones have much reduced incidence of the preventable ‘lifestyle diseases”.
Dan Buettner discovered five places in the world – dubbed blue zones – where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. He found 9 factors as the lifestyle habits leading to long, healthy life: moderate, regular physical activity; life purpose; stress reduction; moderate calorie intake; a plant-based diet; moderate alcohol intake, especially wine; engagement in spirituality or religion; engagement in family life; and engagement in social life. To evaluate how you are doing in comparison, check out this test: Live Longer, Better – Blue Zones
The nutritional component we see in the Blue Zones, but also in clinical research, suggests our mothers were right when they said we should eat our vegetables. In fact, the more vegetables and whole plant foods consumed, the greater your health improves. If fish and meat are consumed, they are eaten as a condiment or used as flavoring in the Blue Zone communities. Very different from how the typical American meal is focused around the entrée being a meat portion. If we decided to look at food as information and choose forkfuls that would support our body’s defenses and follow mom’s advice, we could change the health landscape of the country. Right now only 1 in 10 get the recommended amount of fruits and veggie servings day.
As I get older, my health goal is being active and not dealing with chronic disease. It’s empowering to know that I have much control over whether I age that way or not. My meals are plant based and I incorporate a variety of concentrated whole fruit and vegetable juice powders to ramp up the micronutrient information I’m giving my cells. I think many people believe that we are subject to our genes and family dispositions to certain diseases. I’ve seen clinical research that tells me otherwise. Look into epigenetics if you want to dive deeper. The Book, “Eat to Beat Disease” is yet another. Choose your health future, don’t wait.
If your goal is to extend the number of healthy years you have ahead, your food choices can tip the odds in your favor. -Dr. William Li, Eat to Beat Disease